Harmony & Synergy

From My Life to Yours ~ Let's Build Some Bridges!

So what kind of Jew are you?!

(I must mention that in answering this question, I felt I had to write some points that are controversial.  My intention was to be as honest as possible and explain where I’m coming from, and I couldn’t find a way to do this without bringing up some controversial ideas.  If you read something and find it offensive, I do apologize, but I also urge you to consider what I’m trying to say and know that it is coming from a place of love.)

I’m often asked how I categorize myself in terms of religious practice.  Having spent the majority of my life as “the blonde cellist”, I’ve always disliked labels which limit… and all the religious labels I’ve come across do this in some way or another.  I also believe that deep down, most Jews are really getting tired of all the divisions and fragmentation within Judaism.  I have really tried my best to stay away from anything that divides us, because disconnect is the root of all that is wrong in the world.  It’s what got Adam and Chava banned from Gan Eden (contrary to popular belief, eating from the tree wasn’t the problem… it was the blaming each other afterward, the eschewing of responsibility.)  It’s also why the second temple was destroyed, and it’s why we haven’t merited yet a third.  However, since it is human nature to categorize and organize, I’ll do my best to explain what kind of Jew I am.

In terms of personal practice, how I learn and how I keep my home, I would be called an “orthodox” Jew, meaning that I keep Halacha (Jewish law) strictly.  Unfortunately this implies a certain amount of closed-ness and disconnection from the world which certainly isn’t the case.  Sometimes others mistakenly think that I am “modern” orthodox because of how I interact with the modern world, but if you look up the definition you’ll see that I am not modern orthodox (though I like the way it sounds).   “Haredi” works in many ways but not others.  Same with “Hassidic”.  “Ultra Orthodox” implies being very cut off from anything secular, but many people think you have to either be ultra or modern so I’m more “ultra” than “modern”.  (I kind of like “mega” because it sounds like a superhero.  Unfortunately it doesn’t exist.)  “Breslev?”  Well I’m very happy and read his books so that works for me sometimes.  In Israel, where the line between religion and politics is nonexistent, I get laughs and confusion by calling myself a “Haredi, Left-Wing, Zionist”.  “Kabbalistic” has been ruined by the media so I don’t even want to go there, even though it is the deepest level of understanding and I try to live it as much as I can.  I am Ashkenaz by birth but connect with many Sefardi practices, so I do them when there is no conflict.  I believe that biblical Hebrew should be learned and spoken as biblical Hebrew, not with a Yiddish or modern Hebrew accent, but respect those that don’t agree.  (I will write an article on this sometime.)   So if you can figure out a title for all this, please let me know.

For those of you that might be struggling with these ideas, we must always remember this; The Torah tells us to “make ourselves holy”.  It does not tell us to what kind of head covering to wear, or which type of siddur to daven from.  It does not tell us to be “Haredi” “Breslov” or “Lubavich”.  It tells us to become holy, and advises us on a myriad of ways to do this.   I find it sad how often we forget this because we become bogged down trying to make a decision about which label to fit into.  This is often an especially huge stress for b’alei teshuva, because we so desperately yearn for acceptance.  We don’t need to do this to ourselves.  This is not Torah.  Torah wants you to be true to yourself and become all that you can be.  The discipline that it requires of us is there to ultimately give us true freedom through connection.

And even if we were to create an “anti-sectionalization” movement in Judaism, we would enter quite a paradox!  This is not my intent.  Not at all.  Do I disagree with different ways of doing things?  Not in the least!  Do I think that ba’alei teshuva should eventually choose a community that best fits?  Of course!  We all have to choose what kind of life we want to live.  There is beauty in doing things for a community and uniting with our neighbours, but this choice shouldn’t make us feel like we’re losing ourselves.

In an orchestra, each musician plays the notes set in front of them and follows the conductor’s interpretation.  If we were to all play our own notes and interpretations, we would never get to experience the beauty of connecting with our fellow musicians for a greater cause.  And the audience would never get to enjoy a symphony because it would sound like a crazy, hectic mess!  We need to put our own egos aside in order to unite as a whole and create music as a group.  However, if the orchestra were to start criticizing and blaming another orchestra for “not doing it right” and the hate would eventually corrupt the musicians and not allow them to play music in such a beautiful way, then we have a problem.  And if a musician wants to switch orchestras, or even play in two (or three), he/she should be able to do so.

Having different ways of connecting is beautiful, and even though it might not seem this way from the outside, there is complete synergy within the sections that seem contradictory.  Here is another music analogy; You can put the same piece of music in front of different individuals and you will never get the same interpretation, even though they are all playing the same notes!  Even moreso, you will never get the same interpretation hearing it from one person multiple times, because we are always growing.  But everyone is playing the same notes, hoping to create beautiful music, just through different means.  The same in our lives.  We all have our own personal letter in the Torah, our own unique path to follow and our own potential to achieve in this world.  The constant questioning, debate, and deepening one’s learning is what attracted me to becoming more religious in the first place.  I once again want to make it very clear that the seemingly contradictory schools of thought, when studied deeply, are completely united.  Because deep down, we all want the same thing and just have different ways of showing this on the outside.  I do not claim to know enough to prove this to you (I can try!), but I am able to direct you to people that can.

Above all, I am a proud Jewish woman, and I’m doing everything I can to be the best Jewish woman I can be.  Nothing makes me happier than making others happy, because our time here should be filled with as much joy as possible.  If I can share what I’ve learned and help others live more meaningful lives, then it is an honour.

We are here to learn how to love each other, to build bridges, and most of all, to live with connection and joy.  That’s what kind of Jew I’m trying to be.

<3 Andrea


**… and now it’s your turn!  How would you define yourself if you were asked?**


  1. Jeanne

    “Torah wants you to be true to yourself and become all that you can be. The discipline that it requires of us is there to ultimately give us true freedom through connection.”

    aaaaahhhhhhh, amazing!!!!!

    for my part, the whole label to a Jew really bothers me. e.g. being called a “religious” Jew, which suggests that “religious” is just a modifier rather than the core of one’s identity as a Jew. the more I learn about what being a Jew means–a member of the Berith (covenant) between Gd and Israel–the less I want to suggest that I’m a kind of Jew. I’m just a Jew, and how I serve reflects on my individual gifts and opportunities. :)

    but, if people want my philosophy on Judaism, then currently I’d say Andalusian/Maimonidean, or David Shasha’s label “religious humanist”. I like how “religious humanist” suggests that we take on the halacha as an extension of our basic nature to want to learn and discover and wonder and connect, and unlike in haredi culture, it means that rather than being taboo, learning the humanities is encouraged. (I don’t like it if people come away with thinking it means that the religious part is just a gloss on the humanist, and not part and parcel with it.)

    and the Andalusians that I know are into social justice AND work on getting the pronunciation right. who said that being “progressive” and “conservative” is an inherent contradiction? :)

    • Jeanne, thank you so much for your honesty and perspective. I love (and agree with!) everything that you said, especially your point about contradiction. I’m so glad that you are enjoying what I’m posting and can’t wait to hear more from you!!

  2. Ayelet

    “…most Jews are really getting tired of all the divisions and fragmentation within Judaism.”
    You said it, sista! Do I have to have a label? Can’t I be just Jewish?

  3. Ayelet

    LOVED, loved, loved this essay. Thank you for sharing. You’ve made me happy. ;)

  4. Ayelet
  5. Ayelet

    She’s an awesome woman doing awesome things.

    • Janet Glenny

      Hi Andrea! Great blog! I am having a difficult time with all the labeling and division as well. Being that I recently discovered my Jewish heritage, I feel like I live in limbo at times, not accepted by Christians who I grew up with because of my identity with Judaism and not accepted by Jews because I was not raised practicing Judaism of any label. I like what your friend Jeanne said, I identify as being Jewish because G-d made a covenant with Abraham from whom I am descended, end of story. I choose to be Torah observant, not in the strictest, formal sense as those that consider themselves Torah observant would expect of me. I profess the shma and believe it from my heart everyday, I read the scripture readings weekly, I am continually seeking truth and direction from G-d, I enjoy being with other Jews and marvel at the unity amidst the diversity! I receive instruction from my orthodox rabbi and relate to his teachings, but being American and not part of a daily Jewish community, even though I consider myself of a more orthodox persuasion, I don’t think I’m accepted as such. Oh well, the good thing is, I feel very loved by G-d and am comfortable in my skin, so, I’ll just have to go from there!
      Hope all is good with you, I just flew back from Chicago.

      • Janet, I hope all is well in Israel and I miss you! Everything you said resonates with me so much, and I can’t tell you how much I admire your honesty and genuine connection to who you are as a Jew. The world needs more of it :)

  6. Stephanie

    Thank you for sharing this. I am finding your site just today and it looks like i have alot to look through. My label is very hard to define if i had to i would say i’m a Messianic-Jewish-Nazerene. Interesting mix huh? :) but i dislike labels. I love learning what others believe though. Thanks again!

  7. Dinah

    I Stephanie..I was thinking of what kinda lable i would use and you came up with an good one…. I would say that is what I am. But lately my husband and I have just been calling ourselves Torah believers. There have been so many changes in the Messianic groups that I don’t want to be labeled in a group with them. I agree with Andrea its not a good thing to have labels for people but the world will always do it. Keep the great articles coming Andrea!

  8. Elizabeth

    I had to reply to this simply because I am no kind of Jew at all. I an a Noahidic gentile. I am so grateful to all of you “megs-Jews” for providing me with a variety of resources for study and understanding. You are a sort of a super hero to me and you’ll have to forgive me if I fofrever imagine that one of those tichels is actually a cape secreted away on your head!

    • You are so sweet for saying this… thank you!

    • I have to say, I love this image.

      • “You are a sort of a super hero to me and you’ll have to forgive me if I forever imagine that one of those tichels is actually a cape secreted away on your head!”

        Definitely the coolest image of a Jewish woman ever. And, boy, do I want to be a Mega-Jew! (I’m now fantasizing about putting this on a multiple-choice survey.)

  9. “It’s what got Adam and Chava banned from Gan Eden (contrary to popular belief, eating from the tree wasn’t the problem… it was the blaming each other afterward, the eschewing of responsibility.) ”

    Wow! This is really cool! Thank you for saying this. It really needed to be said because this has been the source of so much nastiness for people!

    • Yeah, isn’t it awesome? I love it! It’s something that I have to remind myself of every day.

      • Yehoshua Friedman

        Is this your own idea or did you get it somewhere? The idea is good from a mussar POV, but did you intend it as pshat or drash?

  10. Sam

    As someone who is ready to formally start my conversion process, I can totally understand your statement about labels and wanting acceptance.

    • It’s so important to realize this before going through the process! It’s always going to be an issue, no matter what community anyone lives in. Please do not hesitate to let me know how your conversion process is going… I would love to hear and offer some support. I think you would really enjoy the article I wrote called “a fork in the road?”. I also went through the conversion process :) Sending lots of bravery and strength your way, Sam.

  11. Flora

    There is nothing I love more than when we all simply claim Jewish. Enough already with the divisions! I really sometimes wonder if some of our sorrows in recent generations are not here primarily to…unite us. I keep basically reform practices and am considering a few more halachic choices. Thank g-d I grew up with such a deep Jewishness that…it is with me under all conditions. I chose Reform because…my husband, my besheret, has been a long process to claim his own Jewishness. Even this feels Jewish to me — never leaving a Jew behind.
    I sit sometimes at an orthodox table, and I love to simply be among others who claim this same spirit as me. When I am in there home, I respect orthodox practice. But what is really happening underneath, is simply shevet achim biyachad.
    thank you for this lovely site.

  12. Oh my gosh, I also want to be mega-orthodox! Let’s be that together.

    My husband and I call ourselves “Yeshivish Lite.” We fall mainly into the Yeshivish camp (though maybe we’d be more balabatish, since my husband is a working man), but we do partake of certain secular things, have internet in the home, I have a blog, etc. But the values we most closely identify with are the Yeshivish camp, just not as hardcore, I suppose. I’m fortunate to live in a community like Baltimore where the Orthodox community is relatively open-minded.

    On the need to fit into a certain label, a Rebbetzin of mine once discussed this with me. She mentioned that even though it can seem much more unifying to not be concerned with labels, or with which camp to align oneself, if a person doesn’t choose one group they run the risk of belonging nowhere, which is much more of an issue once children start to grow. A child shouldn’t be ostracized because a parents wants to make a point about the importance of Jewish unity.

    I view this as a “baby steps” kind of attitude. Even though I may not always agree with the mainstream Yeshivish views on certain topics, I will continue to align myself with this camp, and try to do my best to bring the mitzvah of loving every Jew into my little corner of the world.

    Loved the music analogies, too! Thanks for sharing this post!

    • You are so right. *sigh… things are going to change when we (b’ezrat Hashem) have children.

  13. Ayelet May

    Yes. Mega-Orthodox. I like it. I sometimes like to think of myself as “pre-denominational.” There must have been some time in our history when everyone was “just” Jewish!

  14. Hi, Andrea! First, great name! ;-) Secondly, I found you via YouTube while searching for tichel tutorials. I am a Christian, though I have Jewish ancestry. I am learning Biblical Hebrew now and try my best to connect my personal Christianity with its roots in Judaism that I believe has been terrible neglected. You are such a joy to read and watch. Everything you say deeply resounds in my faith. I have been considering a tichel for many reasons, though it is not popular in Evangelical Christianity for many reasons, mostly because it’s not in our American culture and people see it, like you said, as “super religious”–though some Christians do, like conservative Catholic women, Mennonite women, and Amish women. I wanted to ask you questions, but I realize how deeply personal and possibly controversial they are being how frequent Christians and Jewish people butt heads (I apologize for that, too). If you don’t mind, how do you as a strong Jewish woman, view or perceive a Christian woman interested in tichels? Maybe a better way to phrase that would be how do, if at all, Orthodox Jewish women view or would view a Christian woman? I would love to build friendships with Jewish women as a way to share our closely related faith, grow from each other, and learn more about the Jewish culture my ancestors had. Besides the beautiful symbol and choice a tichel is, and to redeem our womanhood, I think it would be a great way for conversation starters if a Jewish woman saw me. I realize that this may sound well and good in my head, but I never want to offend anyone…especially Jewish people! I’m just across the lake in Indiana and we do not have a strong community of Jews :-) Shalom Aleichem!

    • Wow – thank you for writing so honestly! How do I view Christian women? I love them! We might not agree on some details but in the end, the ones that I know live for pretty much the same things that I do. I think it’s beautiful that so many Christian women cover their hair as well, and you are right, it is a great conversation starter. Very happy that you reached out and hopefully other people will follow your example and we can build some bridges :)

  15. Isabelle Cohen Johnson

    I am a Sefardi Jew from France and living in the US is totally confusing me in the sense that I didn’t grow up with all those different movements. Where I come from there is Jewish and non-Jewish. I feel like US Judaism is so different…

    • It is. In Israel it’s different too. I try to call myself “A Jewish woman doing my best to be a decent human being” just to get away from all the strange labels

      • Deborah

        Totally love that way of putting it 💖💖💖💖💖

  16. Isabelle Cohen Johnson

    That is a greatest “label”, right there! :) Thank you for the inspiration you are spreading over us all, daughter of Israel. Much love <3

  17. I grew up in a conservative Christian home, went to Christian schools, and married a Christian man. I had questions then, about why the Bible says one thing and Christians do another thing…..those questions were stifled by churchmen, and I put them in a box in my mind for later…..As we had children, and I homeschooled those children I was reminded that whether or not I had been taught that certain things were truth, *I* and only I would be responsible for what I passed on to my children…..so I took out the questions again and really started looking at them…..and realized that there was much that I had inherited through generations of teaching and tradition that did not match up to what the Bible actually said…..so I embarked on a path of unlearning and re-learning which has been going on 10 years now.

    That said, I do not have a simple definition or label with which to define myself. The most simplified one would be a Torah Observant Follower of Yeshua (TOFY), However that does not give a full definition of who I am and where I am headed. Here is what I wrote in my ‘About Me’ on FB.

    “I am the daughter of a stranger who has joined herself to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Isaiah 56: 6).

    I am saved by grace through faith in the Jewish Messiah (Ephesians 2: 8-9), who paid the redemption price in His own blood (1 Peter 1: 18-19).

    Therefore since I love Him, I choose to obey His commands (stated 19 separate times both OT and NT “If you love me keep/guard my commands”) which are the good works before ordained that I should walk in (Ephesians 2: 10).

    For He is the Living and Powerful Word of God (John 1: 1).

    As such I have become Abraham’s seed, and an heir according to promise (Galatians 3: 29).

    I am grafted into the root of the olive tree (Romans 11: 16-27).

    I am one who was once a foreigner and stranger but now is a part of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2: 12-19)

    I have been instructed to “Be holy for I am Holy” (1 Peter 1: 13-16 which was written in Leviticus 11: 44-45 and 19: 2).

    So I follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believing all things written in the Torah and Prophets (Acts 24: 14).”

    So, I neither land in the Jewish camp nor really in the Christian camp…..and quite often am considered very strange by BOTH camps. But here I am, and that is my journey so far :)

  18. I just read this article for the second time because I like it so much! With so much soul searching and shul time during the Yamim Noraim, I found myself writing about this issue to my Rabbi actually!! And I came back to read this article because I remembered it. Great descriptions and I love the music analogies. My life has an amazing soundtrack :)
    I struggle big time for acceptance because I am SO in the middle and don’t know of a good label either. I was raised in “Conservative” Judaism…I don’t consider myself Orthodox because I don’t follow halacha as strictly as *I* think one should to be considered Orthodox (in my opinion). I suppose I am considered super observant in the secular community/world that I live and work in. I belong to a Conservative shul but practice modesty and am the ONLY woman in a Tichel there. I also go to an Orthodox shul in my town and am making a great friendship with the Rebbetzin over THERE! I feel like to some people I am a complete mess! Oh, and by the way, my husband is not Jewish (but are raising Jewish children)!!! You can imagine how strong I feel I need to be to follow and stay on my path. Anyway, I don’t want to leave a mega long comment because I have a lot to say on the subject!! Just wanted to thank you for sharing these thoughts. Helps me affirm that we DO NOT need a label or acceptance because we are all doing the best we can to “be holy”…I love that!!

    “The Torah tells us to “make ourselves holy”. It does not tell us to what kind of head covering to wear, or which type of siddur to daven from.” – exactly!

  19. Devorah

    Omgosh. This was a wonderful read. I am so glad I found your blog; while, getting ideas for my modesty journey. I would like to say that I have been Jewish my WHOLE life, but I’m also biracial and my parents never had us involved with the community because they didn’t want us to be shunned because of our racial background, which saddens me because for people that are suppose to strive for holiness how can you hate someone in your heart because their skin color or hair texture doesn’t match yours? That is not the message I believe Torah gives us. But even through that, I never believed that I was any less apart of the convent then any one else, I never stopped l wanting and loving my connection with the divine. I’m not the strictest Jewish women but I’ve been reflecting, learning more, and watching your videos and I’m on a positive journey to being the best Jewish women I can be. As far as, my label goes. I don’t really have one because for me being a good jew is my “label” I just want to be a good example to my little girl, the Jewish community, and the world

    • Wow – this is beautifully said! Your daughter is so lucky to have a mother like you!!

    • Always613

      This is sweet. Most of the community in my neighborhood is Hispanic Mexican. Because my race is white (though I am German, Irish, Scottish, and English) it irritates me when they decide I’m not good enough for them.

      Even my religion, because I don’t hide that I’m a Noahide, so when they call me names I retort with the following comment:
      “You know I’ve never heard of Hispain before. I don’t see it on any map.”

  20. Mariah

    Shalom aval at Mrs. Grinberg! For me, I love being Jewish and following all the Jewish laws like kosher and such but I am a Christian though a Jewess by descent. So far I am a Messianic Jew and have found fulfillment in the Torah and B’rit Chadashah. So, to sum it all up, I am a Evangelical, Charismatic Christian and Messianic Jew. Hashem has shown me so many things and I know there are many things I know He will show me. So this is the Jew I am and I love it! Tell me if I offend anyone by saying the following things, bevakasha! It was not intentional.

  21. Renata

    Hi Andrea!

    Hi Andrea!

    This is such a good essay, it really promotes inner reflection:)

    My practice confuses people a lot. Some of the mitzvot that I have taken on are generally only practised by the Orthodox, such as hair-covering and Mikvah, while some practices such as “eco-kashrut” are from the most inventive streams of Judaism.

    I try to live my life with the common-sense of basic Buddhism, and I study the cross-cultural mythology of goddesses and it brings value to my life.

    The way I describe myself is as a “Do-It-Yourself Jew”, which sounds flippant but I mean it seriously. Otherwise I come up with ridiculously long hyphenated labels – so long that in the end the label ceases to mean anything.

    I really love your blog, and reading some of these posts is helping me to think clearly about my evolving feelings regarding my practice of tzniut.

    Thank you!

  22. Naomi Seif

    You have such a beautiful way of writing and speaking in your videos that it empoers all women of all faiths. I love how honest you are and how you use what you share about yourself (or anything) as a method to teach. I am also mixed with Ashkenazi (just found out through a DNA test lol) but am Muslim. May our Creator continue to bless and protect you and reward you with greatness in this life and in the next.. amen :)

  23. Always316

    WOW. Shalom! I am (unfortunately) a Noahide. I’ve always wanted to be Jewish, always. From the time I was thirteen years old, the religion has spoken to me. When I read the Torah for the first time around fourteen years old (which recently I bought) HaShem seemed to speak to me. :)

    I practice tznuit, shomer negiah, and prayer. I’ve been practicing tznuit and shomer since I was fifteen; I’ve been praying (in the right manner) since I was sixteen. I’ve been taking my Noach much more seriously. Since I have, I found that my back problems with my epilepsy have decreased dramatically. I take much medication (3500 on just one in the morning!) they are affecting my kidneys, thus the aches and pain. :(

    I even have a rabbi I e-mail. When I have questions, it’s very helpful to have fellow women to talk and respond to!

    I find it very difficult to find ways to celebrate the High Holidays. Unfortunately, these are a bit difficult for those of us who are not Jews, as these are made for the Jews.

    So, instead, I read my Torah and take a personal Seventh Day.

  24. What kind of Jew am I? I am a Jew of the Reform branch, who wears tichel. My husband is not (yet) Jewish, I have no children that are not 4 legged or winged. I do not eat pork, shell fish, or skin fish. I currently have no synagogue, but have been invited to one that’s about 50 miles away. We moved 2 yrs ago from central CA to SW Iowa. I am the only Jewish woman in my town, though I have found there’s a family about 30 miles East, and a couple 20 mi south of us. This is RURAL IOWA. Conservative, Republican, Christian, Iowa for the most part…not all. I am everything Fox News hates, and proud of it.
    I can’t find my Siddur since the move, and this distresses me. I am looking to be more knowledgeable in my study of Torah. I am a big fan of the Wrapunzel site and Fan page. I am looking for a page that we can talk about our differences in our beliefs, and are able to ask why others cover their hair, I am always interested in people’s stories.
    This was a great post. Thank you Andrea!

  25. Samantha Barber

    I am a messianic Jew. Became one as an adult but was raised as a reform Jew. I love your tichel a and wonder for short hair (to top of the neck and shoulders) how would you wear your tichel? I also wear glasses. Thanks so much.

  26. nenamatahari

    My good friend calls himself an “Eclectic Jew” because he can blend in and feel comfortable in any spot. Me, I am a convert who found out she had Jewish genetics and grew up with 90% of her close friends being Jewish. Oh and I have food allergies that made me have a Kosher diet or I wind up with an epi-pen injection or a nasty colitis flare up. ;)

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