Being Jewish means to me living my heritage; being respected by my colleagues for adhering to the principle of my faith, my love for Israel and running a traditional Jewish home, whilst at the same time being afforded respect by dayanim and rabbonim for my role as a judge.
Jewish values are the same values important to English lawyers, particularly judges. Compared with modern human rights, Jewish law emphasises duties over rights, as did English Common Law when I became a judge. Today rights and duties are complementary. Perhaps my Judaism helped me understand this.
Being part of a group which is prepared to swim against the tide. Helen Suzman fighting apartheid. Messrs Schwerner and Goodman giving their lives for African American Civil Rights. American Jews voting overwhelmingly Democrat against their own financial interests and for an Israel at peace with its neighbours.
Having just lost my parents within 12 days of each other, being Jewish means faith, spirituality and a careful order to things. It means the strength to endure the most severe of blows twice over. It means my parents will be together for eternity in the care of Hashem.
Being Jewish means living within an on-going argument governed by two Talmudic concepts: lishma – all learning is intrinsically valuable, regardless of practical application; teiku – not every dispute need be resolved. My Judaism thrives on the continuing dialectic between words on a page and life as it is lived.
Being a Jew means respecting my heritage and traditions. Understanding where I came from. Believing my family comes first. Supporting Israel. Loving Jewish jokes and culture. Passing on these values to our three sons. Being a Jewish lawyer means a heightened understanding of the need to fight injustice and discrimination.
My Dad was always very proud he was Jewish. Growing up in Leicestershire, we didn’t say we were Iranian, but it was OK to be Jewish. Being Jewish will mean recognition, acceptance. It is knowledge, understanding. It is important, when I have a family, that I have that knowledge.
I lived in LA; it was superficial. I felt I wasn’t in the right place. Judaism gave me a direction as to how to approach life. I keep kosher, I keep Shabbat, I keep everything I’ve learned. There is a connection with every person who believes in Judaism, it binds us.
Co-hosting the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony with Simon Schama and debuting my Magen David a day after I returned from a trip to Ethiopia made me very proud. As a child, my Judaism was a lethal secret but now it is what I hold on to. I reconnected. It feels natural.
I felt something was missing. Judaism has helped me to develop my relationship with God. There is a feeling of peace, of being happy and content after a service. Going to the Beth Din was very emotional, I was so nervous, but it was a new beginning.
I was inspired by some wonderful Jewish neighbours. My stepson Benjamin’s barmitzvah and my marriage to his father were on the same weekend; the entire community was invited to both. The sense of family, and commitment to it, is uppermost.
The Book of Ruth says “your people will be my people.” That rang true for me. Other people in my conversion class had Jewish partners, I was doing it just for me. Now I have a Jewish boyfriend, I’m looking forward to a Jewish wedding and having a Jewish home.
“We have a responsibility to be careful what we say and do, because we all represent all Jews. I have always tried to work for reconciliation. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 45 Aid Society – many survivors speak about Polish people differently today because of my influence.”
“When I was young we had a blue JNF box. I had heard about Palestine. Occasionally the family would share a Jaffa orange. Now students ask me if I wish I hadn’t been Jewish, but if I hadn’t I would have been in the Hitler Youth, so being Jewish was better.”
“I was in the gas chamber and I did not die. Something was wrong with the mechanism and we walked out. Because God saved my life I have a duty, a mission, to educate and to be observant. Some survivors ask ‘where was God?’ but who are we to ask?”
“Because of the Shoah, in practical terms Judaism doesn’t mean an awful lot, which is very sad. But in terms of my identity, it is my life force. It has been a mountain to climb in terms of self-education and introspection but now it’s part of my being.”
“Being Jewish was the reason we were in Auschwitz. We were young, we asked: where is God? But now I ask, why do we get angry with God? It is humans that do these things. Being ‘the chosen people’ doesn’t mean anything to me. You are a human being first.”
“It means family bonds, roots, an automatic affinity, a sense of belonging, the comfort of knowing that others think alike, that I am part of a community. The practice of religion for me is not about the letter of the law but the spirit of the law.”
“Being Jewish means being a member of a people with a history like no other, being loyal to its past and responsible for its future, bringing the Shekhinah, the divine presence, into the world by the love and forgiveness we show, and being a voice of hope in the conversation of humankind.”