Respect every Jewish journey


My Jewish journey is why I do what I do.

I’ve always believed in the importance of getting along with our community. No matter what our political viewpoints, we are all Jews, right?

That’s how I grew up, both in heavily Jewish neighborhoods and in those where I was one of a few. Our commonality was our Jewishness. And we learned from one another. Kosher, not kosher. Shabbat-observant … or not. All of us expressed strong support for Israel, but some were more critical of the Israeli government.

There was much to be learned – and discussed – about why we do certain things certain ways and why we believe what we believe. Those discussions could be intense and productive and, sometimes, they changed what and how we practiced our Judaism or viewed events in the Middle East. But I always felt safe and secure in these discussions because at the root of it all was our common Jewish faith.

Apparently, for some, that’s not good enough anymore. There is this creeping attitude that you need to believe one way or the other or you are not Jewish enough.

I find that sad.

I’ve been shocked to see discussions among Jews devolve into hostile accusations that some Jews are antisemitic.

Honestly, how can we Jews, who make up just 2.4% of all U.S. adults (according to a 2020 Pew Report), stand together against the worst kind of hate if we label our fellow Jews as antisemites? How are we going to wipe out the scourge of antisemitism if we continue to attack one another over inclusion, or being supportive enough of everything Israeli, or even associating with the “wrong” people?

Think about it. What are you really arguing about: semantics, general political biases? We should be putting these differences aside and banding together to fight a common, anti-Jewish demon.

I grew up in the most liberal of Jewish denominations. As a small child, I went to religious school at Rodef Shalom, in Pittsburgh, one of the original Reform congregations. Its rabbi at the time, Solomon B. Freehof, was known throughout the world as a scholar and interpreter of Jewish law. The men didn’t wear kippot nor did they wear tallitot. The rabbis wore business suits. That was the way that they fit into life in America.

My relatives, though, came from many different backgrounds and their final resting places reflect that. When we visit Pittsburgh, we go to the Reform cemetery, the Conservative cemetery and even the long-closed Orthodox Russian cemetery.

Rodef Shalom is still the big beautiful synagogue it always was, but times have changed, and tallitot and kippot are worn as they are in all Reform congregations: according to one’s preferences.

I went on to be active in another congregation’s chapter of NFTY, taught Israeli folkdance in the religious school, went to college, and got a chance to learn from those whose observance was different from mine.

I’ve been so fortunate to interact with so many different people.

And that’s the thing: it’s all about respect. Change happens through discussion and evolution, not through browbeating.

Almost 10 years ago, I was tasked with putting out a paper that reflected the diverse Jewish community of Rhode Island. We try to do just that. We try to present a wide swath of news from around the community.

We try to give you news of Israel that you might not find in the mainstream media. We tackle topics of reader interest with user-contributed content. We present news about political candidates, although we can’t advocate for them since we are one part of a nonprofit organization. And we try to uphold journalistic standards and ethics, which I have dedicated myself to throughout my long career as a journalist.

We have a very small, dedicated and diverse group of people who contribute to this paper, and I am grateful to them every day. We keep at it because we feel we are contributing to Rhode Island’s Jewish community in an important and unique way.

Everyone has their own Jewish journey. And Jewish journalism can help us navigate that journey by contributing information in a way that no other media – mainstream or social – can.

However you come to this paper – or any other Jewish information source – please do it with an open mind and some of what all Jews owe one another: respect.

Fran Ostendorf,