Jews for Judaism, the organization that works to strengthen and preserve Jewish identity through education, will launch its social organization for young Jewish professionals, J-Alliance, on Aug. 11. The event — Why Pray When You Can Party? — features screenwriter David Weiss at the University of Maryland, Baltimore SMC Campus Center.
Weiss, whose credits include “Shrek 2,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and “The Smurfs,” will share his stories and experiences about being Jewish.
Locally, Jews for Judaism works to combat the influx of Jews for Jesus missionaries that target Jewish families in the Baltimore area, particularly during the summer months.
“Our main focus is education; a lot of people in the workforce don’t have a Jewish education,” said Aviva Cohen, head administrator for Jews for Judaism. “When missionaries come up to you, it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’ Our goal is to teach people the answers to the questions [about Judaism], and even if people don’t know the answer right away, [we help them] find out theanswer.”
Cohen said she has found a lot of people who, when questioned about Judaism, are unsure of the answers. Her co-chair for the event, Tzvi Urszuy, has had similar experiences. Urszuy recalls sitting next to a man at a Shabbat dinner who identified as Christian but had a Jewish mother. The man, albeit too shy to ask, had questions about Judaism and despite sitting among Yeshiva-educated Orthodox Jews, Urszuy was the only one who could answer his questions.
“Lots of people have learned a lot of ritualistic ideas about Judaism, but they don’t understand what Judaism has to offer with that,” said Urszuy.
[pullquote]We have the right to be happy, we have the right to party, but at times, what we lack is the capacity.[/pullquote]Weiss has always identified as Jewish but was not observant until adulthood. For a large part of his young life, he was socially involved in church activities. However, during time in Dublin, Ireland, while working on “All Dogs go to Heaven,” he met an Orthodox Jew named David Steinberg. Weiss, who had little to no experience with Orthodox Jews, noticed Steinberg’s attention to eating kosher and keeping the Sabbath.
“We started chatting, and I asked him, ‘Why are you still Jewish? The rituals are beautiful but it’s a dead religion,’” said Weiss. “He was able to show me the opposite. He had such joy and pride in the practice, and he showed me that this religion was still vibrant. I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute I’m Jewish, maybe I need to think this through a little more.’”
For some time after that conversation Weiss had self-doubt about Christianity. Eventually, he met radio show host Michael Medved at a film festival, and although Weiss believed Medved was Christian, he turned out to be Jewish and invited Weiss for a Shabbat lunch.
“It was spectacular, a little like Christmas dinner, and I was amazed to find out they did that every week,” said Weiss. After that, Weiss slowly pursued Judaism more and drifted away from Christianity. He event-ually married, his wife converted to Judaism, and they both stepped into the mikvah as a way to officially start their Jewish life together.
“It took a long time for us to get where we are; we didn’t set out to be kosher or anything, we took it in small steps,” said Weiss.
The idea of enjoying the journey and not worrying about the outcome is particularly important to Weiss’ message, which for this event focuses on his pursuit of success in Hollywood while maintaining a rich Jewish life. He believes that worrying about the outcome prevents people from enjoying the process, and missing out on the process prevents people from achieving their fullest potential.
“In ‘Shrek 2,’ Donkey tells Shrek he has the right to remain silent’ and Shrek responds ‘Yes, Donkey. You have the right to remain silent, what you lack is the capacity,’” said Weiss. “We have the right to be happy, we have the right to party, but at times, what we lack is the capacity.”
Why Pray When You Can Party?
University of Maryland, Baltimore SMC Campus Center
621 W. Lombard St. | Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m.