‘Dear Irish Justin’ A letter to myself

Dear Irish Justin,

I hope this letter finds you in good health and thriving in whatever alternate reality you find yourself. I’m not usually one to cast a line across the multiverse or speculate on the “what ifs” and “what might have beens”. However, as a Jew, I feel like I’ve been thrust into an alternate reality as of late, so I figured it would be fitting to write to you.

I’m curious what caused you to embrace our father’s Irish identity as opposed to our mother’s Jewish one. Maybe you went to a different college. Maybe in college you were drawn in by the Catholic’s free food instead of Chabad’s. Maybe you met a beautiful redhead who’s really into Gaelic poetry (I sincerely hope your Gaelic is better than my Hebrew). And maybe now, with everything going on between Israel and Hamas, you have considered writing to me.

I’m going to assume despite living in an alternate reality, the Israel-Palestine situation is about the same where you are. Which means you might have also just witnessed the greatest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, and you might have also witnessed Israel respond with their patented combination of overwhelming firepower and underwhelming PR.

I’m not writing to ask what your thoughts on this tragedy are: I already waste enough mental energy speculating on the Israel opinions of every single human being in my Universe. Regardless, I can’t help but assume these last few months have probably been easier for you than they’ve been for me.

I’m not trying to make this letter a jealous tirade. None of this is your fault and I’m sincerely glad you found your path. I just now realize why I’m so fascinated by you. You’re more than just an exercise in speculation, you are my Ki Tisa moment.

Ki Tisa is the Torah portion the story of the golden calf is from. You probably remember the core of the story from our short stint in Hebrew School as a kid: the Israelites worship a calf idol, Moses destroys said idol, the tablets are broken. For me, the real drama is in the showdown between Moses and God. God, enraged by the act of idolatry, marks the Israelites for destruction, and plans for a new nation to be made through Moses. But Moses advocates for his Jewish family, declaring to God that if the Jewish people are to be wiped out, he wants no part in God’s story. This convinces God to spare the people and instead strengthen the Covenant.

Our existence is a product of one person refusing to abandon the Jewish people. And that person is all of us. Just like how we say every Jew throughout history was present for the moment of revelation at Mt. Sinai, every Jew throughout history also has their own personal showdown with God atop this mountain. At some point in our lives when the world is closing in and the Jews are bickering, a tiny voice whispers into our ears “you know, you could leave these schmucks”. The Jewish people exist today because throughout history when many of us stand in that moment of temptation before God we respond by simply saying; “Yes. But they’re my schmucks.”

For me, October 7 and beyond has been the gut-wrenching wakeup call every Jew must answer at some point in their life. And now, amongst this dark (and frustrating) moment, I find myself on this metaphorical mountain being tempted by you, my parallel Universe Irish self. By embracing our Irishness, you have been able to fully immerse yourself in a people, a culture, and a way of life that brings meaning and joy to your existence, all without the fear of the world turning on you. You can draw strength and inspiration from a challenging past without the fear of that past banging on your door one night. The world does not make impossible demands of you. And you represent a path not taken… but maybe not too late to take…

It’s hard for me to describe the feelings which inspired Moses’ decision to face down God and dedicate himself to his Jewish family. All I know is, I think I have that in me, too. A lot of people have been discovering this in them lately. And every time we choose to walk to synagogue past a gauntlet of antisemitic graffiti, or take part in more Jewish life as many in the world seek to cheapen it, or wear a kippah on campus, or invest, learn, and protest in Israel, we smash the idol of “fitting in” and strengthen the Covenant.

Thank you for taking the time to read my rambling letter. Again, I’m truly happy you’ve found your path in life. I’ve found mine too, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Slán go fóill/Shabbat Shalom,
Jewish Justin

About the Author
Justin Regan is a Jewish professional, educator, and (sometimes) podcaster who lives in Baltimore. He's currently the Communications Manager at Har Sinai - Oheb Shalom Congregation in Baltimore and teaches Religious School at Temple Isaiah in Fulton, MD. In another life he was a public radio host and reporter in Arizona. His wife would love to host you for Shabbat.
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