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Lessons of Faith: Empathy is the heart of American Judaism

Bakersfield resident Phillip Rudnick's father came to America at 14 with a 6th-grade education and the idea, one he learned from his Jewish faith, that empathy breeds success. He was right.
book about Jewish Americans in Bakersfield
Posted at 5:27 PM, May 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-28 14:54:46-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — May is Jewish American Heritage Month. It's a time for learning about the Jewish community and highlighting what makes that community unique.

Judaism is one of the oldest religions and is practiced by people all over the world and in many different ways. Lifelong Bakersfield resident Phillip Rudnick shared the story of his family's journey after immigrating to the United States. It's a story that highlights the one-of-a-kind nature of American Judaism.

Rudnick, who works as a lawyer in Bakersfield and is also the founder of local co-working space Upstart Village, says that many of the lessons he learned from Judaism mirror American ideals.

"We're Jewish people who, although they were committed to practice Judaism, they chose to come to an outlying area. We didn't have the kind of reinforcing Jewish customs, restaurants, stores, Kosher food. We didn't have that," said Rudnick. "This was a step out, which I think is really interesting."

Rudnick says his father Oscar came to America at the age of 14. Despite having the equivalent of a 6th-grade education, Rudnick's father became a successful industrialist, not by being cut-throat in business, but because his faith had taught him a more empathetic approach.

"He was Jewish, because that's how he was raised, that's all he knew. That was his education, but he was a humanitarian," said Rudnick.

phil rudnick
Bakersfield resident Phillip Rudnick

Rudnick says his parents thrived in America, a place that he believes should be a sanctuary for those escaping oppression throughout the world.

"They didn't come here as teenagers because they thought that this was going to be an easy country to live in. America was their promised land. Not just them. All the ethnic people that found oppression and hardship in other parts of the world that came here. Me being a first-generation, that rubbed off on me. I have that sensitivity and that appreciation and that wonderment."

Rudnick says his appreciation for Judaism comes not from what the Torah says is truth and fact, but rather from the lessons one can learn from it, including lessons on inclusivity.

"in Biblical times, when you had a stranger come to your village, you had a wall to keep everyone out," said Rudnick. "They [Jewish people] had a principle. They said 'No, welcome the strangers. As long as they live by your rules, they're as good as the person that is born there.'"

Rudnick says he believes this is what is great about America, but it's an ideal the country doesn't always live up to.

"We should be embracing diversity, and that's what Judaism taught me. You have to embrace differences, and you have to recognize everyone has an opportunity to live a productive, meaningful life."