I’m back to blogging after attending to some family matters for the past few weeks. Apologies to my readers for being gone. And thanks for reading again!
My time away has allowed me space to reflect on my own spirituality. Dealing with family matters thrusts one’s values in one’s face. There were many days over the past few weeks when I asked questions of my spirituality, looked to my Judaism for direction, and questioned what role Judaism plays in my life.
I suppose the central question that returned to me over and over was – what is my Judaism?
There are many valid ways of being a Jew. There are many ways to express and live a Jewish identity. There is a rich cultural, spiritual, and historical legacy of Judaism to engage and integrate.
And I firmly believe that no Jew can tell another Jew exactly how they should be Jewish.
It doesn’t work that way. And when it does – as in the case of many ultra-orthodox rabbis and conversion and/or marriage – the situation often becomes abusive or exploitative – if not simply controlling in a undignified manner.
Reading other Jewish blogs and online magazines. Knowing other Jews here in my local community and abroad. Reading the works of various Jewish authors – it becomes clear that Judaism varies from Jewish person to Jewish person and that there are many things Jews give their attention to and form their Jewish identity around.
As I said, I don’t want to tell other Jews what their Judaism should or shouldn’t be about. But I can share with you how I understand my own Judaism.
My Judaism is a spiritual tradition that helps me be a better, kinder, more humane person. My Judaism is a worldview that I identify with concerning human dignity, the interconnectedness of all reality, the value of life, and the importance of justice, mercy, kindness, and compassion.
My Judaism is a serious challenge to welcome the stranger, love my neighbor, seek justice, and practice generosity.
My Judaism is an invitation to study sacred texts, read various authors, ponder profound existential issues, and continually deepen my knowledge of Jewish history, philosophy, and practice.
My Judaism is rooted in freedom to wrestle with questions about the nature of God, life, ethics, and justice – while not worrying about running afoul of strict, artificial orthodoxies or controlling religious authorities.
My Judaism is grounded in prayer, Shabbat services, community, ritual, holidays, and learning.
There are some things that garner much attention in the Jewish community that do not play a central role in my Judaism.
While I support Israel’s right to exist, Israel and Zionism play little, if any role, in my Judaism. I understand Israel’s role in Jewish experience, and I understand the hope it embodies. But I recoil at it’s abuses and sometimes extremist politics. I cringe at its sometimes heavy handed treatment of Palestinians. I am turned off by the dominant role the ultra-orthodox play in Israeli culture and religion. Israel is simply not a central concern, nor do I see it becoming one. And I’m not alone – many American Jews, my age and younger, simply don’t engage Israel nor do we care to do so.
What passes as Jewish culture in the US doesn’t play much of a role in my Jewish spirituality either. Jewish food, Jewish celebrities, Yiddish, and approaching Judaism as an ethnicity simply leave me cold. I read my friends’ Christian blogs and they’re wrestling with the nature of God, prayer, social justice issues, and matters of deep theology. Many Jewish blogs I read care more about sharing recipes for Kosher soups and how to make a kick-ass brisket. Or doing a piece about some Jewish comedian’s life. To me, such matters are unimportant and not interesting.
Again, I realize I’m not the one who gets to define Judaism. Nor do I want to be.
And I understand that one can be a Zionist and care about prayer, theology, and spirituality. There’s nothing wrong with brisket, either.
But it can be frustrating and saddening when many of my fellow Jews seem preoccupied with ways of being Jewish that don’t speak to me and which I don’t see as having much metaphysical, spiritual, religious, or moral importance.
To each their own.