community · dating · Jewish · spirituality

Jew

For me, living without a connection to Judaism in my life is
like living without sunshine. You get really used to it, and begin to forget
what it was like to have the sun on your face; you forget how your internal
organs relax when you bathe in it; and simply get used to walking with a degree
of closure in your heart and body.
I am not a religious Jew. Never was; my family never was.
But, I went to Hebrew school and Sunday school growing up, while my school pals
were going to CCD (Catholic something something – which we also referred to as
Central City Dump). I had my Bat Mizvah, and learned by rote the things I was
supposed to learn to get up in front of people and ascend into “adulthood.” But
those aren’t the sunshine inducing aspects for me.
When I stand in a sanctuary with other Jews, and we begin to
sing, I am transcended.
There is an ancient movement in my body and heart which
begins to stir, and is moved to tears on occasion of its loveliness and
fullness. My first “spiritual experience,” I remember quite clearly. I attended
a Jewish sleep-away camp in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for a few
intermittent years in my youth, and this happened when I was either 11 or 14.
Every Friday night, the entire camp would dress in white and walk up to The
Chapel on the Hill. This was an open, outdoor arrangement of lots of benches
facing outward over the soccer fields and dodgeball pits, out toward the very
treed landscape. The chapel itself is sort of an AT-AT looking structure (yes,
that’s a star wars reference), so you could see through it, and from above,
it’s actually shaped like a Star of David, I once heard.
I was sitting on one of these benches, looking out over the
landscape as the sun was setting, beginning Shabbat (the day of rest) and I was watching the
trees. Forgive me if I’ve told you this story or used these words, but it’s the
best I can do. The movement of the leaves, the undulation of the trees – I had
a moment when I felt like there was more order to the shining glints and waves
than there was chaos. But too that there was just enough chaos to make it live.
Too ordered to be chaos, too chaotic to be strict – this was my first known
experience that there must be something out there greater than myself – a G-d,
an order, a “reason,” a constant.
For me, being Jewish has (perhaps ironically considering world history) helped to save
my life. I’ve written here before and said before that for me, Judaism was a
thread throughout my life, it was just always there. Something to touch base
to, to hold on to, to get in touch with when everything else seems or feels
unknown. When I was in high school, I was not the most popular or friend-having
girl – shy, awkward, like many, I began making friends through the Jewish
community outside of high school, and began to really form my personality,
without the constraints or assumptions of people in school who had known me for
years as shy & awkward. I began to be funny, more outgoing, social. In a lot of ways, I
credit making those friendships, having met these other kids through a weekly
Jewish high school program, for helping me to survive those terribly isolating
years.
When I was living in South Korea, somehow I got hooked up
with another Jew through friends who told me about a Passover seder that was
happening on the American Army base, and I attended the seder there, with the
booklet we read from in Hebrew, English, and Korean – it was very weird, but
also, very very home.
When I arrived in San Francisco, through a series of
coincidences, I found myself a good friend of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and his
family, who invited me to Shabbat lunches in their home, holiday services, and
generally took me under their Jewish wing. Although their religious adherences
are far more “observant” than I want to be, I love them, and they love me.
And finally, let’s not forget typing “Jewish San Francisco”
into google when I was desperate for a job, and ended up working for a Jewish
Educational non-profit recently. And last year, as I moved to Oakland, and
wanted to keep my toe “in the Jewish waters”, I began to teach 5th&6th
grade at a congregational school in Berkeley on Saturday mornings.
But, mostly, what reminds me of the unique strength of my
connection to this history, community, path, and identity, is when I went with
my friend Barb recently to a “young adult service” at a contemporary Reform
synagogue in SF. As I was raised with my high school Jewish community with song
leaders, and clapping, and laughing, and foot stomping, and singing in rounds,
and levity, this is what was reminded in me at that service. There were
guitars, and perhaps a tambourine – Jews love their acoustic guitars! And
then, there were voices.
A congregant gave a little speech during the service,
and he basically told my story. About how he is connected to this community
through song – how he’d forgotten his voice, and remembers it here. And he
cried a little with gratitude, and we all felt it. And my friend Barb and I
commented afterward that there’s a spiritual community she and I have in common
outside of Judaism, but then, there, here, we get to connect to, perhaps not
something “else”, but something more, much much more. Deeper, as if through our
outside community, we get to experience a spirituality that is skin deep, but
through this Jewish connection, we get it in our bones. In the roots of our
family trees. In the dirt of earth 6000 years old.
And as we sang that day a few months ago, I remembered the
sunlight of Judaism. Of Jewish community. It’s not the laws, the rules, the
Bible (which I have issues with, but it doesn’t really matter) –it’s that
swept-away feeling. It’s the feeling of certainty and faith I had when looking
out over the Pocono sunset.
Why mention this all? Firstly, because it’s good for me to
remember that in some ways, I’ve been living without sun lately. And secondly,
because it comes up always when I begin to date someone new – the first
question out of two of my good girlfriend’s mouths when I said I was meeting
someone new was “Is he Jewish?”. And he’s not. And like I said recently on
here, I don’t yet know if it’s a dealbreaker. I never have. I know that it’s
important to me. I know that if I have
children, I want them to be raised in a similar way that I was, with the all
knowledge that my experience may not be theirs, but I want them to know what
bubbe’s matzoball soup tastes like.
Does it matter? Does it matter if your partner is the same
religion as you? Does it matter that some of the strongest and most powerful
experiences of my life occurred and continue to occur in a Jewish setting?
Well, yes, that does matter, but it matters to me. Does it need to matter to
the other person? Such is the conundrum of modern life. And not so modern.
Questions of intermarriage are on the books, the old books, for millennia. But, I do want to be able to
exchange bubbe’s matzoball soup-type memories. I want the shared history. I
want the shared experience.
I discount it again and again. And ultimately am not ready
to give up questioning it yet. Letting the guys I date not be Jewish (My
dad’s family isn’t, and I love getting “both”).
So, for now, the answer is, I don’t know. The answer is also
to re-engage myself in the community that I miss. And I’m going on a 2nd
date on Friday night, with a Catholic. 

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