The following is a list of the organizations at which I’ve worked during the past 10 years:
The Bureau of Jewish Education. Congregation Beth El. Oakland Hebrew Day School. Brandeis Marin.
Perhaps you notice the clear and obvious trend: Jew. Jewish. Hebrew. Jewey jewness.
I grew up Reform in northern New Jersey, and attended Sunday and Hebrew school, high holiday services, and occasional family services. For a while (apparently at my and my brother’s behest), my family sat down for Shabbat dinner with a challah and chicken dish every Friday night. One year, to our father’s ire, my brother and I chose to honor Rosh Hashanah by walking around the duck pond across from the synagogue while our parents went to services.
Ben and I went to Jewish sleep away camp, and learned the songs and more melodic prayers. I became active in my synagogue youth group which participated in wider NJ-NY events, connecting with high school students across the region, singing those camp songs and new songs, and crafting inside jokes and photo albums.
When I lived in South Korea teaching English after college, I attended a Passover seder on the American Army base in Seoul (where the hagaddah [prayer book] was written in English, Hebrew, and Korean!). After being abroad, I moved to San Francisco, got a job at a property management company, and fell in with the Chabadnik family (one of our tenants), who were generous and inviting and funny.
Then, I quit that job, became awfully ill with a 104-degree fever, and pondered what in the hell was I going to do for work. As I lay bedridden that week, I asked myself, “Besides ‘creativity,’ what do I love?” I answered myself, Well, I like being Jewish. !
I then went on the internet and Googled “Jewish San Francisco.” The rest, as they say, is history (aside from the 103-degree fever with which I attended my interview with the BJE!).
Yesterday, I got to sit in the synagogue that is attached to the school where I work. Every Thursday, the school gathers together to sing and pray and learn. And I love it.
The songs are generally similar to those I learned in Jew camp and youth group, and I like to notice what’s different from East to West coast melodies. The order of the service is the same; the wave of choral voices and clapping is the same; the eternal flame over the Torah is the same.
I’m not religious. I love Jews and Jewishness and songs and clapping and “L’chayim-ing,” but I do not love the dogma or doctrine — the very little I admit that I know of it. I do love the wide-openness I find in Reform Jewry, and how whatever my conception of G-d or Jewishness can fit generously inside the fleshy parameters of the religion.
Yet, what feels the most significant, most comforting, most embracing is that I can sit inside that synagogue yesterday, hear the voices of children and guitar crash over me, and mourn the present (folding and unfolding) dissolution of my relationship, and be witnessed and honored and held by the hand of whatever G-d there resides.