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I have a new friend who, like me, is exploring her Jewish roots and discovering the rewarding and difficult aspects of some Jewish communities and their practices. I wrote this letter to her yesterday to support her on her journey.
I am so impressed by your curiosity and love of learning for Judaism. I certainly relate to it, since we have similar backgrounds: we weren’t raised with much religion; we identified as Jews but didn’t connect with Judaism as a religion and with G-d; and we both married non-Jews.
I think, however, when we try to understand Judaism through other people’s experiences, we can create some difficulties for ourselves. First, there are so many ways to practice, even for Orthodox Jews. Second, our own experiences will be unique to our own lives: the way we think about being Jews, what we want from our faith and our relationship with G-d; and how we can best pursue our journey.
In my case, I found a mentor and his family. They provided me with a positive example of practicing Jews; they are a loving and fun family, and their devotion to Judaism and to G-d is sincere and tangible. Through their own stories and experiences, they helped me find a direction and the beginnings of a path. And I’m incredibly grateful for their help and loving support.
When I first considered re-engaging with Judaism a few years ago, I became overwhelmed. How can I possibly do everything that is “expected”! My goodness, there are 613 laws! (I happen to be the kind of person who likes to fully engage with whatever I do, and pursuing my faith half-heartedly or with a slap-dash approach seemed like I was taking the easy way out.) This effort seemed too important not to take it seriously and not practice with vigor.
Fortunately, when I lamented my unwillingness and inability to become an Orthodox Jew (which I wasn’t sure I wanted, never mind that I was married to a gentile!), my Jewish friend explained a meaningful way to see my situation.
First, G-d wants to have a relationship with us. He wants it deeply. He is only waiting for us to show up. Next, we all have our own arc, the kind of path we take, how we create it, how we engage it, and even how we embrace it. Yes, being an Orthodox Jew may be a more complete, and certainly a deep and beautiful way to be a Jew. But we must seek G-d in a way that speaks to us and works for us. And anything, anything, that we do, will most certainly please G-d. Every ritual, every practice, whether it is saying the Shema or lighting Sabbath candles tells G-d that we want to be close to Him. And when we practice with our hearts, souls, and minds, we will sense His closeness. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how others perceive our practices (although all Orthodox Jews that I’ve met have been kind and non-judgmental in their actions toward me); what matters is that we connect with G-d.
So there is a lot of information out there, positive and negative, from Jews and non-Jews, about Judaism. Eventually I think you’ll find a way to determine what has meaning for you. And that is most important.
And G-d will welcome you with open arms.Published in