I love great conversations! The best are the ones that keep you thinking, and questioning, and somehow are relevant and applicable in other conversations days later. I really love those moments where you have to stop and think, “Is the whole world having the same conversation as me?” or “did they know I was just talking about this with someone else earlier?” Suddenly, what seemed like a “one-off” discussion becomes so much more than that. And, with each new perspective, each additional layer, you gain insights and ideas that inevitably shape who you are! It makes you think! I mean really think!
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I linked to “Jew-ography” and I’m still thinking a lot about the important lessons I learned from my time exploring the Jewish community in Cape Town. My experience in Cape Town was iterative of and has been reiterated since then as, during every major transition in my life, I slowly established my Jewish communities and networks. In Cape Town, I was literally moved to tears by the comfort I found once I overcame my apprehensions and attended Shabbat services. It’s crazy how you can be so far away from home and still find spaces that are so familiar and so welcoming. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about religion. It’s been exhilarating to grapple with my own experiences and learn about others’ connections (or not) to religion and spirituality. This has been especially impactful in the wake of so much tragedy around the world.
When I was growing up, at every bar/bat mitzvah (including mine) there was this song that the choir sang and the lyric in the chorus was “you shall be a blessing”. By this logic, I guess, rather than being blessed you, individually, are the blessing to others (and presumably vice versa). So then, especially when I begin consider all the “adversity” I’ve experienced and also what I know of the experiences of my friends (and generally in the world) and then how I make sense of that ends up making no sense at all (*sigh*). I believe adversity makes us more resilient. Even in the face of adversity we have the opportunity to acquire resilience and find the good, the blessing, in each moment – each interaction.
Lest I digress further, for me, I do a lot of “Jewish things” “just because we always have”. I’m into tradition. I appreciate practices that are a daily reminder of my religion but specifically as it relates to my need for community and connection. It’s the only thing I know (My mom is a Jewish educator (as in runs her own religious school) and my parents met as Jewish youth group advisors). So for example, keeping kosher is super important to me because in the midst of chaos and the hecticness of every day this practice makes me stop each time I eat and reminds me of something that is so fundamentally important to my identity. So the “why” or lack of doesn’t irk me (although I do know why I just don’t think about it every time) because my intentionality is one of community and maintaining a connection to my religion and to other Jewish people. When I was growing up, my mom used to play me this song (I intentionally searched for the silliest recording I could find). That resembled the “connection” piece for me. And so far, it’s been hugely influential and necessary and real for me. For example (as I mentioned), in Cape Town and then again this year, it’s been the Jewish community that has been the consistent, redeeming, allows me to breathe deeply, and smile authentically even if everything else that day sucked, special thing in my life [side note: I realize I’ve written this exact sentence before but, it applies here too].
One essential aspect my experience of Judaism is the music and the associated energy/spirit- in Hebrew we call this Ruach. I’m sharing this (and the above examples) because it reminds me about (and represents) the energy and interconnectedness that what I feel when I pray and when I find that connection – but not always because sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions as they’ve been scripted and reiterated so many times before. Which is why I go each week to services – I fear missing it!
This week, this Shabbat, I definitely didn’t miss it! I was overwhelmingly reminded how absolutely necessary my Jewish community is. The colorful, diverse, emotional, bright, warm, accepting community felt just right. Our voices collectively filled the room with praises and each of us was connected in song and in spirit.
Have you ever stopped to take notice of your body and noticed that you’re smiling so much and in that moment there’s practically nothing that could happen that could make your smile waiver? It’s more than just being content. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s something beyond choosing to be happy. It’s the understanding, the realization, that you’re exactly where you need to be. It’s being so present you don’t even have to remind and refocus your energies to be “in the moment”. I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Even if I have to continually relearn this lesson, I know definitively no matter where I am in the world, no matter how hard I try to “do life” (which apparently doesn’t initially include Judaism) ultimately this one thing, this connection and energy , is a necessity, that simply (or not so simply) reinvigorates me each week and I cannot be without.