Reconstructionist, Conservative, Renewal, Humanistic, Reform, Post-Denominational, Orthodox… With an entire glossary of options to define our Jewish identity, how can we truly know under which denomination we fall? Classifying ourselves as Sephardic or Ashkenazic is fairly straightforward, based on heritage, but what determines the title of our level of faith? Must it fall in line with our ancestors’ tradition or are we tied to the place we were raised, or is it something entirely different?
I was raised in a Conservative synagogue, starting with preschool years that included learning the Aleph-Bet and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” in Hebrew. I attended secular grade school starting in first grade but continued with Conservative Sunday school and Hebrew school. After my bat-mitzvah, I stuck with classes through confirmation with about half of my grade school classmates. I don’t remember being particularly devout during my earlier religious studies (success in Hebrew studies was not optional), so my choice to stay in confirmation may have been as much a social decision as it was a commitment to continued education. Following my confirmation and my brother’s bar-mitzvah celebration, my family settled back to being primarily “High Holidays Jews” with a consistent commitment to Passover too.
As I applied to colleges, my parents were excited to tell me that all the schools to which I had applied had Hillels. I shrugged, not convinced that I’d ever care to check it out. During orientation week at Tulane*, my parents and I attended a brunch at Hillel. I met a few people and showed up again at the informal Tuesday suppers that followed. A guy I met there invited me to come to Chabad for a Shabbat dinner, which led to my attending the next winter Birthright trip, which changed everything. When I returned home from Israel, I put the star pendant back on the silver chain that I’d been wearing for years. Going forward, everyone knew where I’d be Friday nights. By the time I graduated college, drowning in a 23-hour credit load and graveyard shifts at a creperie, the only breaks I allowed myself were Jewish, from pizza parshah lunches to gabbing with the gals while prepping community Shabbat dishes.
Then I moved to Fargo, where the only Jewish option was Reform and where “people coming out of the woodwork for High Holidays” didn’t add up to the number of attendees who showed up for early Shachrit services on the average Saturday morning back home. That’s when I started using the term reconservadox to define myself. Raised Conservative, adopted Orthodox tendencies, limited by a Reform setting. When Chabad arrived in ND, I confirmed that I was a perfect fit in neither the Orthodox nor the Reform settings, suggesting that I am Conservative through and through.
Who am I now? I live between cities, which gives me the opportunity — and the stress — of not being committed. I fell back into Chabad accidentally after running a search for “young Jewish professional” and continued there after realizing last minute that I was back in the land of expensive memberships and mandatory High Holidays tickets. I’ve shul shopped around Austin and San Antonio, finding something to love and something to dislike at each place I’ve visited. I am used to limited options; what now that I can choose from more than a dozen Jewish places of worship within an hour drive of my home?
Through it all, the full gamut of being reconservadox, the one thing I always have been, without a doubt, and always will be, is Jewish.
*Tulane University is fondly known as Jewlane (next door to Goyola, aka Loyola University). If you weren’t Jewish, your best friend or roommate probably was. On one walk to the dining hall my freshman year, I passed someone discussing High Holidays. While eating my meal a few minutes later, I overheard a conversation about Jewish wedding.