When I was six, my parents gave me a choice: be raised as a Jew or as a Christian. My dad is Jewish, and my mom was Protestant, although she later converted to Judaism. Most people have been varying shades of horrified when I’ve told them the story about how I was offered a choice. Reactions are usually in the realm of, “OMG but how could you even make such a choice at that age???” …because, clearly, not being given a choice is so much better? Because, ‘making the choice’ well into adulthood, after a certain faith has been ingrained in your lifestyle and your family traditions for at least a couple decades, is easier/safer/less potentially disastrous? Because being informed is such a key part of most institutionalized religion?
Anyway, I chose Judaism. I had friends of each faith, but my cultural experience with Judaism resonated with me fundamentally. I’ve had some wines and am realizing just how unspecific ‘cultural’ and ‘fundamentally’ are. Ok. I never did the ‘research the old and new testaments’ portion of religion. Like, on paper, yes, totally, I did that. But my truth is that I read it like some guy’s manifesto. Or, some guys’. There were good stories and amazing ideas and political references and tons of very motivational-speaker-esque verses. At any age, six or otherwise (see previous post on my bat mitzvah), I couldn’t grasp the conviction everyone had about God (and I am capitalizing out of respect for people who need it) and the definite terms of His Rule.
I did, however, latch completely and entirely to the warmth and jubilance I found in my friend’s chavurah during High Holy Days. Let’s be real: the food was also amazing. But mostly, I loved the immediate trust and safety in every get together. I loved the songs, not because they were harmonically scintillating, but because people sang from their gut, with their heads raised and with perpetually lit eyes. I loved how parents included their kids in the traditions, and absolutely everything was up for heavy (and sometimes tense) debate. I loved that it was okay to not get along, but not ok to not show up. I loved the community. So, I chose.
My heritage is something I hug close now, when politics have somehow become entrenched in religion. My own ‘religion’ is deeply personal: it’s more about my own journey towards being more kind, more loving, less cruel, and, ultimately, more understanding. Maybe my religion is being better at empathy. But, the traditions I was given as a child have followed me, regardless of how often I sit in service (never) or say Mourner’s Kaddish on the eve of a loved one’s death (I still do this. Every year, regardless of what the words actually mean: the ritual reminds me to care more actively, and the reminder is worth it), I hug my memories of my chavurah and shabbat and sunday school like a binky I didn’t know I needed until the strands of the memories floated away like over-touched threads of a dream.