Forgiving

Rosh Hashanah is only about a week away, and the approaching High Holy Days bring about responsibility to reflect on actions and emotions of the past year in order to ask those around us for forgiveness. It is only through reaching out to those around us that we can go before Hashem and ask for mercy and forgiveness. With so much concentration on the act of asking for forgiveness it is easy to forget the other half of our job- forgiving.

Right now, I am angry, hurt and bitter. The past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions, and I have just been informed of the third death in the past month of someone I loved. As I just began to feel some stability within me, I now feel surrounded by death.

It is hard to try and make sense of the loss and hurt, especially while being overwhelmed by many other stresses and blessings in my life. With Rosh Hashanah so close, I feel that there is a lesson here for me. I need to forgive. I should not only forgiving those family members and friends who have hurt me but also Hashem. I feel anger towards Hashem, mostly because I am frustrated by my lack of understanding. At the same time I am aware that just as I want to stand before those in my life and Hashem and be forgiven, I need to forgive those who have hurt me, including Hashem.

I have no time between now and the Holy Days to go through stages of grief and/or reasonably come to a state of forgiveness, yet I must forgive sincerely. It is hard because I want to be angry. I remind myself that there is a reason that the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer not referring to death but Hashem’s sovereignty, is said after a death. It reminds us that despite death, despite hurt, anger, loss and fear Hashem is in the world and in control. Rosh Hashanah reminds us of the same thing. I am thankful for this helpful reminder in the liturgical year, especially so close to such significant personal loss.

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Mitzvot in Conservative Judaism

I love Judaism.

From the beginning of my desire to convert to Judaism, I knew that I would first and foremost identify as a Jew and the branch of Judaism that I affiliate with would be secondary. While this sounds nice, it is naive to  see the branches of Judaism as artificial divisions. You can think a certain way and practice a certain way but at the end of the day you have to function within a community.

Orthodox and Conservative were the two branches that I spent the most time considering  when choosing a community. I still question where I fit best at times, but for several reasons I know that Conservative Judaism is the right place for me. The tension comes because my practice tends to be on the more Orthodox side of things.

When I discuss this with my friends they tend to think I am crazy and that Orthodox practice is much harder than Conservative practice. I disagree.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism both see mitzvot (commandments) as binding. Conservative Judaism, unlike Orthodox Judaism, sees mitzvot as evolving. This difference in opinion leads to differences in practices, like the Conservative movement ordaining female rabbis while the Orthodox movement does not.

For me personally, I feel it is harder to live out mitzvot through the Conservative movement than the Orthodox movement, which is largely why I practice in a more Orthodox way. In Orthodox Judaism, there is a clear sense of not only what to do but how to do it. In Conservative Judaism, there is the same 613 mitzvot, but there is a very different approach that enables you to practice each in ways that are meaningful for you. This ambiguity can be beautiful and confusing at the same time. I struggle with finding the most meaningful way of living out each mitzvot in my life. Especially in this early stage of learning to live as a Jew, I find it necessary and rather comforting to have clear rules and expectations of how to live in the world.

I am in no way saying one way of practicing is better than the other. I think that everyone needs to find what is best and most meaningful for them. For me, I find the structure and clarity of Orthodox practice more comforting , but I am also trying to ensure I understand and value my community’s practices. While the process of trying to find what is best for me is mostly frustrating, I know that it is necessary in order to ensure that I am secure in who I become as a Jew and that I can live out my Judaism even when I leave my present home and community.

Tu B’shvat- The New Year of the Trees

Hag Sameach!

Tu B’shvat, the New Year of the Trees, just began a few hours ago. This is the first year I celebrate Tu B’shvat, and I was lucky enough to attend a seder for the holiday at my synagogue.

I spend my work week studying Judaism with my academic hat on and especially lately, have been analyzing liturgy. Of course, there is some intersection and overlap between my personal religious life and the material I read and write academically, but it is easy to get distracted by the academic questions.

Tonight, with the beautiful poetry and symbolism in the Hagaddah, I was able to let the visions of peaceful trees and nature take over me. More than once, I got caught up in the beautiful feelings and lost track of what was going on around me as I focused on one word or idea that had significance for me in that moment.

It is those moments, when I just lose myself, that I know I am in love. I know I love Hashem. I know I love Torah. I know I love Judaism. And I know I love all the people of Israel and cannot wait to be one of them.

The intensity of the feeling, like all feelings, passes or fades, sometimes even as quickly as it came. That does not mean that the love is no longer there or that I can never have it back. Our relationship with religion is like any relationship. We have cycles with highs and lows. We have days we want to give it our all and days we just want to hide in bed. That is okay. It is more realistic, and healthy, to not ignore any emotion but feel them for what they are and honestly acknowledge their presence in the moment. Judaism teaches that each new moment is full of new potential. Do not dwell on moments past, but be fully present in this moment so that it too can pass and you will be given a brand new moment, a brand new breath full of possibilty.

In this moment, I want to thank Hashem, the Source of all, for giving us the wonderful trees and plants of the earth to shelter and nourish us. May we continue to be inspired by the ever changing seasons and renewal of the trees that show us that new seasons, new days, and new moments bring new possibilities for renewing our whole selves.

God as…my Father

The predominate image of God that I grew up with was God the Father. God the Father was such an important metaphor in my religious education, because it allowed me to learn about God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Even before I began to explore Judaism, I was drawn most strongly to a relationship with God the Father. I knew it is all the same God in Christian theology, but that was the imagery/terminology I found most helpful. I was about 15 years old when I stopped praying using the terms Jesus, Son, or Holy Spirit. I would instead substitute all instances with “God,” because it was the unity of God I wanted to emphasis and for me that was most fully expressed in the Father.

When I came to college, I was introduced to biblical scholarship. Both in current scholarship and in the Conservative movement, which is the movement I am currently learning within, the use of gendered language for God is to be avoided. Both in papers and in prayers, I am told to not refer to God as He or Father. I understand the danger in using gendered language; it can be used oppressively and can limit our understanding of God as Transcendent. Even understanding the limitations with the metaphor God is Father, I have to say this is one of my most treasured images of God, especially now as I am in the process of conversion.

In the process of conversion, relationships in your life get turned upside down and inside out. My relationship with my parents, sister, aunts,uncles, cousins, and friends will never be the same. I will lose some relationships and I will gain some relationships. Like all other chaotic, unstable times in life, it is comforting to have God as a constant.  God is not my Parent the same way that my parents are, but God as my Father is still a very intimate, special relationship.  I am at a point where my tradition, beliefs, and holidays are different than all of my family, and often cause tension. I am the only one resting on Shabbat. I am the only one lighting a Hanukiah. I am the only one not celebrating Christmas. At a time when I feel utterly alone and sometimes at odds with my family, it is comforting to know I have always had and will always have my Father.

I am leaving my family’s ground that is familiar and am on a journey on less familiar ground so that one day I may be a Jew. I am leaving the role as a daughter of the Church for the role as a daughter of Israel. With the change of my role in religion and family, it is comforting to know I will always be my Father’s daughter.

“Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you;” Genesis 12:1

“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

I was not lost, but I certainly found.

The famous author of The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote the words, “not all those who wander are lost.” This line has become a well-known quote because so many people can relate to the idea of wandering. Throughout our lives, we encounter many moments of wandering. We move from school to school, city to city, and job to job. Throughout the numerous processes of wandering, many of us are fortunate enough to stay rooted by family and friends. No matter how many times we move to a new city, we always have our “hometown.” In these instances, it is clear it see that those wandering are not necessarily lost and retain their roots.

On a deeper level, we wander in our minds, hearts, and souls as we explore ideas of why we are put on this earth and what direction our lives are headed. It seems like the deeper types of wandering happen when you don’t have a clear direction. Even if you are not lost, you are lacking clarity in a meaningful way. Some of us begin to learn more about different religious traditions as we wander through profound questions that either were previously unanswered or not sufficiently answered. With the majority of conversion stories I have encountered, from a variety of religious traditions, the converts describe their experiences as going from being lost to being home. They often begin in a state of little to no religious conviction and make a total transformation when they find their religious tradition and realize life now makes (more) sense. I can definitely relate to the end result feeling. I understand what it feels like to have this new found religion as the home you never knew existed but where you most certainly belong. But the first part, the experience of being lost or without a “home,” I have never felt.

I grew up in a very stable and loving two parent household. My parents, like their parents and their grandparents, created a nurturing, Roman Catholic household.  I had church every Sunday and catechism classes every Wednesday. I participated in many Church activities, like Vacation Bible School, youth days, and Christmas’ pageants. Besides a brief rebellious streak when I hit thirteen, I loved going to church, catechism classes, and all other things Christian. I had a clear religion with clear beliefs in a clear community. I never felt lost. I never had profound moments of doubt or skepticism. I never felt like my needs were not being met. I had the Church and never expected to want anything else.

When I began learning about other religious traditions, in junior high and high school, my study was based on interest of cultural diversity and had little, if anything, to do with theology. I began wandering even though I had a firm conviction in what I believed. I cannot easily relate to the story of other converts who were not spiritually fulfilled before they found their religion, but I can relate to their feeling of finding home, finding more fulfillment then you ever imagined possible, and finding a relationship with God and a community. I have never had a child, but I imagine that my experience is similar to the feeling of a parent. You led a fulfilling life before your child, but then you have your child and realize your life takes on new meaning, experiences, and fulfillment that you never knew you were missing. I never knew I was missing Judaism until I found it, and now I cannot let go. I did not wander because I was lost, but I can not deny that I found significant meaning I never knew I lacked.