I have often been described as someone who is a “spiritual” person. This phrase seems a little tenuous to me, and doesn’t say much. I am a seeker--I believe in looking for a higher meaning in life, greater connection, more awareness. This expresses itself in various ways, none of which are necessarily traditionally Jewish or halachic. I’ve struggled with this for a long time, because my understanding of a “good” or “proper” Jew has always been shaped by the idea that being traditional or halachic is the “right” way, or really, the only way. While I had so many positive Jewish experiences growing up--camp, youth groups, Hillel--I was often disillusioned and bored at synagogue (we went to Conservative and Orthodox), felt out of place at my day school (an Orthodox-run Community School), and judged by my community. I always felt bad for not being Jewish “enough”, despite the fact that the rabbinic lineage in my family runs deep.

By living in Israel, I feel truly able to come out of my somewhat secular closet. I came here partly because I wanted so badly to marry my fulfilling (not-particularly-Jewish) spiritual practices with my deep love for Judaism and just couldn’t seem to find a right fit in the US. I love that in Israel there are so many people who are so committed to traditional Judaism, to the rites and rituals and traditions (reason #489745 I am moving to Israel). However, I have a hard time feeling as though these rituals are something I need in my life in order to feel fulfilled, nor do I feel any sense of obligation to perform them. I sometimes feel like the Rasha, or the wicked son, from the Passover hagaddah, who inquires “What does this work/service mean to you?” Because I feel like I ask that a lot for others and myself, and wrestle with the tension of the variety of answers. So many questions come up for me: How is Judaism relevant for me and where can I find myself in it? How can I access it from where I’m at? Where is my place in Judaism as a (possibly) secular, spiritual person?

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I had a teacher this year who said that part of Judaism’s “problem” is that it is often taught at an elementary level and never graduates to a higher and deeper level of thinking for many. So our world views and experiences become more sophisticated, but our religion stays at an elementary level. And this is where we lose people. Or at least seem to lose people. If you were to take the narrow view of many demographic surveys on Jews and their dedication to Judaism, I might not even make it on the map. However, if you ask the people I know, I am one of the biggest lovers of Jews and Judaism there is.

I love how deep Judaism gets, how it creates moments and opportunities to express a variety of emotions and space to go through life’s cycles. I am so deeply proud of my tradition and roots, and fall more in love with Judaism as I continue to wrestle with it.

I have no resolution, no neatly tied bow, no box or package in which to place any of this. I’m not sure I ever will. And to be honest, in my opinion, that’s true Judaism. Judaism, for me, is not just following rules, or performing certain rituals, or reading certain books. Judaism is a living, breathing entity, one to be engaged in and with, to be challenged, to be accepted, to be broken down and built up. To serve as a vehicle for loving kindness to self and others, for creating community, for sanctifying the profane and making our whole lives holy, in whatever way that means to you.

My prayer is that we may all find our place inside of ourselves, and connect with a community that loves and supports us, no matter what our practice. May we be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally fulfilled, and may we always lead with our heart. Here’s to (at least) another 4,000+ years of evolving Judaism!
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