Jewish Spirituality in food, music, and culture

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Spirituality means different things to different people. Defining spiritual practice can prove difficult because it limits the definition to the person describing it. However, the implications of spiritual practice are universal, as is the ability to connect with G-d in a meaningful and important way.
My spiritual practice is geared traditionally towards prayer. I feel connected to Gd in a personal manner when entering into a prayer space or engaging in shacharit, maariv, mincha, Hag and/or Shabbat services.
However, connecting to G-d is not limited to only the experience of prayer. I feel a genuine connection to G-d, my family, ancestors and traditions by being a part of Yiddishkeit, or Yiddish-Jewish culture. Eating Eastern European Jewish soul food, watching Jewish humor in television and movies, and singing niggunim in Yiddish connects me in an important way to G-d, my family, my traditions and my soul.
For myself, I experience spirituality by reaching into myself and my soul. I do this in a number of ways: Jewish prayer, Eastern European Jewish food, Jewish folk music and Jewish humor all connect me to the divine in an important way.
Spirituality can be reached by anyone in similar ways. Not everyone chooses to engage in spirituality on these same terms, but I believe all Jews can experience spirituality similarly to me: by reaching deep into themselves.
This belief about spirituality does not limit my responsibility as a rabbi to being a prayer leader. I believe rabbis should be spiritual leaders for communities. Our shuls must not only connect our congregants to G-d through prayer but also offer a variety of options. They need to be community centers as well as centers for Jewish soul food cooking, Jewish folk music, men’s and women’s clubs and Jewish youth groups.
Not all Jews will connect to G-d using my formula for spirituality, a combination of prayer and experiencing cultural Judaism. I know some of the most powerful moments I have felt connected to G-d have been through Jewish folk music, which reaches deep into my soul, to some of my most intimate childhood memories.
Many Jews connect to spirituality simply through the experience of eating Jewish soul food. The act of consuming Matzah products on Passover should be a spiritual practice. It reminds us not only of bondage and the exodus but also of our ancestors in a very visceral way. From a young age, many Jews experience the holidays at a dinner table, with their family, including their mothers, fathers and grandparents. This reminds us of our ancestors, the next generation, miracles, culture, tradition, and even G-d and ourselves. Consuming Jewish soul food is a spiritual practice.
Is this the case for every Jew? Clearly, it is not. Many Jews are converts and grew up in broken families or simply never were introduced to Judaism. These people need to be lovingly embraced and introduced to an important part of Judaism right in our shuls. My belief is that most Jews feel that the experience of shul is devoid of the connection they seek in spirituality because synagogues are perceived only as houses of prayer. This is something we should work to change.