Growing up, before every holiday all of us kids had to set the table before the holiday meal. We would anxiously count out all the plates, silverware and goblets to see if one of us had the luck to have aged up to the adults' table. Not that there was ever anything wrong with the kids table but the adults' table is where all the interesting conversation happened. It is where politics and religion were discussed. There plans were made and past secrets were spilled. As food was passed and wine poured and candles flickered, the air seemed magical. I wanted to be an adult so bad that I could not wait to be old enough. Any time I asked when I would be old enough, a definite age would never be given but just the answer that this was just not the year.
For me, finding my voice Jewishly was a lot alike finding my place at the adults' table. I spent so much time waiting for the magical moment when I would feel like I had a voice. The thing is, there is no magical moment. You have to create that moment where you speak up. You have thoughts or something that needs said, say it! Do not let fear or hesitation hold you back. Do not let fear of what others might say or think hold you back. At the end of the day, it is important that you have a voice and that you use it. When you do not have a voice, your soul can get lost in all that you bottle up inside.I encourage you to practice using your voice in smaller circles at first and then larger circles later if you are nervous at first. Another thing you will come across is sometimes people may try to take your voice away. For me, because some do not consider my conversion to be valid, they try to take away my voice in the Jewish community. At first this was really difficult for me and I struggled because I did not have the confidence to stand upon as I faced up to them. I had to find it within myself to think about my perspective in this situation. I have a loving community that accepts me as a Jew. I firmly believe I am a Jew. I believe before G-d I am a Jew. So why am I listening to the voices of people that I d not know who say otherwise? Much like that, you will have to find the strength within yourself to stand up to those who will try to take your voice away.As a little bit of a side note, I personally think it is a horrible crime to take someone's voice away. As someone who has had my voice taken away many times in my life, whether by bullies, depression or anxiety or my rapist, I think that our voices are such an important part of us. As a Jewish community, I believe it is important that we strive to hear the voices of the Jews around us. We should create safe places of dialogue where people can share their voices.
Furthermore, when sharing our voices, it is important to know when to share and when to listen. Often, I find that I want to share things just because I want to be heard, not always because it is something that is necessarily helpful to the conversation. While some of this is okay, in a large group setting, this can limit how much time others have to share. So knowing how to keep our words short and appropriate to the topic is helpful. When in group settings, it is also good to know when to just listen. Perhaps it is a part of my introvert nature, I love listening to others when we are talking about Torah and other subjects in group settings. I am always so surprised by the unique ways by which others see the topics. I find that even if it is something that I know by heart, I can always learn something new.So welcome to the adults' table!Once I was older, I stopped asking because I realized that sitting at the adults' table was not a matter of judging my maturity or a numerical age but a matter of how many guest were coming that year. Now that I have sat at the adult table for a number of years, a lot of the magic has gone, I no longer enjoy the long sometimes heated political or religious discussions. As a young adult, I still often feel out of place.Sometimes it is time for me to listen, sometimes it is time for others to listen to me. Part of being a family is knowing that everyone has a voice and being respectful of that.