(Photo of my father and I when I was a baby.)When I was younger, I remember this one time I went to a go cart track with my dad. I do not remember how old I was or where the track was. I remember we were standing in line waiting to buy the passes and I had let go of my dad's hand. I was mesmerized by the smell in the air, the wind as the carts raced by and the sounds of people's laughter. I had not noticed that the line had moved up as I stood still. I remember not looking away from the track and reaching for my father's hand and grabbing hold of a stranger's instead. I had expected the familiar feel of my father's hand in mine and was startled by the roughness of this stranger's. A sense of panic came over me and I let go of this stranger's hand. I remember twirling around and everything around me becoming a blur of scary smells and sights. I called out for my dad and he answered from by the ticket booth. As I ran to him, every step I took released some panic out of me as if the earth beneath my feet absorbed it on contact. When I finally reached him, the world suddenly felt safe and familiar again.
Sometimes I am not ready to leave Shabbat and return to the world. Much like when I was younger and held my father's hand, I long for the familiar feel of Shabbat. During Shabbat, it is like holding Judaism by the hand and having that connection to your people and faith that might not be so acutely present at other times in the week. This week felt much different though. This week, as I watched the news before Shabbat, I tried to once again grasp the hand of Shabbat. As I lit the Shabbat candles I expected to feel that familiar light and peace that accompanies this day. To my surprise, I felt something different. Instead of reaching out and finding peace, I felt fear. I felt fear being reminded of the Jews around the world that very night who were crying out in pain and sadness. I felt the weight of the wrestling within my heart on how one responds to these events. I thought about how the Grand Paris Synagogue was closed that Shabbat for the first time since the Nazi occupation of Paris. As we chanted and prayed, it was like looking in the crowd for my dad's hand. I was looking for that comfort and peace to return.
As a Jew-by-choice, as I am at times labelled, anti-Semitism plays an interesting part in my life. Apart from my kippah and Star of David necklace, many would not recognize me as a Jew when I walk down the street. My face does not bear strikingly Jewish features. My face looks like that of my Irish heritage. Growing up as a Christian, I had a certain privilege that I took for granted. I took for granted that many people around me adhered to the same faith as me. I took for granted what it means to be a part of a majority and how I could expect others to believe and think as I did. But now, as a Jew, it is different. I now see the world through new eyes. I have seen anti-Semitism first hand. I have experienced random strangers yell slurs, I have experienced the angry looks that come at times with being a Jew and I have experienced the attitudes and words of people who just do not like Jews. it can be scary at times.
However, I was reminded on Shabbat that much like how after I sought my dad I found him, so too when I seek peace I can find it. Being a Jew-by-choice, a lot of my life was defined in that big choice. But it does not and can not stop there. Every day, I must continue to make that choice as all the other Jews in the world do. I choose every day to look for opportunities to do mitzvoth, I say the blessings and I study Torah. I choose with the beatings of my heart to create peace where there is discord. I recognize that I have a responsibility as a Jew to have a hand in creating peace. That hand of peace that I sought on Shabbat starts with all the little details that come before. I have to let go of the hand of fear so that my hands are free to keep choosing Judaism by actions, words and intentions. So each day, I make a commitment to not let fear tie up my hands. I will be brave like the Jews around me and keep choosing Judaism.