, the parent religion of both Christianity and Islam, has about 14 million members in the world. My friend Faye, a Reform Jew, was kind enough to participate in my Spotlight on Spirituality series:
1. How long have you practiced this form of spirituality?
There are multiple ways for me to answer this question. I officially became a Jew 7 years this season. I have been practicing Judaism seriously since marrying a Jewish man and raising my son Jewish 16 years ago. or I could also say, I’ve always felt Jewish but didn’t know I was. I am a member of a Reform synagogue. There are many streams of Judaism (Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist to name some, Judaism is not just one sect and there are levels of observation that are fluid through the streams.
2. What about it fulfills your spiritual needs?
So many things fulfill me with Judaism:
A. Judaism is a religion of questioning, not just taking faith as a set in stone beliefs. One of our main tests in Judaism is the Talmud, a book that continues to grow as more Jewish scholars have discussions with other scholars from throughout the ages. This is where the rules that are followed by Jews come from. The scholars look at the Tanakh (the 5 books of Moses, Psalms and the Prophets-The Jewish Bible) and interpret what is written there and argue subtle points.
B. God is accessible to anyone. There is no need for an intermediary (like a Rabbi, Priest or Saint) to “talk with God” God and prayer are available for everyone. You do not need a Rabbi or Cantor to conduct a Jewish service, only yourself and for certain prayers- a community of 10 Jews praying together (a minyan)
C. The community. Jews are there for others, I know that if I have need of community, there are people around for me. There are certain prayers that are only said in community because of the need to support each other.
D. Traditions that are in place to help us through difficult times. I am studying the traditions surrounding death and dying at the moment. These traditions are meant to be a support and anchor while the family/loved ones are feeling adrift in grief. Having these “rules” to guide one during a difficult time can be a comfort, there is no need to reinvent during a crisis. Everyone knows what to expect and how to support those who are mourning. But at the same time, it is OK to break the rules, if that makes you feel better too.
E. Shabbat, a day of rest (the Sabbath) This is the beginning of the weekend, it was started very long ago and is one of the 10 commandments brought down by Moses. Stating the weekend with joyous prayer and song with members of my community is amazing. I personally don’t refrain from most practices during the rest of the weekend but I know that the tradition is there, and lately, I will refrain from the news for that 24 hour period. The end of Shabbat is special too. one of my favorite rituals is Havdalah (the ritual end of Shabbat) It awakens your senses at the end of the rest (candles for sight, spices for smell, wine for taste and the sizzle of the candle being extinguished in the wine at the end; and for me the hot wax falling off the candle during the prayers-lol), it is very special.
F. The tradition of social justice (Tikkun Olam-repair the world) We are taught that you must do something even though you may not be able to finish the repair. Justice is very important as well as education. So much of what I have found important throughout my life has deep roots in Judaism
3. What challenges (if any) does being a (fill in the blank) pose in everyday life?
A. Not being Christian in this time is a challenge. There are people with so much hate that have been allowed to show their hatred openly and violently. It is deeply disturbing that people can hate others because they look at the world differently. Going to services with bag checks, showing ID’s, police vehicles outside is sad. My synagogue had anti-semetic graffiti scrawled on the walls in the same week as a shooting at another temple in another city happened. This shook me.
B. My religious holidays are not legal holidays like Christian holidays are. People who are not familiar will sometimes schedule important meetings of gatherings on the major holidays and so you have to choose between your religion and other important aspects of your life. I need to take vacation or personal days to celebrate major holidays but have off for Christian holidays (i.e. Christmas). The minor Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, has been transformed into a Jewish Christmas (ironically, it is actually about Jews fighting to retain their own traditions). Holidays start on the evening before, so I often need to leave work early the day before a major holiday to make it to a religious service.
4. Are there any misconceptions people have about your belief system you’d like to clear up?
-Not all Jews are rich. Many of us are middle class or just getting by. Because Jews are very philanthropic, those with money are visible in charity organizations.
-Jews are not all “Fiddler on the Roof” (different clothes and customs), we act/look like average people and you would be able to pick us out of a crowd. There are Jews of Color as well. Not all of us look Jewish. Some of us follow dietary restrictions but not all and not all to the same extent.
-Women in many streams of Judaism have leadership roles and are equal to men in all aspects of life. There are Rabbis and Cantors (the person who sings the prayers and chants from the Torah scroll) who are women in many streams of Judaism. In my area, many of the Cantors and Rabbis are women. My Temple has women in Lay leadership roles including president.
-Jews are in the forefront of Social Justice (charity, fighting for human rights and labor reform etc).