Thursday, March 17, 2005

I Am Jewish...

The last words of Daniel Pearl were: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.” Then his captors cut off his head.

I recently attended a Havdalah service which focused on the book I Am Jewish, published by his family to commemorate his life and senseless and cruel death. The service was planned and organized by a grandmother. Four persons – the organizer, her 10-year-old granddaughter, and two men – read selected contributions from a wide variety of people who talked about being Jewish – people from Theodore Bikel to Thomas Friedman to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to children with names we never heard of. The service was moving and inspiring.

I found myself asking just what I would say about being Jewish. I am Jewish by choice, not by birth. This means that I made a conscious decision to leave my religion of birth and adopt Judaism from the various choices of religion. What prompted me to do anything about religion? I was contemplating marriage and had a strong feeling that a family needed one and only one religion. I went to two rounds of “Introduction to Judaism” classes and determined that this was a religion that spoke to my beliefs and spiritual needs. In addition, my husband-to-be was already Jewish. At that time I actually knew very little about Judaism. The tunes to which some of the prayers were sung were starting to sound familiar, but Hebrew was still a very foreign language. The home rituals were not at all comfortable since I had not grown up with them. There were new things like the menorah, but my days with Christmas trees were gone.

Now, 32 years later, I find that I have been Jewish more than half my life. Although I sent my children to religious school, I did not fully embrace Judaism until I joined Temple Micah 4 years ago. Since that time I have learned to love the music, the ritual, the endless debate, the social conscience inspired by my wonderful rabbi and congregation, and the food – yes, the food: the gefilte fish, the matzoh balls, even the passover sponge cake that I have never learned how to make. As I look to my own bat mitzvah, I realize how comfortable I finally feel with this religion. I no longer feel I have to apologize for the fact that I was not born into Judaism, but instead adopted it.

Judaism offers me the chance to practice a religion that frees my mind to think instead of shackling it into conformity, that continually challenges me to determine the moral choice in a situation, and that connects me to a community that accepts my love of this religion with no need to see my passport. For these things I am grateful.

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