My parents were both raised Jewish, but as a result of a few life experiences, they pretty much bailed on the whole religion thing. So, for the first nine or so years of my life, we celebrated Christmas (like the majority of the people I knew in those days). My brother, however, upon discovering our Jewish roots, re-ignited an Old Testament interest in our household, and before long I found myself in Sunday School, Hebrew School and well on my way to a Bar Mitzvah.
Even still, to borrow one of my favorite lines from author A.J. Jacobs, I was Jewish the way Olive Garden is Italian. That is to say – not so much. Sure, I did the Jewish camps, traveled to Israel and went to all of those classes, but I was just never all that taken by the idea of organized religion. There were cultural aspects of Judaism that were attractive, but they often came with High Holiday Services and Shabbat dinners. For whatever reason, none of that was for me.
That being said, I absolutely thank G-d for the Jewish cultural and religious influence that has been part of the last week and a half of our lives. True, the Rabbi who has helped the family grieve and transition is an unbelievable rock star. The guy has just been so comforting and cool that the religious stuff – the prayers and rituals – has been totally welcome and equally comforting and cool. Perhaps it’s just the first time that religion hasn’t felt forced down my throat; that’s usually about the time I start to run for the hills.
Of course, it’s natural to look for an explanation during what feels like unexplainable times. I’ve always been a combination of skeptical and jealous of people with unbounded, unquestionable faith – those who are able to suffer tragic loss and look to their (deity of choice) with thanks. I remember reading about a couple who lost their small child (in a horrible accident) and they thanked G-d for the time they had with their child and believed that he was in a better place. At the time, I just couldn’t understand that (and probably still can’t). But, I do get it.
I’ll never be an Orthodox Jew. I’ll probably never even be a Conservative Jew. But, if there’s yet another lesson to be learned from the last two weeks – it’s that in addition to the culture and traditions of Judaism (and other religions), faith brings community. The number of people who have taken the time to bring food or pay their respects has been astounding. Felix was an amazing individual, but the outpouring of support and pure love has been…I don’t even have the word.
So, here I am, years removed from setting foot in a Temple for any kind of service, and I’m ready to go back. I’m ready for a Friday night service. I’m ready to explore the community of which I was once a part. Reciting the prayers for Felix felt good. Beyond that, the last time we had a Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house – with K-Man and his friend sitting next to him at the head of the table – it felt good.
Yes, there’s so much emotion wrapped up in these days, but after growing up with so little faith and after a roller-coaster of experience in these last few years, I think rediscovering the community, the traditions and even the Jewish religion is something to look forward to. It’s something to do as a family. It’s something to do with K-Man.
If I think about it, many of my Jewish memories and friends are so vivid and important to my life. I’m not exactly sure where my back got turned, but it did. As I enter this next (over 40) phase of my life, I think experiencing Judaism with my family will provide a fantastic anchor and help balance the complexities that come with parenting. Plus, with this Rabbi I know I can’t go wrong.
It’s time to make the move from Olive Garden to some real Italian food – metaphorically speaking. (But not with all that heavy sauce. I have to watch my waistline, after all.)