Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Israel’s Namesake

on April 12, 2015

Hi there, bloggers. I know it’s been a while.

Before I say anything else, I hope you all had a wonderful Pesach or Easter or just a normal week if that’s what it was for you. I was incredibly blessed to be invited to seders in PA for the first two nights, and I truly enjoyed the food and company at both.

Also, there’s some exciting news in my life that I’d like to share with you all. First, I completed my Introduction to Judaism course last month! The last session was bittersweet and also touching- it overlapped with the first class of the next group of students, so I said goodbye and they said hello. Next month, I am *hopefully* going before a bet din… and then on to the mikveh if all goes well! I can’t believe that this milestone in my process is nearly here. Then in June, I start work at a Jewish summer camp as an archery instructor! I’m incredibly excited to both help kids grow and grow myself in our Jewish identities.

As I’ve been telling everyone who asks why I’ve fallen below the radar, both on the internet and in my face-to-face relationships, I over committed this semester. I took on extra classes, extra work hours, extra responsibility. I’ve always been an expert juggler in the past. But I never realized how far was too far until I took on too much. Now, I’m sounding the retreat and carefully extricating myself from non-essential activities (hey, blogging). I’m gritting my teeth and bearing the rest of the burden that remains on my shoulders. Now that it’s spring break, I have a little time to myself again.

Lately, I’ve been feeling stretched thin. Or, as a character from one of my favorite movies says, “Like chocolate pudding scraped across too much ham.” My sponsoring rabbi often tells me about the analogy of the rubber band, and I’m feeling a bit like the rubber band right now with regards to my work. Someone who is new to Judaism will attempt to follow every rule, far over-extending himself and stretching the rubber band nearly to its breaking point. Then, he’ll withdraw back to a spot that is comfortable for him, and the rubber band is no longer in danger of breaking.

However, the rubber band remains taught, maintaining some of that tension even after the newly religious Jew finds his optimal balance. Tension is essential in our lives because it defines our relationship as Jews. The title of Adam’s blog, Wrestling With G-d, nicely encapsulates the wrestling match that ensued between Jacob and the angel of G-d and resulted in his name change to Israel. We question, we bargain, we argue, and we converse with G-d and each other. It’s simply not in our nature to do things to easy way.

So how do we go about creating tension? One rabbi I know infuses tension into his davening. Every week, he changes something about the way that he leads services,whether it’s a new melody or the omission/addition of a prayer. He explained to me that a goal of his leading services is to make everyone uncomfortable at least once so they can grow. Since then, I’ve tried to approach prayer in that way. If I find myself muttering the same words over and over again without infusing them with any new meaning, I’ll switch to reading the English translation. I’ll emphasize a different word. I’ll skip to a part that I normally don’t get to read. When we become comfortable, we stop conversing with God. We stop actively talking, but more importantly, we stop listening.

My observance of Judaism is certainly riddled with tension. I often find myself struggling to find that balance between assimilation into society and identification with the minority. Where does the tension between me and secular world cease being productive and start becoming unrealistic? I don’t want to push myself too much, but then how can I know when I’ve reached that breaking point? I want my life to be Jewish, but I want that expression of Judaism to be both relevant and fulfilling.

I’ve discovered a guiding principle. I truly believe that even the oldest of teachings can be made applicable. I’m not saying I know how, but I think there is a way to make even the concept behind sacrifices at the temple relevant instead of skipping over that section every time and saying “we don’t do that anymore.” Instead of asking, “How does the world fit this mitzvah?” we should be asking, “How does this mitzvah fit in my world?” From there, I think there’s plenty of opportunity to infuse our lives with tension that is relevant and constructive.

It’s good to be back. I can’t promise you will hear from me regularly, but you will hear from me at every opportunity I have. Promise.

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4 responses to “Israel’s Namesake

  1. Adam says:

    It’s good to see you back!

  2. Morgan says:

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    • Jenn says:

      Hi Morgan! I’m very glad that you’ve found your way to my site, even if by error. I hope you continue to enjoy your reading.

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