9.30.2015

I am Jewish

Growing up, I wore my religion on my sleeve. I loved being different. I loved being asked questions about my religion and answering questions.

In high school, that changed. I was called names and made to feel that my differences were bad. I was ridiculed and bullied and administration couldn't stop it. Ultimately, I left my school for a semester to allow things to calm down. 

In college I went to a Jesuit college. The Brothers encouraged my attendance and participation and nurtured my curiosity in other faiths. I was accepted. When I moved to a bigger university setting, I still felt accepted. 

After college I worked for faith based and non-faith based companies. Now I work for a public school. We have a very diverse student population, but there is a strong division between church and state. I don't overly broadcast my Judaism, but I don't try to hide it. There are other teachers who are Jewish and they make sure that we are treated fairly for religious holidays and the like.

But we are in the midst of the Days of Awe, the High Holiday Days, and my Judaism feels more special. More like a gift.

Last week, we celebrated and commemorated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, Jews are called upon to recognize a lot about themselves; their brokenness, their position in this life, wrongs that they may have committed, and really take note of the person they are becoming.

Generally, in our faith, bringing someone to services is considered a mitzvah, a good deed. It is meant to be an invitation to share in our celebrations, not to be proselytizing, or trying to get someone to change religions. We don't usually bring "outsiders" to the High Holiday services. But, this year was different.

I have not attended or participated in High Holiday services since my mother, of blessed memory, passed away in 2011. I have been harboring some difficult feelings that I was not all-together ready to face. Frankly, I was pissed off at G-d, and frustrated with my "beautiful religion" as my friends would say and I was sick of hearing things like, "She's in a better place", or "it was her time" or, my least favorite and hardest to swallow, "It was G-d's will". Like hell it was.

So, this year, I asked my friend to come with me. She is someone I have a lot of respect for. She'll shoot you straight, tell you how she's feeling and she says no. That last one is one I'm hoping to learn from her. She will say no when she can't, won't or doesn't want to. I don't know how to do that well yet.

The service this year featured a sermon by our newest Rabbi. She shared, beautifully, how important it is to be vulnerable. To recognize our brokenness, our lack of always knowing and that sometimes it's totally fine to lay it all out there. Rabbi Wohlner is a little quirky in some really great ways. She has an insane amount of confidence, a beautiful voice for cannon and song and a great wit. But she's fiercely intelligent and very well positioned in the South, though I don't think she is a native.

this spoke to me
Her sermon, like most sermons I've heard lately it seems, spoke directly into my heart and soul. It sounded something like this... "Rachel, it's totally cool that you're livid at G-d. You have that right. It's awesome that you came to services and probably wise that you brought a friend to share the awesome parts and be there if the bad stuff gets too bad. Some days we all have great days, but it's those bad days that we push through and hold closer to our faith, whatever it is, that really define who we are. Can you recognize the bad day in someone else? Can you be responsive to that in a supportive and kind way? Are you ok with the idea that we are not all perfect?"

Members 10 years or less
So, I've decided that this is where I'll share my Judaism. There's lots of questions out there....so shoot. Ask me. I'll share my thoughts on our holidays, how my family is participating or give my personal commentary on my synagogue's sermon or activities that week and you can ask me anything you want to know. And if I don't know the answer, maybe I can get Rabbi Wohlner do guest blog at some point. She may be cool like that...

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