The other day at the playground I was asked by a mom whether or not it would be insulting to Jewish families if she coordinated a play date on Yom Kippur since the kids were off from school that day. I told her I could only speak for myself and while it wouldn’t insult me, we just wouldn’t be able to attend. We then started talking about Judaism and the different aspects of the religion: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc. I explained that to some I might as well be Methodist as I was considered a “Holiday” Jew, one who mainly attends services over the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Growing up we belonged to a congregation that identified somewhere between Orthodox and Conservative. Definition: long services with a lot of Hebrew. I’ve always struggled with religion, not because I wasn’t proud of being Jewish; I was – and am. It was more because I never really got the whole prayer thing and its true meaning. While I enjoyed being with my family during these times, and listening to the melodies of the songs, I never had a full understanding of why we needed to recite the same prayers year after year, and what they truly represented. And why the service had to be so long? For me, being Jewish is so much more than the Sabbath and High Holidays and prayer. It’s always been about faith, family, and tradition – and of course, food.
At last night’s sermon for the Rosh Hashanah service, among many topics the Rabbi spoke about, his main focus was on the decline of Judaism in the respect that young families and people are so apathetic when it comes to attending services at synagogues and temples. This is certainly not a new topic, and it’s definitely not exclusive to Judaism. He cited a recent Pew poll surveying the younger members of the Jewish community where 94% said they identified themselves as being Jewish but only 22% identified themselves as being a religious Jew. To that I say: define religious?
Just because I may not go to temple or synagogue every Friday night, and many consider me a “Holiday” Jew, does that make me any less a Jew than someone who does? I say no but those who believe the only way to show religion is by attending services and through prayer will disagree. I’m just as faithful to G-d and the Commandments than the next person (even when my faith has been tested time and time again), and my family is steeped in Jewish tradition. We are teaching Jack all about what it means to be a Jew, and he started religious school when he was in kindergarten. Nothing makes me prouder than the tradition of my heritage.
Religion is a deeply personal and unique experience for everyone. There are those who embrace every aspect and others who can’t be bothered. And that’s okay. As I’ve gotten older my understanding of prayer has grown and I’m no longer counting down the minutes until the service ends. I’ve got a son who does that now. But I’m still the same Jew I’ve always been – one who believes in faith, family and tradition.
L’shana Tova to all who celebrate and may we all have a sweet new year – no matter how we practice our religion!