Tradescantia Zebrina .:. The Wandering Jew


tales and opinions of the wandering Jew

On Judaism…

This post is a a little long, so I’ve put it behind a cut, just to spare people’s friends pages. Basically, I’m talking about a few issues that have been rumbling around in my brain for a while now, including my Judaism, becoming a rabbi, and Montreal.

I think one of the reasons I have such a hard time at synagogue here is the constant cheerleading for Israel. Which isn’t to say that Israel doesn’t need cheerleading, but when I go to synagogue I’m looking for spirituality, prayer, and hopefully an inspiring sermon. What I’m not looking for is a weekly speech on why Israel is crucially important, why we need to argue down those who see Israel as being inexplicably in the wrong when it comes to Arab-Israelis and/or Palestinians, and why we need to send money to Israel (instead of, say, third world countries). So when, this past Shabbat, there was a long speech/presentation by the Canada Israel Committee, explaining how they lobby politicians (more cabinet members went to Israel this past year than any other); put pro-Israel stories in the media, by working closely with all of Canada’s newspapers, TV, and radio stations; and spend time explaining to average Canadians why Israel isn’t the Big Bad Bully that it’s depicted as…. well, I get annoyed. I couldn’t help but think that this organization, and others like it, are doing just what the fringe of anti-Semitics are claiming: The Jews are controlling the government and the media. (And, what’s worse, after this long talk, the congregation clapped. Clapped! You do not applaud during services.)

So this has me thinking. If I feel this strongly against listening to all the rhetoric, to the point where, no, I will not be going to the rally/march for Israel on the 22nd, to the point where I didn’t join in in the Yom Ha’Atsmaut “songs for Israel” at the service’s conclusion, despite the fact that I have been to Israel, and I plan on going again, and I have planted trees, and made donations to the JNF… how must those Jews feel who are not Zionists? (Not that I necessarily see myself as a Zionist, but that’s a whole other post.)

I looked around and realised I was one of maybe a half-dozen people in the congregation under the age of 35. And of those 5 others, 2 were there with their families (they’re newly engaged and were getting a blessing), and the remaining three were of bar mitzvah age or younger. Do the age demographics correlate to opinions on Israel? In a time where people have such hugely diverse and divisive views on Israel, would a synagogue be more likely to hold on to younger congregants if they didn’t mention Israel? And why does being Jewish in the Diaspora mean that you have to be so pro-Israel?

I didn’t participate in any Hillel activities this year, because their presence on my campus is thoroughly synonymous with total Zionism. (And “traditional” Judaism, loosely affiliated with Orthodoxy, and I’m not a believer in separating the men from the woman during prayer.) I didn’t fall in love with Israel after I went; while the students at Hillel talk about nothing else but going [back] to Israel and how great a time they had.

* * * * *

I’ve been really worried that I’ve been moving forward, towards rabbinic studies, towards becoming a rabbi, and that this isn’t what I’m meant to be doing. That I’ve been moving on an idea I’d had as a seven-year old, and just kept repeating. Because of my doubt, I’ve been trying to reassure myself that I’d made the right decision by telling myself, and others, that I didn’t want to be a pulpit rabbi, that I wanted to work with children and youth, do outreach and social justice. It seemed to legitimize my decision, and make more sense somehow. But a few things have been happening of late, that reassure me that I’m on the right path.

The other day I finally realised that not only could I take my negative experiences and make them positive, but how I could do that. Specifically, how I could hopefully excite, inspire, and capture the imaginations of children, similar to the way that I was excited, inspired, and intrigued by Judaism as a child by my rabbi. This was enough to keep me interested and active in Judaism post-bar mitzvah, unlike most of my peers. Further, this was enough to keep me interested even after I left that rabbi/congregation and found myself attending a series of synagogues with incredibly boring, uninspiring, and flat-out rude rabbis. (Sure, I enjoyed arguing sexuality with rabbis, explaining why I believed that G-d created all of us, even the queers, equally, but it was also incredibly exhausting and detracted from my ability to connect spiritually at synagogue. (And the other disagreements were far less enjoyable.)) I really believe that I can have a positive impact on the lives of children and youth, explaining the stories, culture, characters of our religion.

Then there was my afternoon spent with a 70-year old woman. Usually when people ask me what I’m studying, and what I want to do with my education, I’m not exactly forthright. I don’t lie, I just don’t usually feel comfortable saying that I want to be a rabbi. I guess I just feel that it comes with a whole host of expectations and pre-conceived notions. But for some reason with her, I was upfront. She questioned how my past work experience, my years of volunteering, would play a role in being a rabbi. And I explained myself. She smiled, nodded, and told me that I have a good soul. It feels weird admitting it, but this total stranger managed to help validate my choices in a way that good friends and family have not. The afternoon flew by, and culminated in her insisting on driving me home. (Oh, and she wants me to do some limited contract work for her, starting in a couple weeks, and she’s decided that I’m so fantastic an individual that she’s networking on my behalf in hopes of finding me a job that’s “worthy of your efforts and experiences”. I want to make her my bubbe.)

* * * * *

The joy of this rather lengthy post, is that it doesn’t even begin to skim the surface of my thoughts. I think I could write for hours, and perhaps I should?, and I still wouldn’t have my ideas hashed out.

Filed under: judaism, politics

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