Our relationship with Judaism
I am writing about a great love of my life. I don’t put my love of Judaism before my love for my wife, children, family, friends, community, this astonishing world or even life itself. Rather, Judaism is the language in which I express those loves; it is the words to the music they create in my heart.
The High Holydays draw us closer to the source of those words; they call us to greater attentiveness, to turn aside from distractions and listen.
What can I say in a few paragraphs in honour of the faith to which a hundred generations have devoted their minds and souls; the faith by which they directed and purified their lives; into which they poured their questions and anguish; from which they drew purpose and courage; for which they lived and, tragically, sometimes died?
I do not want anti-Semitism to be the cause which draws us back to our Judaism. I do indeed feel troubled. On one side is the resurgent xenophobia of the right, across much of the globe. On the other is the anti-Semitism of the far left. The sometimes grudging and niggardly way in which this is treated suggests that the issues are not over. Added to these are the dangerous voices of radicalised religion. Together with all forms of racism, anti-Semitism must be challenged, rejected and, wherever possible, transformed into positive relationships.
Rather, I want love to draw us more deeply into our Judaism. These are the reasons why:
Judaism celebrates life; it counts life’s blessings and opens our hearts to gratitude. Its toast is ‘Le’Chaim, To Life!’
In an age of loneliness, Judaism draws us into community. It fosters companionship and solidarity. It asks us to make our congregations more open and inclusive, to welcome the youngest, appreciate the oldest and meet the needs of the vulnerable, because we need the insight and contributions of all.
Judaism guides us amidst life’s sorrows. Its practices in mourning are banisters to cling to when, bewildered by loss, we struggle to put one foot in front of the other. It wants us to care for the ill, be present with the dying and sit in solidarity with the grieving.
Jewish ritual structures time. It leads each working week into Shabbat, when nobody, no boss, screen or iPhone can tell us what to do, because we are free to be, simply be, and have time for those we love, for our own spirit, for the sky, the trees and God.
Jewish teaching leaves virtually no ethical challenge unexplored. It guides us in how to treat ourselves, each other, the poor, refugees, all those who have no one to advocate for their rights. It summons us constantly to live with integrity, justice and compassion
Judaism calls us to regular prayer and study, so that our spirit can connect in stillness with the spirit which lives in all life and breathes in all breath, so that the sometimes empty well in our heart can be replenished with cool water.
I don’t make these claims for Judaism in an exclusivist manner. I believe that following any faith with integrity, intelligence, sensitivity, compassion and self-discipline leads to the same depths. Sages of all religions have often found companionship as they seek the same wisdom.
For all these reasons, I am grateful for everyone who helps me deepen my understanding of my own faith. I want us all to share that journey, so that we don’t feel like tourists in our own culture, foreigners in our own language or strangers in our own texts.
For Judaism never just is; it is always in the making. What it offers is only a promise until we turn it into reality in our communities. That is a joy, opportunity and responsibility which summons us all.