I am often presented with the imminent wonderings of… “hey…. you’re Jewish! How does it feel!?! …. I’ve always wanted to take to a Jewish person about Judaism…I knew a Jew once….”
My response: “Awesome, I LOVE the Jews! YES Let’s talk about being Jewish… it’s. It’s wonderful. It’s everything. It’s… I got nothing”
“So like… do you believe in heaven or hell?” is usually the next question I get.
My response: “Do you?”.
That being said… year’s ago, I asked MY Rabbi this eternal question of heaven and hell. Earnestly. With my big eyes, looking at him, knowing rightfully so that I probably would have known that answer to that if I paid attention at Hebrew School. He looked at me wistfully, and then handed me what must have been an 1,000-page book and said “I’ll answer you that question after you read this book”.
Really, there just wasn’t a simple answer. There never is to a good question.
Judaism, simply put, in my view, is about choices. Are you Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Hasidic? (I’m Reform, the easy one). Do you keep Kosher or not? (We didn’t). Do you want to have a Bat Mitzvah of not? (I did, though my parents really didn’t care either way, mostly because they didn’t want to foot the bill, I speculate). We were always frugal. But always had plenty of money for what mattered. Judaism taught us: Family First. Always do acts lot loving kindness. Be nice to your neighbors. And really, I grew up being taught that God is everywhere, and God is you and me and this food and my clothes and it is all encompassing. It is nothing. (Ein Sof)
While there are at least two sides to every story, there are about a billion takes on this ONE collection of stories. It really all started with THE BIBLE, and us Jews specifically like to focus on the Old Testament, we call it the Torah. The first five books of Moses. But what about the other books, I always wondered? I mean why these five, and some of the others, but not all of them? Why did we go so wrong with Jesus? SO MANY QUESTIONS!!!
Welcome to the never-ending story….
So, I’m having lunch with my OTHER Rabbi just last week, and I ask her the same question, “do we believe in heaven and hell”? and the answer I got is “sorta, it’s complicated, do you?” and she then proceeded to break down even further about these ancient texts and books I wasn’t entirely aware of.
Enter: The Talmud. The Talmud is the central text of the Rabbis. It’s a collection of stories and conversation had ABOUT the Torah. It is composed of two parts, the Mishna, which are documentation of the oral instructions and teaching of the time when the Bible was written. Gemara is the other part, which are writings of explanations that the old Rabbi’s marked as worth being printed, as to clarify what was being said in the Talmud. Are you following me? I’m barely there.
Being raised at a local Kansas City Reform synagogue, that I now just so happen to work at, I can safely tell you, I feel very confident and comfortable in my “Judaism”. But it’s not something that I can entirely explain or even begin to translate, just what it is about Judaism that pulses so strong…that feels so good. I do feel it. Even though I don’t always acknowledge it. Then again, I think EVERYONE can feel the pulse, whether you are jewish or not, but you have to tap into the well, intentionally.
When I got the job working for the temple, MY Rabbi (who I had known since birth), asked me to house sit while he was out of town. It was a lovely home, and I regret not spending more time there. One quiet evening I came by to feed the fish, I walked up to his giant bookshelf and said “show me a book… give me my book”. I reached up and pulled out without hesitating: “God is a Verb” by Rabbi David A Cooper. “Kabbalah and the practice of mystical judaism”. “PERFECT! I’d always wanted to study Kabbalah”, I thought to myself.
You’re supposed to be a 40 year old male to even consider studying the Kabbalah (which literally means: “To Receive”). Some say Kabbalah can only be learned from a gifted teacher. Others say it comes in the school of Ecstatic reality. Some tap into the akashic records of universal everything. God is everything. You are everything. If you can believe it’s possible, it just might be true. But it’s up to…. you choose what you believe in. What I’m saying is, I fell in love with this book, this concept of God being a Verb.
“Kabbalah is not a system, as some suppose. Rather, it is an outlook, a way of perceiving the nature of reality In Essence, Kabbalah is founded upon mystical conceptions regarding life, death, creation, and creator. it teaches us about the mysteries of life, how the creation works, where we are going, and how we get there.” – God is a Verb
God is an action. It is how you treat people. It is how you chose to live your life. With kindness. Dignity. (And maybe a hint of magic and wit). While I will continue to read this book from start to finish over and over again, probably for the rest of my life, attempting to understand just a bit more each time, I have accepted that none of us will ever know the full true story until we are gone. We can only enjoy the ride, and hope it’s entertaining enough to take care of yourself and live healthy, happy and holy.
My father, who is now an active member of a local orthodox synagogue here in KC, is rather devout, and there is so much pride in his prayer. And why I love it, I don’t know that I could give my life to it. I’ve thought about Rabbinical school, but it seems limiting. I wish I could fit myself into the nice box of religious understanding, but it just doesn’t seem to work that way. So I still say, “yes, I am jew-ish. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it that makes much sense, but I can tell you what’s working for me.” And why I may not entirely understand the weight I am carrying, I too will remain prideful and humble in my faith.
“I am he as you are he as you are me And we are all together”
As if that wasn’t enough for you… Jew-Ish Spoken Word Piece: