“It’s Not Complicated”

Gosh it’s been a long time since I blogged! Those Bar Mitzvot certainly take it out of you. My eldest’s Bar Miztvah was the best day of my life. I don’t remember much about our wedding, thanks to the very efficient Venue Manager who kept myself and The Husband supplied with spirits for the whole day. Giving birth was amazing but painful and exhausting. My Bat Mitzvah (well, both of them!) was – well, a long long time ago. I remember enjoying them both but I don’t remember much about them.

But my eldest’s Bar Mitzvah was perfect. He was wonderful, and read his Parsha beautifully and confidently. Friends and relatives came from all over the country and even from abroad, and it was so good to catch up. The Shul catering committee provided a wonderful buffet, and food (mostly cake!) brought by our kind loved ones was amazing. The entire Shul congregation were welcoming, friendly, helpful and generally just wonderful, especially the wardens and especially to those of our extended family who aren’t Jewish themselves and so are unfamiliar with the setup of the Shabbat Morning Service.

Life has since returned to what passes for normal in our house. Summer holidays came and went and were great, including the Imp Club National camping weekend and a week at the seaside at Haven in Burnham-on-Sea (highly recommended if you have children – oh and do check out the Bakelite Museum! It’s amazing:-). New term has started, with the inevitable chaos and paperwork (and money flowing toward school like water – I’m sure we didn’t have this many school trips when I was at school!) My colitis went into remission with the advent of the Paleo diet, and has since come out of remission, but I’m wrangling it back into the cupboard. We’ve just this week started fostering abandoned kittens for a local cat charity, and somehow in between all of that, I do a full time job. No housework you understand – well, something has to give.

But sometime, somehow, somewhere, I found religion. That sounds as if I’d had it once and lost it, but that’s not the case – there was no crisis of faith. For a long time I’ve known what I believe about the world around me. I have very well defined spiritual beliefs. I have a moral code that I try my best to adhere to. I’m on a constant (in my darker moods, a constantly failing!) quest for self-improvement, and I’m always trying to dig deeper into the nuances of what I believe and what the best way is to cope with the various situations I find myself in.

For some time I’ve felt conflicted about how drawn I am to Judaism. When I was younger, it was just who I was, something that I did a few times a year. When I was a teenager, it was something that made me different to most of the people around me, which I quite liked, but the actual religious observance, being religious, wasn’t cool. During my explorations into spirituality starting in my late teens, I developed a dislike of dogmatic religious observance, mostly because of how it affects others. There were a lot of people around me who felt the same.

But recently, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss with a great many people, Rabbis, other Jews, learned and wise people of all religions, spiritual beliefs and none, what they actually believe (and also, I have to say,  I’ve read up on some great resources on the Internet) . This is not the same as observance. Last week, at Rosh Hashana, I listened to a student Rabbi give an inspiring and thought provoking sermon on what he actually believed – which owed a lot more to the Gaia principle than to the concept of some old bloke with a beard up in the sky somewhere, looking down on us.

I’ve noticed over the years of being what I thought of as a cultural Jew, and living with a Pagan, that the similarities between the faiths were greater than the differences. The underlying tenets are pretty much the same, although the history and myth cycle are very different. Sometimes there are startling similarities between the observances.

I am really happy and comfortable celebrating the Pagan Wheel of the Year – it seems appropriate for me, living in Britain with the seasonal cycles. But I am also a Jew. I am a British Jew. And if I deny myself the opportunity to worship in the traditional Jewish fashion, I find something essential missing from my life.

I don’t go to every service every week. I try to get to a Shabbat service once a fortnight or so, and to most of the festivals. My life is not set up to physically get to the Synagogue more often than that, otherwise I would go more often. But when I do go, I enjoy it so much. It’s like a meditation to me (I meditate sometimes, and also do yoga, and it’s a similar kind of feeling). I definitely feel that I connect with something – whether it’s my own subconscious/unconscious/higher self, the global community of Jews all praying at similar times, or the Jewish God with a long white beard sitting on a cloud, I do not know and I do not care. I feel recharged and empowered. And happy.

I’ve been closely examining the words of the prayers and meditations in the services, and there are very few places where I feel my beliefs don’t at least broadly align with the words I’m saying. So attending a service and saying the ritual words enables me to pray, to think about my spiritual attitudes, to feel the gratitude and thankfulness that might otherwise pass me by in this busy and often stressed world.

I wish my Hebrew was better. I wish I knew more about the traditional prayers and how and when to use them. I wish I could get to Shul more often and also do more of the social stuff in the wider community. I wish I knew more about the Mitzvot and the traditions. I wish I was in a position to hang out with the radical Jewish thinkers of the day (probably around Leo Baeck college:-) Actually Leo Baeck is running some interesting looking evening courses that I would love to attend, but I live a bit too far away to attend in person. I want to say the Shema twice every day and observe Havdallah and put a mezuzzah on my front door.

I draw the line at some things. I hate wearing hats, so the idea of a headscarf or a sheitl (wig) is a nightmare. I have enough trouble keeping my pink feminist kippah (skullcap) on for the whole of a service! I’m all for gender equality in the services, I have a tallit (prayershawl), I’ve had a Bat Mitzvah, taken various parts of various services. But I can’t wear tefillin. I do wear jeans and leggings and tshirts, (although recently I’ve noticed that I feel increasingly uncomfortable wearing anything that shows cleavage, knees, or elbows and I’m not sure that’s my age!). I don’t keep Kosher and never will. I use my laptop and the TV and car on Shabbat and High Holy days, although I try to keep mundane work to a minimum and I won’t do my paid job on those days. And – I’m married to a Pagan.

This is my path. This is who I am. I will not impose my beliefs on anyone else. I don’t think anyone else *should* do things my way. But – I am a Jew. A British Reform Jew. An observant, practising, religious British Reform Jew. It’s time to come out of the closet, or ark, or wherever I’ve been hiding, to stop being ashamed of what I believe and how I choose to observe that, to disregard the fact that in this day and age it’s generally regarded as being weird and uncool by many of my friends/colleagues/peers and to just get on with being who I really am. Time to change my religious relationship from ‘It’s complicated’ to ‘In a religion’.