It is a tree/Shalom, Shalom/It’s not a bush…

This should have been posted Friday night, but due to internet issues I am posting it now:

For those of you unfamiliar with Reform Jewish children’s songs, the above lyric is from the much-loved favorite, Tree of Life. For some reason, this line (which was changed slightly from my own childhood) cracks me up. Literally, I laughed so hard I cried the first time I heard it. I did the same tonight at services, where I learned…

I love being Jewish.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but all the same, I find I appreciate it more and more as I have gotten older, and especially since I have gone to college. It was so fun to go to a family service and see my old campers, sing with them, and reconnect with an old friend.

Granted, I am not the first person anyone should go to for advice on traditional Jewish practices, but I know the important stuff. Want to learn a Shabbat song for your preschooler? Boy, do I have something for you! Hand motions and everything, I am not joking. Or’za Ruach is a personal favorite. Need a brisket recipe? Look no further. (Although, I won’t actually give you the recipe…it was my grandma’s. I’ll take it to the grave). Do you have questions about the proper gift-giving techniques for Hanukkah? I’m your girl. After being led around my house playing “hot and cold” for about 10 years, I have that down. Always look in the bedroom first; and avoid the bathroom. Nothing is ever hidden in the bathroom.

All joking aside, I think it’s important to have a cultural as well as a religious connection to one’s faith. I mean, come on. What do people remember from religion? Not the endless services, sermons, and sunday school activities. We remember family and food. Honestly, preschool at my temple was some of the best years of my childhood. I equate most of ages 3, 4, and 5, purely with Judaism. I learned all the basics, readying me for a lifetime of kiddush, kibbitzing, and corned beef.

I remember all the holidays with my close family-friends, playing while the adults had coffee and never finishing seders. I remember decorating menorahs and making challah, learning songs and having show and tell with Mrs. Gold. I remember temple brunches, picnics, and lock-ins. Afternoons of play-doh, Shabbat blessings, and singing still haven’t faded, even after 17 years. I still keep in touch with my friends from those times; Judaism is what kept us together. We suffered through hebrew lessons, awkward Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties, and camp retreats. There is nothing like a few unbearable slow dances and crazed, energetic dance leaders to bind you to a group of people. I know that wherever my life takes me, more than likely I will have a Jewish friend close by. If you’ve ever heard that song by Debbie Friedman, you’ll know what I am referring to. True, I will never live in a pagoda or subsist on falafel, but I hope I will never be far from a Jewish community.

In college, it has been a real learning experience. Away from my temple, my friends, my family, and even my sect of Judaism was an eye-opener. I had to learn how to identify myself within my faith away from everything familiar. Thankfully, MU’s Hillel was nothing if not welcoming. Though I differed from many of the members, the best part of Judaism is that one is free to practice how one wants, and most people are generally accepting of that. I was able to grow. I learned songs! Traditions! Prayers! Oh, it was a year full of fun, lots of food on Fridays, and some very unique improv. Strangely enough, I started to feel at home. Now back in my hometown, it is odd not going to Shabbat services every week. The practices I adopted at school are not traditional at my temple. But I must say, singing all of the 15 verses of L’cha Dodi is a bit of a chore. Really, 9 will suffice.

I know I have talked about this before, especially the college aspect, but it’s important to me nonetheless. Judaism will always be a huge part of my life and how I frame myself. Judaism is flexible. It allows for so much experimentation and discovery, which I never fully understood until now. My sophomore year comes to mind. My rabbi tried so hard during our confirmation year to fill in the blanks and have us question Judaism. It was unmarked territory. Question the Torah? Unheard of! Absurd! But fun. Quite, quite fun. He made us stretch the boundaries of what we thought being Jewish was, and I cannot thank him enough for that. It is what allows me now to keep changing my views and practices without feeling guilty. I like the grappling, the struggle.

I suppose this entry is long enough already. Shabbat shalom!