Being Jewish

Self-made Star of David in Adobe Illustrator.Image via Wikipedia

This is the time of the year that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on.  For many reform Jews, who are past the bar and bat mitzvah stage for their children, like myself, it is the one time of the year that I reflect on being Jewish. 

As we all wish each other Shana Tova, Happy New Year in Hebrew, each friend of ours celebrate the holidays differently and each of their own Jewish history gives each individual a different connection to being Jewish. 

A few things happened this year that changed my direction and thoughts on being Jewish.  Emily is writing a paper and asked me “why did you raise us Jewish”?  A good question considering Fred was raised a Catholic. 

I was raised in a reform household with two Jewish parents.  My Mothers father was a big part of the Jewish community in Bakersfield helping Jews get out of Europe during WWII.  My father’s Mother got out of Europe just as Hitler came into power.  Being Jewish was definitely part of who they were.  Both of my parents were involved in starting two temples that have gone on to be the two largest reform temples in the country.  We certainly celebrated every individual holiday with the temple and at home with traditional meals.  Perhaps it was the destruction of their marriage, perhaps it was that they just didn’t give a shit or perhaps they just weren’t those kind of parents but they really didn’t care if we went to Sunday school or dropped out of Hebrew school or had any interest in becoming a Bar/Bat mitzvah and so none of us went for the marathon of getting there.  Why would we when the option was to opt out?  Once my parents got divorced and it was not pretty as it took place right there in front of everyone’s eyes at the temple, my Mom moved us to another synagogue for services.  At the first service we went to she deemed the rabbi as someone who thought he was god on the bema and we never returned.  Personally I breathed a sigh of relief.

Fred on the other hand went to church every Sunday growing up.  His mother is a religious woman and his father had zero interest in religion.  Fred continued going to Sunday services in college but he found the intellectual part of the Jewish religion interesting and was happy to support me in my desire to raise our kids Jewish.

Even though my families dysfunctional connections to being Jewish were part of my childhood, I still felt that connection.  I wanted our kids to know what it meant to be a Jew.  Fred and I took them to services; Fred learned the prayers and the kids all became a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  They are Jews.  Although both Emily and Jessica didn’t go to services this year, Jessica made the traditional brisket and honey cake for 18 people in Capetown where she is studying abroad.  Seeing that picture of her with the brisket totally cooked in the pot and her beautifully set dining room table really made me proud.  Emily picked up a challah, some apples and honey.  Josh went to services with Fred and me and to our friends for dinner afterward.

This year our temple embraced not one but two new rabbis.  When I do go to temple those few times a year I want to feel part of the global Jewish community.  I want to hear a sermon that pushes me to think, that is intellectually stimulating and makes me feel good about going to temple.  When you go to school and have an amazing professor the desire to learn is a game changer and I want that those few times a year I go to services.  This year, I didn’t get it.  I felt like I was a teenager again just yearning for the service to end.  Fred felt the exact same way and it is the sermon we both look forward to.

This year I am on the look for something new.  I want to continue feeling that connection to being Jewish.  Our kids will figure out what that is for them as they grow and one day has families of their own.  I wrote about the Passover sedar we had this past year when we went to our friend’s house and discussed the meaning of Passover in connection to a much bigger picture and it was amazing.  I want to have that happen at other Jewish holidays.  The sedar at our friends house set the wheels in motion to look for another direction that it is time for me to take on being Jewish.  I don’t want to lose that connection and I don’t want to feel like going to temple is a chore, at least not at this stage of the game. 

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Steven Kane

    Maybe go to israel for the holidays. Not to hang with the super religious scene. Rather to experience how “secular” Israeli Jewish society (eg Progressive or reform folks, the huge majority) observe and enjoy the holidays. It’s a bit different than USA Jewish tradition, very thoughtful and yet casual and totally baked into the fabric of every day life

    1. Gotham Gal

      Would probably love it

  2. ellen

    My father was a founding member of our temple in the 1930’s and by the time I came along, no one cared whether I went to Hebrew school or embraced the religion either.  So like you I never went to Sunday School nor Hebrew school.  Who wanted to spend 3 days a week after school learning hebrew and the torah?  My brothers did though.  Girls weren’t that important in those days.The temple is still there and I still live in the city where I grew up.  .I got my religious education from my husband. The children had  a thorough education in being Jewish and my attachment is more social than anything else.  This brings me to a question.   Do you think a le Creuset dutch oven would be the best pot  for a pot roast on the stove?  Do you like Le Crueset or something else?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Its all about the le crueset pot

  3. ShanaC

    A gut yearI wish I had an answer for you.  I found I was happiest/most jewish reading jewish sociological studies, but my answer is particular to me.What interests you about jewish life that you don’t know enough about- if you could learn more about that one thing, what would be…there are tons of resources, I wish I knew what to tell you…

    1. Gotham Gal

      I know enough to know that I embrace being Jewish but I need to figure out how to enjoy the high holidays in a way that works for me.

      1. ShanaC

        A thought: It may be worth the time to actually go through the texts by yourself/in a classroom setting as a learning exercise.  (Honestly, I find this to be one of the key reasons Passover is generally more fulfilling, you as the individual are much more involved in the text). Synagogues are much more boring than a yeshiva type environment  because most of the time its about the prayer, not grappling for intellectual meaning of what is going on.  I would try to contact someone like R’ Shai Held of Mechon Hadar/Yeshivat Hadar (… ).  He’s definitely going to be on the more frum end of things – however, I’ve also heard that he is humongously dynamic and intellectually very engaging from very very different sorts of Jewish people, especially when it comes to behavior practice.  Same thing with Rabbi Ethan Tucker.

  4. Rohan

    Shana Tova! 🙂

  5. Liz Rueven

    interesting personal history.  thanks for sharing it so openly.  I have just launched my blog  (birthed my baby?) Kosher Like Me,  about sourcing  innovative vegetarian experiences when away from my kosher kitchen.  Like many of my friends, I avoid all non-kosher items when I eat away from home, but love to eat out creatively and well.  We all express our Judaism in different ways.  Because there is an inherent flexibility in our culture, there are many choices.  Sounds like you have landed in your comfort zone and are proud to be there.  L’Shana tova  (to a happy new year)!

  6. David Smuts

    Shana Tova GG!Divorce is such an awful experience. I know from my own parents’ divorce as well as my recent one. And to have that experience all in front of the community must have truly been a very awful time in your life GG. And then…, to have to live in Bakersfield!, well enough said (from someone who grew up 40 miles from Bakersfield in Visalia).From an outsiders’ perspective it looks like you learned a lot from that experience, both in terms of how you manage your marriage/relationship/friendship with Fred and how you’ve facilitated a sense of identity in your children with their Jewish heritage. Well done GG!As the good book says; “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Whatever it is you’re looking for it all begins with being honest and open. And blogging about it is a great way to begin that journey. I hope you come back and tell us how that journey is going for you every now and then.

  7. William Mougayar

    On this occasion, Happy Birthday Joanne….RSV looks fantastic. Looking forward to a future post on that? Wanna see some pics 🙂

  8. Dana

    shana tova, joanne. i struggle with this too. not being a very spiritual person, but totally connected to being jewish, every time the holidays come around i find myself wishing for a community that i really want to be part of and to have a certain kind of meaningful experience. i cooked the meal this year for the first time since we couldn’t make it to either of our families and i was so proud of how the food turned out and how well the motley crew we pulled together got along. baby thought for yom kippur — have you ever been to CBST? i have to say, i’m not so big on services, but they create a very meaningful and welcoming atmosphere.good luck with all of this…it is a process for sure.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks so much. Pix coming

  9. Laura Yecies

    Wishing all readers of this blog a sweet new year.I have found for myself (and see this with others) that while my Jewish identity is consistent my participation in rituals and going to synagogue ebbs and flows.  I was on the board of our synagogue for 6 years which was a very intense involvement then less so now, especially as the children are done with their bnai mitzvah.  Having been involved with several rabbinic searches I hope that your new rabbis hit their stride and work out.  It must be very stressful for a new rabbi at the first high holidays.Personally I’m finding some intellectually stimulating Jewish content online.  Our own rabbi has taken to posting sermons online –  I enjoy listening to them as podcasts while I drive.

  10. Tereza

    Well, as you know I found out a year ago that I actually am part-Jewish (two quarters, technically). Being literally Catholic, Protestant and Jewish at the same time could quite possibly give me a headache… and I married a Lutheran so promised my husband when we married that we’d raise our kids Protestant.  I even sing in the church choir, for pete’s sake.  Sheesh.But I expect to be figuring out the Jewish part in the coming years.  Fascinating to parse through elements of your soul and try to discern which part belongs to what.  I’m not sure if that’s the way to think about it, but it’ll be an interesting journey.I have to say, when I heard a friend I’ve known forever say to me for the first time, L’Shana Tova, it felt really familiar and warm.  Sometimes seeing it through fresh eyes and teaching it is a way to reboot.  Joanne if you ever need a partner in crime, lemme know.

  11. Amy

    Shana Tovah JoanneBeing Jewish for me is being part of an enduring community.  Always knew I was Jewish but never in a religious sense.  It took a trip to Israel to meet with women entrepreneurs to understand why  I felt that kinship.   Come with us when we go there either November or January.  Amy

  12. CCjudy

    I am a jew and what that is a work in progress. For years I wanted to go to fri night services after yom kippur and this past year 5771 I did go to shabbos services at Sherith Israel SF almost every friday. I also volunteer in the kitchen some sundays for Hamotzi – we make meals that go to shelters. I don’t know what will be my expression in this year 5772Look into your heart and let go of anything formulated and you will know what is right for your and your jewish lifefrom JudyShanah Tovah

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is good advice. i am definitely looking for the jewish life that works for me. i’m an confident i will find it.

  13. leigh

    sometimes my connection to being Jewish surprises me bc it’s so far out of my day to day life.  but it’s always there.  it’s my education.  it’s the lens that i viewed during some important times and my comes along to impact me in unexpected moments.  I posted a blog post a few years ago about one of those moments.  Shana Tova.  http://leighhimel.blogspot….

  14. Jonathan

    Shana Tova. I noticed in our synagogue on Rosh Hashanah thatmost of the people were either young families (adults in their late 30s/early 40s with kidsunder 10 years old) or older people (seemingly 65 plus). There were very fewpeople in the middle. Personally, I have never felt less connected. The sermon,which I often enjoy, seemed a tad too political for my taste. The cantor seemedlike he was trying out for the opera, yet again. No one seemed very joyous, myselfincluded. I did not grow up in a religious household and don’t feel astrong spiritual bond. I think the most religious thing I do is toinstinctually recite the Sh’ma when taking off and landing in an airplane. I dofeel culturally Jewish. My wife is much more religious than I am, growing upgoing to Hebrew school several times a week. Our oldest child feels religiouslyconnected and really missed not going to services this year (she is spending ayear abroad). Our youngest could care less. We had dinner with some friends (about our age – early 50’s,soon to be empty nesters like us) last night and I was surprised to hear theyhad dropped out of their synagogue. It just wasn’t that important to themanymore. I confess I felt jealous. 

    1. Gotham Gal

      Perhaps it is the post kids time of our lives which give us a different perspective on what we want from the Jewish community

  15. Ktan

    Hopefully this helps set a better moodRosh Hashanah Rock Anthem…Dip you Apple…

  16. JenniferKuo

    There really is no such thing as being Jewish. You seemed to put a lot of emphasis on your children being Jews. I would also argue that there is no such thing as being Catholic, or Muslim. We’re all people, we’re all the same. Whatever labels we put on ourselves are just artificial, they don’t actually exist. It’s like me saying I am “X”. It really carries no actual meaning other than me saying it.

  17. Jennifer Kuo

    To follow up on my last post, I don’t have children myself yet, but when I do have children I would want to raise them not as a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or a Buddhist, but as open to anything. Why declare yourself as part of one group, which implies that you are not part of any other groups? That’s what creates divisions around the world. People everywhere are killing one another because the “other” people are not the same as them. Even though, all people are the same, regardless of how they label themselves. I wish more people realized that.