Community Blog Does my Voice Count? A Musician’s Jewish Journey
I had been joking with friends that re-examining Judaism at this point in my life was part of my midlife crisis. My story is not original: I was raised Reform, and though I took Yiddish in college and identified with Jewish culture, I didn’t practice Judaism with any sort of rigor for many years.
For most of my life, I identified first and foremost as a pianist. With the title of musician, I felt that my soul was adequately quenched, though eventually, I found new titles that added so much more: friend, wife and then the joyfully overpowering title of mom. It is with the latter that I realized that I wanted my kids to be able to identity with their own history, our history. I suddenly saw that with all of the title changes in my own life, Judaism was somehow still hanging in there since my own beginning.
So, after searching for a few years, and not until after my second child was born, I came to find a synagogue that encourages the search for self-identity, whoever that self might be, with the colors and flavors of diversity and Judaism. After signing my son up for Hebrew School, I felt that if I was bringing this kind of education and environment to my children, I needed to revisit the world of my childhood and ancestry for myself as well. I feel very fortunate to have found Hillel B’nai Torah, a Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, and the opportunities it has presented to me, most especially, the Parenting Through a Jewish Lens class.
It seemed ironic, however, that when our teacher, Rabbi Sharon Clevenger, a rock of honesty and kindness, resourcefulness, accessibility, knowledge and non-judging ears, asked the class if anyone would like to write about their personal journey for the Hebrew College blog, we all went silent. I can only assume the rest of the wonderfully diverse parents I was sitting with — same sex couples, non-Jews, single parents, converts, Haitian, atheists, Conservative — were all thinking the same thing: What is my voice? What is my voice in the Jewish world? What can someone who hasn’t been to synagogue on a reliable basis offer to the larger Jewish community? Someone who is unclear about God, someone who finds both comfort and dismay in any organized religion? Someone in an interfaith marriage, someone who’s own Jewish cousins often wish each other a Merry Christmas?
I realized that while the “talk” was originally for my children, this “walk” was proving to be a very important one for me. My first time back to a service left me weeping; the nostalgic, profound sense of who I am, and where I came from had caught me off guard and overwhelmed me. Memories of my grandparents, their voices, their food, melodies, and my youthful innocence pushed forward and suddenly presented how and why my life’s trajectory brought me to where and what I am today.
I owe a great deal to my classmates and, again, to Rabbi Clevenger for the space to learn, speak, agree, disagree and, most importantly, listen. I am still learning what parts of a Jewish life resonate with me and how to present Judaism to my family and myself with a sense of warmth and safety. I am also learning how not to apologize for what Judaism, my Judaism, is for me. And finally, I am learning how to make sure my kids know that their individualism can always stay intact, especially within a strong community. I am grateful for this learning, I am grateful for this journey, and perhaps, even a little grateful for this mid-life crisis too.