Today was my exam to become a Jew. I passed. My rabbi liked the last part quite a bit.
I want to lead a Jewish life that enriches my experience of life—one that transforms my experience of events, of family, of friendship, of lifelong learning. I believe that the rituals and practices of Judaism imbue life with special meaning by providing a large, cohesive context within which they exist, and adding a dimension of intentionality and awareness to life. I do not simply want to eat dinner on Friday; I want to invite in the joy of the Shabbos bride for a day of repose and celebration with people that are special to me. I do not simply want to move in with a boyfriend at some point and have children; I want to be married in the tradition and presence of my community, and initiate my children into that community. When my parents die, I do not want to simply get over the grief in whatever way, but I want to have the support of a timeless tradition of mourning that has aided a people throughout generations.
I want to live a Jewish life that I will pass on to my children, to provide them with a heritage and a community for them to learn and draw from, be a part of, and contribute to. I want to live a life that enters me and my future family into the people that is Israel, because we are small and fragile as individuals, and the larger and more connected a family we have, the better we fare.
My Jewish life right now looks like: a mezuzah on the doorframe of my house, which I kiss every time I see it, thanking God for the home and safety I have; lit candles on Friday night while friends are laughing and sharing over a supper that is special; slowly sounding out the Hebrew letters in the siddur and becoming comfortable in the increasing familiarity of the songs of Shabbat with each week that goes by; moments of quiet thanksgiving in solitude, as well as moments of thanksgiving voiced out loud, in unison with others.
I want to lead a life of struggle with God to understand what the best way to live is, and what is the best way I can engage with the world that we live in. Judaism establishes guidelines for living by, both as a community and as moral beings. These are tools that we have at our disposal to figure out what is good and how to deal with difficult situations.
Furthermore, there are certain things I do not want to have be part of my Jewish life. I do not want to live a life where I hide behind Judaism to stop questioning and challenging myself or the world. I do not want to use Judaism to give me facile or dogmatic answers to complex aspects of life. Quite the opposite: I believe Judaism should inspire me to think for myself, as an individual but also as part of the people that is Judaism and part of our modern society. This leads me to believe, for instance, that Judaism must be re-interpreted and re-cast as time moves on in order for it to continue to be meaningful and relevant to its adherents. In a society that is highly secular, fanaticized, or apathetic, I want to lead a Jewish life that does not shun the world that God created (including the aspects that are distasteful, ugly, or even evil), but confronts it with the courage and wisdom to understand. I want to lead a Jewish life that does not shy away from sorrow but also knows how to embrace joy and marvel at the complexity of human experience.