An essay my Rabbi assigned*
I am a bibliophile. I love all forms of books and have since second or third grade. As much as I appreciate a library, I love a bookstore and am a bookstore girl. I want the book to be mine. I want to find space for it on my own shelves and not have to return it to the library in two weeks.
After the basics of food and rent, books have always been my biggest expenditure. Novels, non-fiction, history, philosophy, children’s books, science books. I love them all. On my shelves, I try to group the books by subject and author. At the very least, by size and color. In the end, my bookshelves are a mess.
One day I came home from work and found that my hodge podge of books had been organized. No note of explanation, but it was organized by subject, then author. Down to the Dewey Decimal system. My book collection was now a library. After years of storing books on shelves from Wal-Mart, years of loving and collecting and suddenly it is a library. It is searchable, it makes sense. I can find answers, I can easily lend a treasured book to a friend. At last, my books have a system.
Okay, so that isn’t true. As much as I love to buy books, nobody has organized them and they still are a hodge podge of non-fiction next to fiction. No order can be found. But when I found Judaism, this is exactly what happened to me. My values, my belief system, my feelings and my prayers were suddenly organized. When I found Judaism, my belief system suddenly fit onto shelves. Ideas I’ve always held, but have never been able to explain, suddenly had an explanation in Judaism.
The greatest example is Tikkun Olam—the responsibility to heal the earth. My heart has always gone out to those in need and my actions have often followed. I spent one summer working at a non-profit in San Francisco, another year managing a rape crisis hotline. I spend years working in college housing, trying to help college freshman make the transition into adulthood. I have never been able to find an explanation for this need to be on the fixing side of things. Now I find it doesn’t just fall under the umbrella of Judaism, but it is an important mitzvah.
While I began my shift from a cynical agnostic to a tentative prayer, I would walk as I prayed. I walked around my neighborhood and had casual conversations with god. I wasn’t certain anyone was listening, but knew that I didn’t need to be on my knees in a Christian church to have the conversation. When my prayers were answered, I could no longer be tentative. I only needed to find how God existed, since I also knew my answer was not in Christianity. Judaism is the framework my new beliefs needed.
Affirmation that there is God, there is one God. That I deserve and have a personal relationship with God. That I don’t have to be on my knees or in a church to talk to God. That God needs no middle man, that I need no middle man. Judaism supports and guides my new faith.
For me, Judaism is a library. It gives my morals, values, and beliefs a structure and reference points. I am no longer making decisions on my own, based on unexplainable feelings. I am blessed to have the Torah, the Talmud, and the Tradition to guide my actions. I can open a book or start a conversation with my rabbi or another Jew.
Judaism provides me and invites me into a community. There is a place where I fit and where my family will fit and be welcomed.
I want Judaism in my life, because I can no longer have my life without it. How can I close the new-found door to my soul’s library? As I learn to be Jewish, one mitzvah at a time, I feel stronger in self than ever before. For the first time, I feel that I can imagine and discuss a future that includes a family of my own. A future that includes a Jewish husband, Jewish children, a Jewish household and a community.
Simply, Judaism is not a want, but a need. It might not need me to be Jewish, but I need Judaism.
*My rabbi asked me to write this as an answer to What does Judaism mean to me and why do I want it in my life?