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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

My speech, if you want to read it.

Here is the speech I gave last night. You get to pretend that I read it in a strong voice, without skipping over words or full sentences. For the record, Rabbi Zedek doesn’t agree with my description of our first meeting–nonetheless, it is my speech, not his. Enjoy

“We don’t need you. Orthodox, conservative, reform, doesn’t matter, we don’t need you.” With those words, my public study of Judaism began. During my first meeting with Rabbi Zedek, he suggested a few book titles, invited me to “try on Jewish living” and see if it fits. On the way out, he said, “Services are at eight.”

“Try it on and see if it fits,” is what was asked of me. The simple answer to the questions is, “This fits. It is where I fit and it fits me.” As I become accustomed to the rhythms of the calendar, I find fulfillment where I might have expected to find sacrifice like Shabbat observance or fasting on Yom Kippur.

I’ve said before, that in Judaism I found a structure for the beliefs I’d already formed, the words to explain how I’ve always done things. Finding Judaism has been like finding my bookshelves organized into a library—alphabetized by author and subject, Dewey Decimal system, a card catalog. Instead of making decisions, “Cause I felt that way” I can look to guidance in the Torah, the Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers, and other Jewish resources. In the tradition, I find tikkun olam and tzedakka—words to help define the innate need I’ve always had to help, to make a difference, to be involved. Now they aren’t just these things I feel, but mitzvoth. Speaking more tangibly, I’ve certainly put my money where my mouth is. I’ve given more to non-profits in one year than I have in many years combined.

I also looked around and realized that I’ve found a community. As I’m asked to participate and organize at Emanuel, I realize that I’m starting to belong here. Days when I think I’ll never feel Jewish tend to be followed by days when I can follow the prayers somewhere outside of these synagogue walls, asked to answer questions of traditions, or am invited to one of you homes.

A special thank you to my family—while I wasn’t born a jew, I feel like I was raised to be a good jew. My parents and sister have supported my decision and were collectively less surprised than me.

Another special thank you to my friends, both jewish and not, who have listened to me talk about new and exciting things I was learning. Who accepted that I now have a bizarre new vocabulary that includes words like prayer, god, and “No, I can’t, I have a thing at my synagogue?”

My list of “thank you”s to fellow Emanuelites is endless, but I’ll try.

Thank you for inviting me into your homes for holidays.

for making sure I never sat alone at services.

for helping tell the difference between bet and vet, baruch and barchu.

for answering my sometimes silly questions.

for asking me to be more involved.

for welcoming me into Jewish life and never making me an outsider.

for asking questions and listening to me ramble.

for sharing you own stories of choosing Judaism.

for joining me tonight in celebration.

And Rabbi Zedek—I’ve asked you some off the wall questions, which you gave fantastic answers. More important than the one on one conversations with me, have been the conversations and devar torah here. Cantor Friedman often checked in and told me that she’d make sure I was comfortable no matter where I went as a Jew.

In a nutshell, this is where I fit. In a layered onion, it is where my beliefs have found structure, where I have found a community and extended family, where I have found a way to talk to God and bring God into my life, where I have studied with an intensity my college professors wouldn’t recognize, where I’ve found a new language, where I’ve found a spiritual home. I want it in my life, because knowing now what I know—how could I set it aside?

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