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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones


High Holy Days are sneaking up on us. I know because the only thing I listen to on my iPod these days is the Torah portion that I’ll be reading on the first day. The turning of another year, plus some conversations that have happened offline, have got my brain, heart and soul churning and spinning these last few days.

This will be my fourth high holy days, I’m still waiting for the year when I lose track like I’ve lost track of counting shabbats. Since last Yom Kippur, my observance has dropped considerably. My friends still assume they’ll find me at shul every week, but it simply hasn’t been the case this year.

In part, I think I have been stretching and testing my identity. Am I still Jewish even if I’m not at synagogue every week? Yes. Am I still a Reform Jew even if I go to Chabad for a shabbat dinner? Yes. If I do bake challah, if I don’t bake challah? Yes. If I have dinner alone on Shavuot? Yes.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. My Jewish identity isn’t going away. The mikvah, it seems, took.

So that was my year of experimenting with being less observant. What if I spent a year being more observant? What if I take one mitzvah a month and add it to my observance?

Say… In October I start lighting shabbat candles every week. In November I recommit to attending services every shabbat. In December I try adding the sh’ma before bed. Maybe in January some morning prayers. February could bring ritual handwashing…

I don’t know… it’s just something I’m playing with right now. A debate I had with myself as I walked ten miles yesterday. The spark was spending an afternoon with a man who is far more observant than me. I quite literally sat on my hands to make sure I respected his boundaries. Touchy-feely Leah can’t be trusted not to nudge, tap or hug.

As I walked and debated with myself, I determined that I’m not anti-observance. I’m not against keeping shabbat, but I have no compelling reason to keep it fully. I’m not against keeping kosher, but I have no compelling reason to go beyond my level of making kosher choices.

I realize that for many people the compelling reason is tradition, Hashem, Torah… but I need more or I need different. I’ve always thought I would be more observant of shabbat if I had my own family. But shabbat alone… sigh… I don’t cook for the same reason. But I’ve also been wondering if I would be less observant if my partner was secular.

I don’t have any fully formed thoughts yet, just an internal battle. I know from friends that you can make a series of informed choices into a life-style that appears orthodox but still identify as a liberal Jew. And in the end, do I need any sort of qualifier before (or after) the word Jew?

Comments welcome, but please don’t criticize me, this is a tender subject.

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