I believe in overarching social structures. You’re part of a culture whether you think intentionally about it or not. I believe in participating in something that’s bigger than me.
For me, Judaism is a tangible structure that connects to people in other countries. My family is all from Canada. But through marriages we’ve had distant relatives in the States. Judaism has always given us something more to connect over – even when something they do seems very American. When I go to the States it feels like a different place but there’s always that point of connection; of shared experiences. There’s a values connection.
For me being Jewish is being part of something but still being able to challenge it and learning to live with that unrest. Maybe that’s a bit more Buddhist than specifically Jewish.
Have you ever heard the expression Jew-Bu? It means a Jewish-Buddhist: people who strongly identify as Jewish but actually practice Buddhism. Leonard Cohen is an example. He comes from a deeply religious family. Religion really shaped his approach to art. But he was mostly Buddhist.
My Mum converted to Judaism because in Judaism, your Mum will have to be Jewish for you to be. But it’s super hard to convert to Judaism. A Rabbi will turn you away three times before the take you in to the community. And then it’s a year-long conversion class. So my Mum has a wealth of Jewish knowledge that I don’t even have.
And so she sees Jewish influence in interesting places and always brought that to my childhood and we always listened to Leonard Cohen every Jewish New Year. Have you ever listened to the song Who By Fire? It mentions ‘who by fire’ and ‘who by water’ and it’s an account of the ways you might die. And in the Jewish New Year you get written into the book of life or death for the coming year. So that song is part of the liturgy for that holiday. So as a kid I remember listening to Leonard Cohen on the way to synagogue because it was an artistic interaction with the liturgy.
I identify as Jewish. In my day to day, I don’t worry too much about what that means. Because in most of my social circles, that conveys enough. In Jewish communities I identify more specifically. In terms of practice, I focus mainly on the lifestyle aspect of Judaism. I don’t stress about doing things with a lot of consistency. There are a number of holidays that line up with changes in seasons. So Hannukah is close to the winter solstice and Passover is celebrates the coming of spring.
I practice the parts of the religion that slow me down a bit and make me aware of what’s going on around me. At the Jewish New Year for example you think of the whole past year through a specific lens as opposed to just January 1st. So I do those things every year to build that personal understanding and touch base with community members. And then lifecycle events: so I went to someone’s bar mitzvah the other day not because I knew them but because it was a community event.
My family’s relationship with Judaism is intimately related to someone who’s never been a part of it. My Dad’s mother passed away two months before my older sister, the first child of this generation was born. So just before she became a grandmother. And she held a wealth of Jewish knowledge that I aspire to but will likely never attain without consistently devoting more time to the study of Judaism – based on the environment she grew up in, for better or for worse. So my Dad probably felt a strong burden for passing on Judaism. So my parents very consciously decided to raise us Jewish together. I love Judaism, but there was a bit more tension growing up. When I started taking piano lessons, I learnt the song Frosty the Snowman and my Dad picked up all of my sheet music and threw it out because that was a “Christian song”. And when you think about it Frosty the Snowman doesn’t mention anything explicitly Christian – it’s about a Snowman [laughing]. But I think he was just getting worried up by the presence of Christmas in secular spaces. They decided to send us to public school and not Jewish school because it was further away and there were mixed emotions there.