It’s an important time to be Jewish.
This was supposed to be an article about how I believed secular religion needed to adapt to the needs of the modern spiritualist. How so many of the people I grew up with have turned their backs on the religion so thrust upon us by our parents and grandparents. How nine times out of ten the people I meet, when asked, will say they are “spiritual” and “not religious,” believing not in the western God they were brought up with but in a universal energy bigger than ourselves, or in science… or in nothing at all.
I grew up in what would be considered a traditional Jewish home. I went to a Jewish elementary school, and spent hours learning the prayers, traditions and the history of our people. And I hated it. Every. Single. Second. I resented every high holiday I was forced to attend synagogue, every Friday night dinner I had to sit through while my friends were out having fun. I resented the idea that I was supposed to blindly follow an ideology just because someone said so. It never made any sense to me, and perhaps that is why decades later I ended up studying the psychology of religion and moving into a lifestyle that embraced different modalities of spiritual practice.
So it may surprise you at this point to know that today I still attend synagogue on all of the Jewish high holidays. I still fast for 28 hours on Yom Kippur. I attend Seder on Passover and sit shiva for those who pass away. I joke to my friends that I’m just covering all of my bases — you know, just in case. (I also own several Buddhas, Ganeshas and celebrate Christmas.)
The truth is, to me, being spiritual is not mutually exclusive to being Jewish.
I have attended services and meals with strangers in cities from Thailand to Toronto, Vancouver to Venice (LA) and most recently sought out my plan for the holidays in Florence, a city where I have zero ties to the small community that I’m told exists here.
When I was younger I used to go because it was a lot easier than the fight I would have with my father if I tried to get out of it. But then something funny happened when I grew up and moved away; I found that when no one was standing over me forcing me to do anything, I naturally started to choose it for myself. And the more I delved into my spiritual practices around the world, the stronger my personal identity began to solidify — and I realized being Jewish was a huge part of that.
I have, at times, found myself in conversation with various higher-ups in Jewish communities about the topic of why so many people of my generation have completely turned away from religion in general. I would try to get them to understand that in a world of globalization, expansion and advancement, to try and force people to remain in a system that begrudges adaptation makes no sense to us. Many of us have had interfaith marriages and did not want to participate in something that either denied that union or made anyone feel excluded.
This is not unique to Judaism; most organized religions suffer from a hesitation to change with the times. Perhaps they fear that the very foundation of what they were built upon will come crashing down. In a world of interfaith and gay marriage, of gender equality, acts of terrorism and hatred towards so many innocent people both in our own backyards and places we can’t even find on a map, many of us are searching for answers beyond the pages of a book full of rules, set thousands of years ago. Our spirits and souls are crying out for something to explain everything and unite us.
Organized religion was created at a time when people who asked “Why?” were willing to accept any answer that took the responsibility away from them. Today, we take on that responsibility everyday by taking action through our discipline to our personal practices — through our words, through social media, through the work we do, the lives we lead, how we treat each other and what we stand up and fight for.
Now, when asked if I am religious I say no. I say that I am traditionally Jewish with spiritual beliefs and practices. I honor the traditions of my family and all they went through for me to have the freedom to do so. Another part of me does it for reasons I’m not even sure I’m aware of. I sometimes feel a strong spiritual connection to something bigger than myself, and in those times, I use that energy in a way that honors my spirit.
As I see it, there are only two things that bring people back to religion: fear and unity. Religion is much like politics — it tends to play up the fear in order to get to the unity. But if we come to something from a place of unity, then maybe the fear will dispel a bit and we can move back to a place of coming together so that we may connect on a deeper level — a level bigger than ourselves, our fears and our differences. A spiritual level that, when you get right down to it, is the real essence of all religions.