I’m going to invite you to think about “being” Jewish and what that means. Either you or your partner is Jewish. You may be raising your kids Jewish. Actually “being” Jewish poses questions about internalized identity and behavior and how they intersect.
Being Jewish is entirely effortless; yet it demands action if you want to make anything of it. It’s like being born with a high IQ. You can walk through life a genius, but if you never learn to read, write or do math, if you never put your brains to any task, then your intelligence is wasted. If you are born a Jew, then that identity belongs to you, period. (If you convert to Judaism, you create your own door into Judaism.) Now what to do with it?
Let’s take a familiar Jewish practice, kashrut (eating kosher food). If all you know is, don’t eat pork, then it seems pointless and stupid. If you learn more you find it is a dietary system. You control what you eat, you think about what you put in your mouth before you put food in there. What? Another form of Weight Watchers? Some foods are not eaten at all – yup, sounds like a diet. Some foods are not eaten together, yes, I’ve seen those diets too. You bless the food and thank some cosmic force for providing it. Hm, I’m not sure I believe in that cosmic force so why say thank you to it?
These are all beginner’s concepts. Let’s go deeper.
The concept of kavanah (intention) is working here. Rather than stuff food in your face, think before you eat. Have intention. I am going to eat what is good for me, I am valuing this, the only body I will occupy in this lifetime, I want to keep it healthy and able to sustain my spirit/consciousness.
I want to be grateful that, unlike the majority of the planet’s occupants, I have sufficient and delicious nutrition. I am grateful that someone else stooped in the fields to pick this. I won’t rush through food that they gave sweaty hours to harvest. Nor will I undervalue the fact that an animal died in order for me to eat this steak.
What if each time you ate you gave 30 seconds to thinking about how you are nourishing yourself and how that plays into the world around you?
Have you ever thought about meditating? It’s scientifically proven to do loads of good things for you. What if kashrut is an ancient way of creating a meditative moment? Sure, many people aren’t thinking of it that way. But who said you had to do things their way?
I didn’t make this stuff up. Talk to modern practitioners of kashrut and you’ll learn even more about connecting body, soul, and actions.
To get the most out of being Jewish takes effort – learning, practice (as in doing it over and over again until you’ve got it right for you) and it doesn’t hurt to have some fellow explorers (just like those gym buddies who suggest you take spinning with them).
If you’re going to BE Jewish, make it work for you.