I love the Jewish High Holy Days. While we have a lot of holidays on the calendar, I’ve been practicing Judaism long enough to know that Yom Kippur is my favorite holiday. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is joyful and celebratory, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is serious, somber, and breathtakingly powerful. This year was especially poignant because I attended the Yizkor service, which honors those who have died during the previous year and comforts those who are mourning.
Two weeks ago, the conversion step of my Jewish journey was completed. After close to two years of reading, journaling, soul-searching, and hours and hours of talking to my rabbi-turned-friend, I sat in front of her and two other rabbis at my beitdin (Rabbinical court). Continue reading “Reflections from a new Jew”→
Note: As part of my conversion process, my rabbi requires that I write my religious autobiography, which is made up of a series of essays. I’m posting these essays here, as well, to share my journey. I’m nearing the end of this process and will soon meet the beit din (rabbinical court) who will decide my Jewish “fate.” If my request for conversion is approved, I’ll then enter the mikveh and, when I emerge, I do so as a Jew.
Here is my first essay in the series, which is all about what compelled me to make this decision.
When starting out on my faith journey in my early twenties, I carried with me the God of my youth. This God was one that, if my prayers were sincere enough, my heart true enough, and my deeds good enough, would grant whatever it was that I wanted. If my prayers weren’t answered, it was because I had sinned or had fallen short of God’s plan for me. God was like a magical ATM in the sky, dispensing money, happiness, and an occasional new car to those that were worthy and devout.
When I started making challah nine months ago, I did so because it was one way that I could acknowledge and participate in this faith with which I was falling in love.
I wasn’t new to bread making. About eight years ago, I was very much on a homemaking kick and wanted to do as much as I could from scratch. I made bread every week and even made homemade dog biscuits for the dogs every Saturday. Over time I got away from it because, let’s face it, making bread can be a real pain in the tuchus. And I’m not a neat cook. Making bread usually meant flour everywhere – even places where it made no sense as to why flour ended up there at all.
So when it came time to start making challah, I cheated. I’d buy frozen yeast rolls, let them thaw and raise, and then I’d roll them out and make challah rolls. From there, I used those pre-made yeast rolls and started braiding a small challah loaf.
I haven’t blogged much lately, but in my defense, I was just promoted and have been very, very busy. I’m extremely grateful for the promotion and the generous raise that came with it, but it does require more work to be at this new level and I realize that. I used to be a prolific writer and blogger, but my career took a turn four years ago and I’ve struggled with finding time to write ever since. That’s likely to continue!
All that being said, I just went through my first experiences with the Jewish High Holy Days and it affected me profoundly. I have been struggling finding the right synagogue, and there aren’t a lot around here to choose from in the first place, but the one I was attending is no longer palatable. The rabbi I’m studying under, who was at the helm of that synagogue, has left and, out of loyalty to her and disgust with the leadership there, I haven’t gone back. This frustration, though, led me to a synagogue about 25 minutes away that I now know will be my future home for Jewish life and worship. Rosh Hashanah services there were absolutely breathtaking. My old synagogue was tiny, like being in someone’s living room, but this new place is large, with pews and the most gorgeous, two story ark that holds the Torah. They also have a choir that sings in Hebrew (of course). This music, combined with the prayers, moved me greatly. Rosh Hashanah is now my favorite Jewish holiday, but Yom Kippur is the one that affected me the most.
The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called the Days of Awe. It’s a time to “get right” with those we have had strife and struggle with over this past year. As Yom Kippur approached and then passed, one person kept appearing in my head, over and over again: my brother.Continue reading “Forgiveness. Can you imagine?”→
Being on the other side of the continent from my family – both close and extended – these past two years has afforded me a lot of freedom. I’ve been able to do a lot of soul searching and self-analysis without the family pressures of “maintaining status quo” or just going with established norms. This time has allowed me to come to terms with who I really am, what I believe, and solidify my core beliefs about what is right. Raised conservative, I’m now about as far left politically as a person can go, and close-minded people who spend their lives lobbying against the personal interests, private matters, and basic freedoms of other people are, in my opinion, not worth my time. I’ve also always been outspoken, but I’m now that way more than ever, and all of this leads up to what happened a few weeks ago.
If I’m being honest, the hardest part about giving up Christianity was not the preaching or the Sunday services (or…you know…Jesus), but the music. I’ve been a massive fan of the contemporary Christian genre since I was in the sixth grade and listened to Michael W. Smith the first time.
The other genre I’ve always adored, thanks to both my father and Ricky Skaggs, is Bluegrass. I have sought out great Bluegrass for years, even when I was in my early 20s and my cohorts thought I was insane for jamming to “Country Boy” while they were listening to whatever ear-bleedingly awful pop song was popular at the time. With the new Broadway musical Bright Star out right now, Bluegrass is getting in front of fresh ears, as well as reigniting my love for the genre.
These past eight-odd months, first when I was distancing myself from Christianity and then later, when I realized that Judaism was it for me, I missed Christian music because, naturally, I gave it up. But a soulful melody has always been like a religious experience to me, and while I was finding snippets of music here and there that I liked in the Jewish world, I had yet to find something that made me sit upright and yell with glee.
What happens when you combine Bluegrass and Jewishness? Well, you get the self-titled debut album by Nefesh Mountain, and it is nothing short of MAGNIFICENT.