I am an alien.
An alien in my family, an alien in my group of friends, an alien even in my romantic relationships.
I may not be green with an oddly-shaped head, or fly in a spaceship, talk in beeps, write in symbols. I don’t abduct humans, exsanguinate cows, leave crop circles. But I am outside.
Because I believe.
For my entire life, as long as I can remember, there has always been God. My parents are not religious people, and my siblings never seemed to be particularly interested, either. My primary school barely mentioned it, though it had Anglican undertones, and the occasional school church service. Intermediate school never said a word. I never went to church, other than youth group when we were kids during the holidays, to try and keep us out of trouble over the summers. We never prayed at home, unless it was grace before the Christmas day meal, and my grandparents were there.
But somehow, I believed in God. He was there. It was just a given.
Jesus was of course mentioned in the media, in school, in the world. I saw Jesus as a prophet, as someone spreading love and peace and treating our neighbours as ourselves. I wasn’t really sure if he was the son of God, or what a messiah even meant. But God was true. I always knew God was true.
I spent my first three years of high school in Catholic school, and had mass after mass and religious education suddenly became part of daily life. I liked to question things, to decipher things, to ask the nuns why Mary wears blue. But it didn’t fit.
I spent my last two years of high school in a public co-ed school, where religion took a backseat, and languages, music and boys suddenly came first. But I started reading books on spirituality, and God, and life taking its own paths, and Judaism. And then I went to America and everything changed.
Jews. Jews everywhere. Jewish kids I was teaching, Jewish friends in my bunk area, Jewish camp directors. Fiddler on the Roof. Hannukah. Yiddish. Talk of Shabbat and Purim and Yom Kippur. Kosher food in the dining hall.
What was this religion, these traditions, this way of being? A sense of community, a sense of family, an understanding between Jews, a respect for one another. Inside jokes, mitzvah, names like Goldstein and Rosenburg and Schwartz. And then me, this Kiwi girl with a Scottish name and red hair. Intrigued and feeling like I needed to step up.
I didn’t know much. I still know so little. It is a lifetime of learning. I started to read. Judaism comes in many forms, with many different opinions. There is a saying – ask two Jews, get three views. In Reform Judaism in particular, you are free to explore and develop your own beliefs, and discussion is largely encouraged. Beliefs differ within one single congregation. But most importantly, it is liberal enough to respect the rights of its people, to respect women’s bodies and their choices, and the human rights of homosexuals. To accept that there are Jews with different levels of observance, and different ideas on how to be a Jew.
My friends and family know little more about Judaism than Jewish jokes, Yiddish exclamations and ancient stereotypes about moneylenders and hooked noses. To me Judaism today is about family. A family gets together for dinner every Friday night, lights candles, says prayers, eats together. They share their week. They talk about their lives. They drop whatever they are doing to come together and talk Torah, to be together.
The holidays are about looking back at the past and forward to the future. Services are about embracing the community and making close connections, discussing beliefs and Torah, educating children on how to be better people, good adults. Life is about living the best life you can.
And then there is Shabbat. The day of rest. The more I read about this, the more I understand – taking a break from your busy life. Not just a day off work, but a day off of all the stresses or chores you need to do. A day where you go outside or talk with your family, see friends, do something you enjoy. It started to mean so much more to me, and despite being a shift worker who is at work every Saturday, I started to take one day a week as my Shabbat, as my rest.
I had also had a long history of distaste for pork (and often for beef), and had started to eat less and less. Reading about Kosher eating inspired me to give it a try, to try and embrace one aspect of a religion I couldn’t really dive into yet. 4 years later and I’m still not eating pork, though I wouldn’t say that I fit the Kosher rules just yet.
Baby steps. Baby steps. Reading. Talking. Online communities. Rabbis. Reading the Tanakh. I started to shape an idea of what I wanted my life to be – I wanted to be included in this, to have this history continue with me, to no longer just be spiritual or believe in God, but become a part of a rich history of people. And although this meant taking on a dark history and a lot of persecution, I felt a pull to be one of God’s chosen people.
One of my dreams is to raise my children as Jewish. To instill in them the values that I see so much within the religion, and the sense of community and family that I feel when I think about being a Jew. I am not a Jew. I live as a Noachide, someone who observes the lifestyle and faith, but isn’t formally a part of the club. I have not taken that final step yet, but after nearly 6 years of studying and reading and trying to live the best life I can, I think I am almost at the point where I’m ready to change from “I’m not Jewish, but I’m studying Judaism, I have a great interest in it” to “I’m Jewish. I chose to be.”
But I am an alien. And despite it being one of the most important things in my life, and as mentioned above, in my faith, I cannot discuss things with my family. I am an outsider, someone who sees things through different eyes. I don’t feel understood. I feel like I am from a different planet. I don’t know how to find the words to talk about it with them. To explain that this really changes nothing for them. I will still be at my mother’s on Christmas Day giving my nieces presents. I will still be just as private with them about my faith as I always have been. I will still be the same person, and they can ask anything they want.
But I felt, in those many months in America in 2003, that I had come home. That I had found my spiritual place, my faith, my religion. I felt like I had turned and stepped onto the right path for me.
And I truly feel that this is how it was supposed to be. I think I have always been Jewish. God just wanted me to find it myself.
Beam me up.