On faith


I have a lot of complicated feelings about faith lately.



There have been a few changes. It all started, I think, at the end of 2013, when Brigadoon started to consume my life. I went to shul infrequently, pushed aside everything apart from the show. Rehearsing 3x a week was exhausting but fulfilling, exhilarating but stressful. And when the show was over in early 2014, I just needed a break. From most things in life, other than my (almost) husband and my bed.



I’d been feeling a bit detached already. After months of no activity, I realised that my feelings associated with shul were not 100% positive. I was a little turned off by some of the attendees, and by the fact that after attending for 6 years, I still felt a bit like an outsider. The people I enjoyed seeing were my age (with a few exceptions), and I continued to be involved and engaged because of them (and services with the wonderful Rabbi), rather than anything.  My studies/group participation was minimal, and it was so easy just to drift away.



I started to feel resentful, and tired, and excluded, even if it was of my own making. This year, I didn’t go to High Holyday services – the first time since 2009.  I reflected and acknowledged these important days at home, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt. I still have these feelings now. But do I want to go out of guilt? It shouldn’t be guilt and obligation that drive you to do anything (unless it’s from your mother on her birthday, amirite?), and us Jews? We’re amazing at guilt.

I realised that my only reason for attending this year would be to be seen to be attending. And the spiritual/religious elements of it would not be the sole purpose. And for me, they are the purpose.



The tough thing for me about Judaism, and particularly Liberal Judaism, is also one of its strongest selling points: belief doesn’t matter.  Belief in a God that has any involvement in our lives is not a requirement to be a good Jew, a good person, a good member of the community. Many do not believe in anything other than the elements of the Torah that tell us to be the best person we can be: be involved in your community, be good to others, help those in need, and give to charity.

But for me, it’s lonely.  I don’t necessarily feel that God is moving us around like pawns – in fact, I don’t believe that at all. But I sought out a community because I was tired of being Jewish on my own. And I get that connection with other Jews when I go, but I don’t get that connection of belief. And I sometimes struggle with that.  Sometimes Christianity seems easier and more fulfilling – a community of people who all so strongly believe in something and feel that joy in their hearts when they worship together.  This is most likely a carry-over from my days as a Christian, but I miss that joy. I miss that communal excitement and love and happiness. And sometimes I can’t help but listen to my old Christian music, just to feel that love for God swell through me (ignoring the Jesus ones, still!). Celebrating that joy of belief isn’t really the Jewish way.



I still think Judaism is the right fit for me, religiously. But it has been a struggle for a long time and I don’t know where to go next.  I feel like I wish to step up my home observance, but I’m not sure where it puts me in the community (I don’t think this is the end of my time with them just yet), and I’m not sure how it will affect my family and children in future.  One thing that is always weighing on my mind is our limited time left in Scotland, which I’ll explain at a later date..



Another big change as that I slowly but surely decided not to keep kosher anymore.  It wasn’t sudden, and it was a bit weird – my brain was telling me I had no good reasons to continue, but my habit/sentimentality was telling me that to hold on to my decision from years ago.  I started keeping kosher at 19 as a way to bring more Judaism into my life, as an element of it that I could control, but. That doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is my intention and my heart.



I can’t bring myself to eat bacon in a fry-up, that seems like a step too far, and I probably won’t be mowing down on any pork chops anytime soon. But I’ve been having things like carbonara with a bit of pancetta, chorizo in basically everything (that’s the best so far), sausages without checking for pork contents, etc. Small changes.



One thing that hasn’t changed is my strong belief that beliefs are personal. You do what’s best for you, what feels right to you, and what honours your gut instinct.  Even if that sometimes means stepping away for a while.



Have you been in this struggle? I’d love to hear your thoughts.





On shul.



Sometimes, in services, I try to imagine what an outsider might feel if they experienced it with me.  Am I so used to this that someone may find it really odd and hard to reconcile?

I picture my parents attending, totally confused, or atheist/agnostic friends approaching Judaism for the first time, attending out of curiousity more than anything.

For me, I’m always happy to attend a service of someone else’s religion.  I think it’s something to experience in your life, even if you don’t believe or you disagree with it, and I feel strong enough in my own personal convictions that I strongly doubt anyone would try/attempt to bring me around to neglecting mine in favour of theirs.  To be scared that someone will try to “convert you” is kinda silly, in my opinion.  We are all capable of saying no.  I do however, understand how uncomfortable that can be sometimes.  This wouldn’t happen in shul at any time, as we do not “recruit” or proselytise in Judaism, but I can understand that this is a huge part of the doctrine of some Christian denominations and it can make some feel uneasy.



I think our services are pretty mild and inoffensive, and despite the Hebrew singing and occasional Hebrew prayers, most of it is in English and fairly easy to follow.  Having attended Catholic school (and many masses), as well as Anglican church services many a time, I believe a Christian would feel comfortable with the words we use, despite the obvious distinct lack of Jesus.  And those of a Liberal leaning will hopefully feel comforted by the gender-inclusive language, the prayers for Israel and Palestinians, the participation by men and women in services, the talk of LGBT charities we support.

My Rabbi has such a stunning singing voice, I think he would have had a career out of it if he did not feel called to leadership in his religion.  It’s one of the aspects I think my mother would enjoy, and despite a lack of accompaniment, we sing cohesively most of the time.  Many have a part to play, from “dressing” and “undressing” the Torah scroll (taking off a ribbon and velvet covering, etc), to the honour of reading aloud from the Torah or the prophetic reading.  Someone has the duty of lifting the Torah for all to see, and then parading it around the congregation, in a celebratory fashion.



Afterwards there is a little wine and bread as we make kiddush, catch up and exchange gossip before parting ways for another month (our community is small and we have no synagogue to call our own, so use a community centre once a month).  It’s not as exciting, however, as the picture above, which is from one of our Passover seders.  Mainly we just stand around a table and catch-up before slowly all taking our leave.

It’s interesting to think of it as an outsider. It wasn’t that long ago that I was an outsider too.


Do you have a religion?  What are your services like?