From my earliest memories, I knew that I came here to ‘help save the world.’ At the risk of sounding ‘woo-woo’ or ‘out-there’ what I mean by here is here to planet Earth. I came here with the memory (as strange as it may sound) of having made a commitment before I was born.
Let me explain what I mean by “memory” and ‘commitment’.
- Memory: As a child of 3 years old, I knew in my DNA (or as some people would say ‘I knew it in my bones’) that there is a G-d and that I came here to fulfill a promise to G-d. A promise to learn about G-d and the world, to work on making myself a better person. This ‘memory or knowing’ caused me to search high and low for my ‘home’ in the world.
- Commitment: During my early childhood, I also remembered making commitment to help save the world. As a young child I had no idea what this meant or how I was going to achieve it, but during my conversion studies, I have learned that this is what Judaism calls Tikun Olam. As I write today, I sustain this commitment and am amazed that there is an entire people committed to Tikun Olam and to building a brighter future. I am blessed to have found Judaism.
This paper is about my journey to wholeness, a search to ‘find myself’ and to fulfill my commitment to Tikun Olam. This journey has taken a lifetime and is one that I will continue until the day I close my eyes for the last time.
Before making the decision to become Jewish, I tried finding my home in many places. I grew up in a Christian-belief system. From age 3 – 8, my mother took me to a non-denominational church, then around age 9, she became the professional soloist for the local Christian Science Church and I attended this church until I was 17 years old. I didn’t feel at home in either of these places. The Christian Scientists were wonderful people and one woman in particular became a second mother to me. She tried to convince me to join the church, but I knew that Christian Science was not my path.
At age 17, I received a brochure in the mail from the local Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) that talked about Shabbat and G-d’s dietary laws. I studied for some time with the SDA people and knew in my bones that Shabbat was something that I wanted to keep, but I always felt uneasy about Jesus. Because of my commitment to keeping Shabbat, I joined the SDA church. But after 20 years, I finally left the church because I could not bring myself to believe in Jesus. Add this to the fact that in the SDA church, I began studying a biblical concordance with Hebrew and Aramaic in order to understand the Bible. I came to services each week prepared to debate the Bible and what it meant to me. As I came prepared to present my case to the ministers, I was surprised that this wasn’t a very popular activity with them. As a matter of fact, they shunned my biblical studies so much that I was made to feel more like an outcast than a member. I finally became tired of being an outsider, having my needs for study and discussion go unfulfilled, and feeling a discomfort every time the name of Jesus was mentioned. So after 20 years, I left the SDA church to continue my search. But where could I go? I yearned to find my home.
Over the years, I jokingly told people that I was searching for my tribe but hadn’t found it. But even though I said this in jest, I really felt like I was indeed searching for a people or a tribe. So I continued to search. I vowed to G-d to keep Shabbat on my own and simply to be unaffiliated with a group for the time being.
But finally, G-d played a trick on me. I had a child, and around age 5, Michael began to ask questions about G-d. I was perplexed. While on the one hand, I could instill in him my morals and beliefs, on the other hand I realized that Michael needed a home and a community as much as I did. I couldn’t go back to a church, so I finally decided to try a Synagogue.
As I reflect back on the miles I have gone, I am not sure what took me so long to find Judaism. From the moment (2.5 years ago) that I set foot in a Synagogue, I felt comfortable and a sense of belonging. For the first time in my life, I felt like I fit in. People welcomed my seeking spirit, my need to study and debate and my creative ideas regarding every aspect of life. I finally found a whole group of people like me.
Another amazing discovery was that the moment that I sang the prayers Shalom Rav and Sim Shalom, these prayers were instantly my favorite portion of our prayer service. Well before I knew anything about the meaning of the Hebrew words comprising these prayers for peace, a feeling of serenity, peacefullness, wholeness and healing instantly washed over me bathing my essence in warmth, comfort, and light. I was both amazed and comforted by this.
Singing Sim Shalom and Shalom Rav, made me want those feelings to NEVER end. It felt like I had been searching for so long and had finally come home – to myself, to my community and to G-d. I was no longer a sojourner searching for my place, but I could now embark on becoming a member of something more meaningful and much larger than myself. And as I study the meaning of the Sim Shalom prayer, I am awestruck - that before I knew the meaning of the words in my mind, I knew them in my heart.
I soon discovered that other prayers made me feel the same feeling of being open, joyful and whole. So I began to ponder why the prayers made me feel this way.
A year ago, I happened to have received a number of Judaica books from a friend. Among these books was “The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet” by Michael L. Munk. This book explains that a Kabbalistic dictum likens Hebrew letters to human beings and claims that each letter has a body, spirit and soul. The Sefer Yetzirah, (known by Kabbalists as “The Book of Creation,” which has been ascribed to the Patriarch Abraham) asserts that the 22 Hebrew letters “gave everything that is, form and shape.” It goes further to say that “G-d made the soul of all that which has been created and all of that which will be” with these 22 letters. In Genesis G-d began creation with speaking words and reality came into being.
According to ‘The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet,” “the 22 sacred letters are profound, primal, spiritual forces. They are in effect, the raw material of Creation. When G-d combined them into words, phrases, and commands, they brought about Creation.”
Whether or not Hebrew is really an Alphabet that is “alive” as this book suggests, I feel life-giving energy pour into my body when I speak or recite Hebrew prayers. And the benefits cannot be because I understand the language - since I don’t. Rather I believe that there is some merit to the idea that Hebrew letters possess a kind of spirit in them.
Because of the feeling I get when reading the prayers, I am committed to saying daily prayers in the morning and the evening. On the few occasions that I have forgotten my prayers in the morning, I find that my day does not start as well. When I recite my daily prayers, I feel a direct connection to G-d and ultimately to myself.
The other thing that I began to notice, in studying Judaism, was that it teaches integration all of the, body, mind and daily life together - including how we manage our business affairs. All my life, I’ve looked for the world around me to resonate with the things I hold to be true in my inner world (i.e. being a good person, following G-ds commandments, treating my fellow man with honesty and fairness, being positive, contributing to a better world, to name a few). I have always wished for these things to be a reality in the world but never thought that there would be a people who taught in great detail how to practice these things, until I found Judaism.
In the book “With all Your Possessions” by Meir Tamari, “Judaism does not propose a specific economic theory or system, rather, it proposes a moral-religious framework within which the theory or system must operate.” Decisions on investments and in other parts of economic life have to be made on the basis of some form of criteria, then contrasted to this religious framework in order to discover whether or not the proposed choices are acceptable. Tamari also goes on to explain that Jewish moral and religious principles have created a framework within which Jews have operated economically and can continue to operate and they have been practiced for centuries. As I learn more about Judaism’s history, I can see how this moral-religious framework continues to be valid throughout the millennia and as such, I have come to appreciate the Jewish way of life even more.
Tamari demonstrates how Jews have made personal and public policy decisions based on parts of the Jewish halakhic moral code. He uses concrete examples as early as the story of Ruth (in the Bible) through the time of Talmudic scholars and on to Israel’s modern secular society and demonstrates how Jews have combined free market practices with social welfare, competition and compassion based on this ancient Jewish moral code.
Part of the beauty of Judaism is that it has never been satisfied merely with the adoption of pious slogans or exhortations to be righteous, but it has translated the halakhah into concrete, daily actions. These actions have resulted in a large body of knowledge which illustrates a complex system of money, trade, banking, wages, profits, poverty, welfare, competition, taxation and interest.
This integration of the Jewish body, mind and daily life is the closest thing I have found to practicing fairness and goodness in the world. And I am so happy to have found Judaism.
Now my foundation building, by becoming Jewish, is complete and now the journey of building the rest of my life within Judaism is beginning. I am a life-long learner and am delighted to have found a system which proports my values and beliefs and from which I can learn indefinitely. But just as Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, I have done my own wandering and it has taken me literally a lifetime to finally discover my home.
In my “Journey to wholeness” all parts of me are becoming more and more connected and whole:
- I am enjoying the tradition of learning in Judaism as Torah study is leading me to a greater understanding of the world and of myself.
- I am grounded in Tikun Olam - making the world a better place - and I’m reveling being in the company of others who share this same vision.
- Hebrew study and recitation seems to ‘open’ me up and connects me to thousands of years of tradition. I find great pleasure in reading Hebrew. It feels similar to, but more intense than the feeling I get when I see a beautiful sunset or hear a beautiful piece of music. By reciting Hebrew, I feel like my soul is a rose bud unfolding into full bloom and fragrance. Even if I don’t fully understand what I’m reading, I feel refreshed, more open and alive. It’s almost like the feeling of falling in love. I have this sensation every time I pray.
Finding Judaism has been a long journey and as I complete becoming Jewish, I look forward to a lifetime of learning, making connections and contributing to my new community and friends. I can’t say that I am completely whole – rather every day is a journey to becoming whole. To me, becoming Jewish is not a destination but a milestone on my path to wholeness and to fulfilling the promises (becoming a better person, and to work towards a brighter future) that I made a long time ago, literally in a different space and time. I choose to be Jewish.