Why I have chosen Judaism?

12 Nov

Beit Din

“Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.” I heard those words the first time I walked into Temple Solel on March 23, 2012… first time in as long as I could remember that I had felt a sense of peace… certainly the first time since my mother had passed away in 2010.

I have kept a blog over the past 16 months during my “Year of Jewish Life”. Some of what I have written below comes from those writings, some comes from my journal entries during my Intro to Judaism class taught by Rabbi Bernstein. The last 16 months has been a TREMENDOUS year of growth for me both spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Having not grown up with any particular religion, the only time I went to church as a child was when my grandfather (mom’s father) was in the country from Greece. We went to a Church of Christ church down the street from our home. Papou (grandfather in Greek) was a big Greek Orthodox. When my mom came to the United States on her own at the age of 18 she wasn’t as strict with herself in going to church, especially in trying to learn the English, going to college and becoming a U.S. citizen. When her and my father married, they didn’t have a common religion and religion was not important to my father and therefore my brother and I were not brought up in any sort of faith. In high school, I went on my own (without my parents) to a Disciples of Christ church and stayed there for about 7 years. Felt good to believe in something… but then with what seemed like the blink of an eye that was gone with a 15 second portion of a sermon… a guest speaker one Sunday uttered the following words, “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness”. I had admitted to myself and to a few close friends just a few weeks prior that I was gay. So at the age of 22, I felt that my world had crashed, I was discovering myself and at the same time learning that G-d didn’t love me (at least in the eyes of that man that spoke that day). I walked out of that church and never stepped foot back in.

I spent the next 11ish years lost… sinking deeper and deeper… and everytime I thought I had hit rock bottom, I was wrong. I got involved with prescription pain killers for the better part of those 11 years… being able to mask the addiction because I could be completely normal on them because my body was so used to being on them, but at least I didn’t have to “feel” both physically and emotionally.

Then in January of 2012 I started looking into different religions… going back in my memory to the Comparative Religion course I had taken and remembering that the one that interested me the most was Judaism. I began to do some research on the religion, not telling anyone of this as I didn’t want to be swayed in any particular direction, but rather wanted to come to any sort of realization by myself. I purchased a book called “The Jewish Book of Why” and found it fascinating… wanting and yearning to learn more and more. By mid March I finally reached out to a friend who I knew was Jewish and asked if I could possibly attend services with her one day… she asked no questions, didn’t hesitate and said of course. March 23, 2012 was the first service I attended at Temple Solel. I found myself at times in quiet tears during the service… not tears of saddness, but rather tears from feeling a sense of peace. Being able to “take a deep breath” for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Learning, studying, talking, listening about Judaism has been incredible. I believe in having the Beit Din and going into the mikveh, it will complete what my heart feels now and has felt for over a year, that Judaism is a part of me, it is part of my identity, it has become such an incredible and important aspect of my life, and the peace I have found from it is something that is truly indescribable.

I continue to look forward to studying, to learning, to becoming an active part more so in Jewish life. I have no worries about people knowing I am Jewish, I feel so much like it is a part of me and find peace and pride in that.

A random note, I am adopted and have often wondered what my biological parents are in terms of their faith. Is there a chance they are Jewish? I have always felt this strong connection to the Holocaust, dating back to the moment I learned about it while studying in school. I did extra research on my own, felt such a connection, still do as a matter of fact. I felt that I needed to throw that out there.

I mentioned above about the addiction… I made a decision on Sept 1, 2012 to get clean,.. no more drugs… and I can say that today I am more than a year drug free. It hasn’t been just a spiritual journey, but an emotional and physical one as well. It has been about becoming whole… becoming a better person.

I would like to end with a portion from the Mishkan T’Filah that I heard when attending services was the following:

May the Door of this synagogue be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love, all who are lonely for friendship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this synagogue be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity.
May it’s threshold be no stumbling block to young or straying feet.
May it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness and harshness.
May this synagogue be, for all who enter, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life.

That is exactly what this journey has become for me, the doorway to a richer and more meaningful life… I feel that I have found peace, I have found belief in a higher power, I believe I am loved by G-d, I believe that I am a better person today than I was 16 months ago and a better person that I was the last 35 years of my life. This journey has brought forth so much change in my life, and all for the better, I have found myself in this journey, I have found that I am a good person, that I am worthy of G-d’s love, that I am worthy of being loved, that there is a fellowship of people who have now become family for which I am eternally grateful and blessed.

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