by Danya David
Greetings, fellow bloggers and readers,
Other than being in love, there are few things as delicious as discussing and debating things you’re passionate about with people who are just as passionate about these things. So, to our blog hostess par excellence, I so commend you for taking this on! I could go on about how life-affirming it is to connect and grow through talking things out, and how souls can wither without it, but I’ll stop here…
So let me jump right into the topic at hand. Finding my own spiritual/religious path… this can basically encompass every question ever asked about Jewish identity! No? Which is great. Well, as I’m typing out my thoughts here, and thinking that I didn’t comment on last week’s ‘representation’ topic, I’m also thinking that these topics (representation, finding spiritual/religious path) so converge.
My own path has always been closely connected to the idea of lineage. My Jewish identity really only became tangible about eight years ago or so, though it has always been my core – the seed of who I am. But this wasn’t always so obvious to me. Over the years, throughout my childhood, my adolescence, and to a much larger degree through this extended period of “adulthood,” knowing that I’m Jewish has nourished me with a poignant awareness that I am part of a nation that has persevered and held to its values, across vast passages of time and space. My grandparents, on both sides (my mother’s parents, z”l, who were German, and my grandparents on my father’s side, who are Iraqi), and my parents, have been living proof of this. For each of them, their journeys (family-wise, work-wise, the various migrations, the decisions made, the events that transpired, etc.) were inseparable from their Jewish identity. At a certain point in my life, I think it was about 8 years ago, when I returned from Asia after living there for half a year, it hit me, too, that my own life ambitions, the core of me, and my desire to make my mark in this world are indisputably “Jewish” creations.
I mentioned in a comment on our dear hostesses’ personal blog that my bouts of time traveling and living the world, away from my family and any kind of coherent Jewish community, really transformed me into an ambassador for my people. I’ve always seen myself as having this representative role. I think that this is something that many Jews feel, in some way or another (whether being aware of it or not).
Being Jewish is being fraught with an infinity of potential avenues for connecting and growing. This manifests differently in each person. Or, perhaps a better way of saying it is that each Jew negotiates this status (of being “fraught”) differently. Some decide not to “go there.” Some see it as a blessing, some as a curse. Some don’t even see it. For me, being Jewish means having an infinity of dimensions. And with this I don’t mean to imply superiority or exclusiveness. What I mean is that, because I and my life experience is essentially woven into the eternity of “the Jewish experience” (whether I like it or not), what I do in my life and how I choose to live my life impacts a collective and timeless “experience”.
Of course, with all this talk of a greater “Jewish experience”, the idea of continuity surfaces yet again. I find that I am constantly aware of the question of how I can live in a way that ensures that I don’t weaken the links, that at least I preserve/maintain the awareness and connectedness that (with great precision and effort) was given to me, and, (and for me this is the question I must respond to) how I can live my life in a way that strengthens and adds to the links.
At risk of sounding “prudish” or not “progressive” (as I sometimes feel some of my Jewish though not so identifying as Jewish friends feel about me), we’ve got to honor the thousands of years of journeys and collective “journey” that came before us, for us.
Holding strong to tradition is not always seen as the “coolest” thing. Personally, I feel lucky that I don’t need to try to make myself understand the importance of continuity. I have to say that my Jewish identity is the fire behind everything I truly cherish in life.
And this connects to my spiritual/religious path. The idea of growing what I was already born with, and seeing/using this abundance of raw material (Jewish history, from the Torah all the way to my parents’ stories) as inspiration to create new is very much part of my spiritual/religious path. My boyfriend’s decision to convert, has also added a formal element to this “path” for the time being.
I recently heard a quote from a documentary about a Serbian writer who immigrated to Canada. Something in it struck a chord in me. He said that: “A sailor is born twice: once from the mother, and another time when he begins his journey.” I have always seen myself as nomadic, constantly asail. What exactly this means I’m not sure. But I know it has to do with imagery that was imbedded in me from the Torah stories I read growing up, our exiles throughout history (physical, spiritual) (and, to a lesser degree, of course the time I’ve spent living and working in various places around the world to date). The point is that a long Jewish journey predated my birth. For me, evidence of this is the recent memories of my grandparents’ and parents’ journeys. My second birth manifests in how I choose to understand, shape, and continue this journey – their journey, my journey, and ultimately, our journey.