I don’t believe in God.
I believe in rainbows, and shooting stars, and the bright, full moon.
I believe in the power of thirty voices in a living room swelling together into something like magic.
I don’t believe in God, but I believe in love. I believe in beauty, and too often in pain. I believe in life and in hope. I live like I mean it.
When I was young, synagogue was my favorite place. We never went there enough for my taste, and perhaps that was because I had a habit of staring at the Eternal Flame until I saw stars, or because something about the echoing boom of my father’s voice singing Lecha Dodi always got to me. Maybe I was spoiled because Olam TIkvah started in my mother’s basement and all of the older people knew me. Maybe I felt at home there because when I was a small child, I could run up onto the bimah and dig my hands deep into Rabbi Klirs’ pockets for hard candy without getting scolded. Often I found a large, heavy arm wrapped around me and I became part and parcel of service-leading. I wasn’t very good at it — my mouth was full of candy.
The years went on, and my parents became less practicing. We shifted away from synagogue, and as I aged into my teenage years, extracurriculars took over my time. For a very long while, my Jewish practices lay dormant. I didn’t go to a university with a Hillel. And when I moved to New York, I didn’t have the chutzpah to walk into a big shul to go to services alone. I built up a fairly fulfilled secular life, and injected Jewishness into it where I could. I had a Passover seder at my apartment each year which all of my Jewish friends from work attended, and a number of non-Jewish friends as well. I hosted Shabbat once or twice a year when people came in from out of town. If someone got married in Crown Heights, I would go, but Chabad was not really my scene.
When I moved back to The District about two years ago, I found a world of Jewish opportunity, and put down roots. At first, I went to a Moishe House DC event here and there. Then it was High Holiday services at Adas Israel and Sixth & I, and eventually, I found my communities, my minyanim, and my Jewish spaces where I felt at ease. (Tikkun Leil Shabbat, Segulah, MHWOWDC, DC Jews on Bikes, etc.) I finally found the places where I could almost, almost hear my father’s voice in the crowd during Lecha Dodi.
I recently started turning my phone off on Shabbos. If I can walk to where I’m going, I do. I do these things not because I have decided to become shomer Shabbos, but because I tend to feel more refreshed and more ready to address the hard edges of The Rest of the Week when I allow myself a break from the emails, a time-out from Facebook, and tell myself that the world will not end if I don’t reorganize my calendar every 45 seconds.
It is pretty difficult to untie yourself from technology when everyone else around you is plugged in. It is also difficult to be an island. For many years, I longed for a community but didn’t quite fit in wherever I settled. Because I was not fulfilled during the week, perhaps because I was a little unhappy, turning off my phone on Shabbat and being alone with myself wasn’t relaxing; it was simply lonely.
When I moved back to D.C. from NYC and found a home here, I bought into tradition alongside friends who also have their phones off, and friends who don’t. However, every week there are lovely people who I know I will spend Shabbat with. Part of finding my happy place here was finding the right people. Now, I look forward to being alone with myself on Saturday afternoon, after walking home from shul and singing showtunes at the top of my lungs with a few other people, oblivious to the rush of the traffic down 16th Street. Now being alone with myself is a break from the day, and a time for reflection, rather than 25 hours of loneliness.
I am a member of a number of independent minyanim (the equivalent, for me, of joining a synagogue), run a havurah group, organize for a Jewish community outreach program for young professionals, am active in a Jewish social justice organization, I practice Shabbat pretty fully and am either at services and a potluck, at a friend’s place, or hosting myself. I took a vacation this year to (what a few friends affectionately call) “hippy Jew camp” where I was, on more than one occasion, brought to tears during davening (recitation of prayers). I would say that I am fairly observant.
There is a collective oversoul, and spirituality in the oneness of Jewish practice that drives me to weave myself into this fabric that is the complex, culture-religion we call a people. For me God does not play a part, but if I walked away from religion tomorrow, I do think I would be left with a gaping hole in my heart. I’m not a different person than I was before I became more observant. I manage my time a bit differently, I make more of an effort to breathe and to let go of the harshness of each week in favor of letting the good stuff in, and I make more of an effort to be a productive member of the communities which I am part of, but those are core values which I always held dear.