I, like many people, had a crazy upbringing. I was angry about it for many years. The majority of that anger is gone. I know it came from fear. There were some good times amidst the insanity though.
One of the highlights of childhood was visiting my grandparents. Their home was different from mine in more ways than I can count. The trait, if that is the word, I have been thinking about lately is religion. In my home we celebrated some Christian and Jewish holidays. Religion was never discussed. I never entered a church unless on a rare occasion, I was invited by a friend. I knew I was Jewish, but I had no clue what that meant.
My mom, gratefully, made the trip a few times a year for us kids, to see my paternal grandparents. Even the cost of gas was a challenge for her at the time. I loved my grandparents. I was never “taught” about Judaism but in their home , I lived it. They were Orthodox and lived their beliefs.
I always knew I was in a special place when we arrived at their home. Their front door was the most beautiful door I had ever seen. It was like entering a magic land. The mahogany door with a curved top had a little door near the top that you could open to see who was on the other side. All of this was so special to me. I have a huge regret that as a youngster there were never pictures taken. It just wasn’t a thing.
From the moment you arrived at their front door you saw their mezuzah. Whenever we entered their home we touched the mezuzah and kissed that hand. My grandmother explained why in passing. It never felt like a “lesson.” It just felt right and I participated while at their home. We never had a mezuzah on our door jamb growing up. I liked what it symbolized but never thought to ask my mom why we didn’t have one.
The older I got, the more questions I had. At 12, I wanted more of a connection with my Jewish heritage. My mom found a synagogue and I went to two “tween” functions. It was too late to assimilate with the group. Cliques were established and I was not meet with open arms. I never knew any Jewish guys. The thought of meeting someone Jewish was not on my radar. (Much to my grandmother’s chagrin.)
When I met and married my children’s father, I knew he was Catholic and explained that I was Jewish by blood, but had not attended synagogue. I never became a part of his religion. The funny thing was that he felt he “should” follow the religion, but never did.
The older I got, the more I sought information about my religion. Once no longer married to my kid’s dad, I began incorporating more and more of my heritage into my life. I lit Shabbat candles, I learned a few basic prayers, I celebrated Hanukkah, I put a mezuzah on my door jamb, I went to synagogue on some High Holy Days with my aunt and uncle, and I tried a variety of synagogues in my area.
I love and accept the variety of belief’s my family now choose to embrace. I have family members who are Ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative , Reform, Messianic Jews, Christians, Jews by choice, atheists’, as well as Cultural Jews (which is how I define myself.) My acceptance of other people’s belief systems is simple. If you are acting in kindness and try not to harm anyone then whatever connection you have or don’t have with a higher source is your business.
Jews vary dramatically in their approach to Jewish traditions, laws and ritual observance. In the United States, the major religious streams of Judaism are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist. The Orthodox population is itself quite diverse, with numerous subgroups, such as ultra-Orthodox or haredi Orthodox (a group that includes Hasidic Jews), centrist Orthodox and Modern Orthodox. Many Jews do not identify with any one denomination, instead describing themselves as “nondenominational,” “transdenominational,” “post-denominational” or “just Jewish.”
So What Is Cultural Judaism? is a great explanation that resonates with me.
Ken Shapiro explains what a Jew is. This is so very well done. I recommend watching it.