19 August 2013

My Jewish Identity: Someone Else Articulates A Similar View

The question that started it all for me
When I have gotten asked about what inspired me to get more involved Jewishly in my life and identity, I always point back to a particular episode in my life in high school.  It was the summer of 1998 and I was attending BBYO's International Leadership Training Conference, when, as part of a program, a question was posed to us: "Would you rather be leaders who are Jews or Jewish leaders?"  While I do not remember what the context of the program or discussion was, my parsing of that question ignited my interest to live Jewishly.  I certainly do not know what the intent of the querier was, but I understood the question to be bifurcating (obviously, for heuristic purposes) between a leader - let's just say a congressman, since that's what popped into my mind - who, while they may occasionally go to synagogue and occasionally use their "Jewish credentials" to their advantage when it suits them, they do not embody their Jewishness as an integral part of their identity; this is in contrast to someone who, while they, too, are a congressman, they do have their Jewish identity as integral to the warp and woof of their overall identity and don't just use it when it suits them.  

So, I thought that the latter category seemed more authentic and wanted to be like that.  But, the first, and most essential, question is "How do I live Jewishly?"  That has animated me since then.

Of course, this question can be re-understood as what do I need to do to follow Jewish Law (הלכה/halakhah)?  It has been my great interest, especially throughout rabbinical school; I tremendously enjoy learning/studying/exploring halakhah, since that provides the grounding for Jewish life (also, see number five here).

However, what undergirded this notion of wanting to be Jewish and identifying with my people I had never fully articulated, partly because I did not have a great way of articulating it.  However, after having printed out and reading Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD's Avraham Avinu is My Father: Thoughts on Torah, History, and Judaism, I discovered the following passage (here), which greatly reflects my own approach to my Jewish identity:
Rabbi Zev Farber, PhD (here is his dissertation)
I view the world through Jewish lenses—I always have. I believe that living a Jewish life, studying and keeping Torah, and throwing my lot in with my Jewish brothers and sisters gives my life meaning. I believe that by doing this, I am doing something good in a real way, fulfilling some sort of divine mission. I am well aware of the fact that I cannot demonstrate any of this in an objective way; I cannot prove that living a Jewish life bonds me to a divine mission or that it makes the world a better place. However, neither can I prove, in any objective way, that the world is better off with life on it than it would be as a barren wasteland like Mars. The Earth is a collection of stardust, after all, and if atoms on this small planet form themselves into a tree, a person, or a rock, what possible difference could that make in a universe as vast as ours? And yet, somehow I do not live in daily existential angst about my existence, the significance of my life, or even the veracity of my religious beliefs and commitments.
For the longest time, I didn't know if anyone else had a similar approach to mine and I was really glad to find this passage articulating a view to which I can point that reflects mine :)

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