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Beyond the December Dilemma: Can We Incorporate Buddhist Philosophy into Our Life Together?

This is the first installment of a monthly column that will be featured on Howard, who is Jewish, and Heidi, an agnostic, are living together and became engaged in April. Some of the hurdles they're experiencing may sound familiar to others who are involved in intercultural relationships: How can we plan a wedding ceremony that's meaningful to both of us without offending our family members and friends? What about a bris if we eventually have a baby boy?

Since many couples communicate a great deal via e-mail, this column series will be just that: A situation or conflict which is discussed primarily through e-mail between the two.

In the couple's first column, Howard and Heidi debate the possibility of incorporating Buddhist philosophy into the intercultural life they're planning together. In their next column, the couple will hash out the details of their upcoming wedding ceremony.

From: Heidi Rehak
To: Howard Lovy
Subject: say yes!

I want to take one of the Saturday morning workshops while we're in S.F. What do you think? (The San Francisco Zen Center)

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: Re: say yes!

Sure, but why is it that you're hostile to all religion except Buddhism? Judaism, in its purest form, also believes in much the same thing, by the way.

There are similarities between the Buddhist concept of nirvana and a monotheistic concept of God. Different words. Same thing. But you can't seem to get through the "G" word without resorting to your old preconceived notions.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: G-d!

OK, well, how's this for an explanation:

Some things just FEEL right, Howard. And that's what religion should be, if you ask me--which you did. One should not feel like they're doing homework or being forced to explore a religion. That's how I feel about Judaism. Buddhism interests me. You have chosen to take this personally. You see what religion I explore as a token of my affection for you.

I think it is MANDATORY that we stop becoming so angry and sad when we have our religion discussions. It's not a matter of IF we figure it out, it's WHEN and HOW that we should be concentrating on. There is a solution, we just seem to be taking the long route to get to it.

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: Re: G-d!

I know we'll figure it out, and we both know that anger cuts off all discussion, which isn't good. Yes, we're taking the long route, but I don't know of any shorter way.

You're quite comfortable in your rejection of all organized religion, so it's me who has to find a way to feel comfortable that I'm living the way I should be. I would be going through this search no matter what, but being with you pushes it even further because it forces me to strip away all the baggage from childhood and ask what, fundamentally, is Judaism to me? Most Jews are never forced to think about it.

You told me last night that I have never communicated what exactly it is that I want. That's because I don't know. The Judaism I grew up with is no longer all that meaningful to me.

In this book that I'm reading, Stalking Elijah, Roger Kamenetz talks about how Judaism held little meaning for him until he started his research into Buddhism. He went from there to the Jewish mystical traditions and ended up finding an even stronger sense of Jewishness.

Lisa Schiffman, who wrote Generation J, described how she couldn't find the right words to explain to her non-Jewish husband why she feels Jewish if she doesn't keep kosher and never goes to synagogue.

These are eloquent, intelligent people who could not answer the question you asked me last night, and went off on long quests and wrote books to discover the answer. I certainly could not give an answer on the spot at the dinner table.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: G-d

Fine. Embark on a spiritual journey, Howard. But don't forget, practical decisions have to be made--probably sooner than when and if you come to some sort of comfort level with Judaism.

That's fine, really--you with your head in the clouds, wondering about god and the meaning of life, etc. However, if you allow yourself to have children with The Woman Who Has No God, we'll have to figure out what to do with these little creatures. That's the only reason I'm giving even a second of thought to this matter.

From what I understand, Buddhism has no omnipotent, creator god who exists in another plane. Belief in a god of that kind is not a part of Buddhism. The fundamental beliefs of Judaism are that there IS a single, all-powerful god who created the universe, et al. Even Reform Jews, who to the best of my understanding do not regard the Torah as "words of god," are inspired by god. And I'm not down with that, dude.

And so, yes, I'm curious about Buddhism. But only for purely selfish, surface reasons. I want to be able to use meditation now and then as a coping mechanism. That's really about it. Do you really see yourself having a Jew-Bu kid?

Know what else? I grew up "nothing" and I'm not confused at all. Go figure.

From: Howard
To: Heidi
Subject: Re: Jew-boo-who

A "Jew-Bu" kid would be perfect, because there's still the "Jew" in there. Our little writer offspring would be in the company of Allen Ginsberg. I'd kvell (swell with pride)!

Yes, my head is in the clouds, but that is a personality trait that has nothing to do with Judaism. In this case, I'm not simply dazzling myself with my own ability to create never-ending existential loops in my brain. These hypothetical children are exactly who I'm thinking about.

Yes, Judaism will survive if our children, like you, grow up believing all religion is garbage. But my sense of being part of something larger than myself tells me that I need to try to at least make them aware of what it is they are rejecting.

When you start to lecture about the "fundamental beliefs of Judaism," you lose me a little bit. You don't know the fundamental beliefs. The only "Judaism" you get is what you pick up through your job at the Detroit Federation, which is simply a fund-raising organization, devoid of anything "Jewish" that I can detect.

Part of the Jewish mystical tradition--where Judaism comes closest to meeting Buddhism--is that God exists on many planes. He's is a part of everything around us and we are actively working, through good deeds, to repair the world for Him. Our actions have an impact on the universe because we are part of God. One Kabbalah scholar has called God a verb, because we are all in the act of "God-ing."

Yes, as far as I know, you turned out just fine without any religious upbringing. But do you really want to start looking at the religions of good people and bad people?

Torquemada, chief Spanish Inquisitor: bad; theologically challenged genius Stephen Hawking: good.

But there's also atheist Josef Stalin: bad; Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Dalai Lama: good.

Oops. I forgot, the Dalai Lama isn't technically "religious" by your definition, because he's a Buddhist. Besides, he's the leader of a "cool" religion, so it's OK.

From: Heidi
To: Howard
Subject: Blah, blah, blah

It's funny that you're so quick to dismiss my work in the Jewish communal world (oh, the irony!) as "devoid of anything Jewish." Through it I've learned more about Jewish

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." God. In traditional Jewish circles, it is forbidden to write or say God's full Hebrew name. This custom has carried over into English by some, who write "God" without the vowel (o) and replace it with a hyphen. Some use variations of this, such as G!d or G@d.
Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a Detroit-based freelance writer. Heidi Rehak is a communications professional and a Detroit-based freelance writer.

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