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On America Online, there is a popular feature called Judaism Today: Where Do I Fit? People anonymously send in E-Mail letters to the author of the feature, Gil Mann, and he selects one letter for a public response in his Jewish EMail column. This column is now syndicated in Jewish papers across the US & Canada. Here is an edited E-Mail and Gil's response.
I have a dilemma that I never thought I would be dealing with. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 13. Other than the prep for this ceremony and the token visits during the High Holidays, being Jewish just meant that we never expected reindeer on our roof in December.
Now that I am 33, and living 2000 miles away from my family, I am coming to realize that I am missing a great piece of my life, my spirituality. Several of my close friends, whose attitudes and personalities I admire, are Christians. We have had several discussions, and I feel that this is my time to resume my communication with God. My problem is that I feel that the idea of accepting Jesus Christ in my life is a very appealing notion. I have been going to church the last six weeks, and feel as if I am following the right path.
The concern that I have is that there is a part of me that feels like I am turning my back on my heritage. My family knows nothing of all this yet. Do you have any suggestions how to determine which path (meaning Jewish vs. Christian) is right for me? Any comments or thoughts would be very welcome.
I care deeply about your letter because our tradition teaches that "all Jews are responsible one for the other." We are so few in number, it pains me to think of losing any member of our people. This is not to say that I don't care about non-Jews--I do, but I view my fellow Jews as part of my extended family with a common past and heritage--as you noted.
I can understand your searching, especially since growing up it does not sound like Judaism gave you anything particularly spiritual or compelling. Your background, unfortunately, is not unique. I regularly hear from Jews who tell me that their Bar/Bat Mitzvah training gave them next to nothing spiritually or in any other way Jewishly... and that is all the Jewish education they received.
Perhaps your E-mail will be a wake-up call to parents, teachers, religious school directors and rabbis. You, like most students, learned "how" to "have" a Bar/Bat Mitzvah (that is how to chant and daven.) Too few have learned "why" they should want to "become" a Bar/Bat Mitzvah--that is why they should want to become a counted member of the Jewish people. In other words, in your Bat Mitzvah "prep," you (like many others) were not taught the many compelling reasons why you would want to be Jewish... including Jewish teaching about spirituality.
I think you would be making a mistake to judge Judaism based on this sparse background and education. If you look just a little deeper, I believe you will find Judaism offers much that is spiritual, beautiful, fulfilling, and relevant to a modern person living in a modern world. This is not to say that Christianity does not have much to offer, but before you jump to any conclusions about conversion, I have several suggestions that I hope you will take seriously, in fairness to yourself and Judaism.
First, go to any book store and look in the Judaica section. In particular, look for the book To Life by Harold Kushner and for anything published by Jewish Lights Publishing--their specialty is Jewish spirituality. And, at the risk of sounding self serving, I think you would also like my book: How to Get More Out of Being Jewish Even if.... I will happily send you a free copy.
Also, go to the Internet and on your search engine, enter Jewish. You will be blown away at the number of great sites covering every possible aspect of Judaism including spirituality. Finally, please speak with a rabbi or two or three. Share your thoughts and questions.
The responses you will read and hear from these sources should help you in your soul searching... a soul searching I admire. Please stay in touch.