Judaism, like therapy is a subject I have never been particularly comfortable talking about openly with people. Throughout high school, I came to realize things about Modern Orthodox Judaism and began to question aspects of it. My high school did not leave much room for questions. Our hard discussions about Modern Orthodoxy and what it meant in the modern era were always focused in such a way that questions wouldn’t come up. It was a very frustrating time, and I began to change how I practiced Judaism and made decisions based on my beliefs.
My upbringing was supportive of this. My grandfather wasn’t religious for a long time until he became religious, and my oldest sister changed how she observed Judaism so that it worked for her at some point through college. It wasn’t a new trend for my family, but being in a modern orthodox Jewish day school made it a lot harder. The summer of my sophomore year I went on a program in Israel with a large pluralistic group of teenagers, and I learned a little more about how observance of Judaism can look very different but still have meaning.
I carried this back into my life enthusiastically, and my parents were on board with it. I started questioning why Judaism had all these laws of things not to do on Shabbat, and if meaning could be measured by what I did rather than what I failed to do. Wasn’t Shabbat, the day of rest, about taking a break from your busy life and relaxing? What if that didn’t look the same for everyone? How was I supposed to relax on Saturday knowing that I would be up late Sunday night and stressed all day Sunday with upcoming work for the next week? It made no sense.
I started making adjustments to my personal observance, and since then I’ve made more and more. I wouldn’t say I’m sliding down; I’m adjusting my viewpoints and how I view my Judaism. I am still wholeheartedly Jewish. I love the cultural aspect, the aspect of community, and the strong sense of history our people have. I just observe Judaism in a different way. It isn’t a bad thing or different in a bad way. It doesn’t make me a bad Jew; there isn’t such thing in my eyes.
I have embraced the idea that college is a time to explore and learn about how you see the world. I tried being more observant, not at all observant, doing some things and not others, and I think I’ve finally settled in a place I want to be. I see myself as culturally Jewish, partaking in some of the days of celebration and the major fast days. I would never want to throw the experience of being Jewish or the culture away; I just see my observance practices slightly differently from what I learned growing up.
College helped me see that this was acceptable. I met kids at Brandeis who are very observant and kids who think of themselves as Jewish but know nothing about it aside from Hanukkah, if that. It doesn’t change the fact that they identify as Jews and connect on that note. College is a time to explore and learn more about yourself. I embraced it and think I can finally roll with it.
I still question things on a daily basis, but now I have a baseline for where I feel most comfortable and connected to Judaism. It’s a step in the right direction for sure. I have no doubt I will still question aspects of Judaism. I don’t think religion and how one shows their religious beliefs is set in stone forever. Questioning is natural and important in discovering who you are.
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