Photo: New York City vigil outside the Stonewall Inn for the victims of the Orlando shooting, photo by Gili Getz.
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Another mass shooting — the largest in our country’s history — another hate crime in the name of God.
[/pullquote]Eight years after his birth, I have finally chosen to give my son a Hebrew name, and for the ceremony our rabbi asked me to talk about what my husband and I would like to pass down to him about being Jewish. Over the last week, as I’ve taken in the horror of another mass shooting–the largest in our country’s history–another hate crime in the name of God, it has felt especially important to think deeply about our answer.
The truth is I grew up with an active, but largely superficial relationship to Judaism and an impersonal relationship with God, understanding Him as the ultimate masculine judge, who, as far as I could tell, made laws that caused struggle between people of different faiths and had little to do with me. As a result, I let the Jewish religion fall away as soon as my bat mitzvah was over. Then the two Jewish history courses I sought out in college only validated my growing belief that religion was nothing more than a terrible justification for people to wage war.
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Why has it become important to me — and to my husband, Chris, who is not Jewish — to pass this religion, or any religion, on to our son?
[/pullquote]So, in that light, I return to my rabbi’s question: why has it become important to me — and to my husband, Chris, who is not Jewish — to pass this religion, or any religion, on to our son? The answer to which I continue to return is that spiritual and philosophic teachings provide us most directly with a moral compass, a way to view our place within our individual communities and the larger global society. For years I’ve looked solely to policy makers to reexamine gun laws and establish other ways to control mass violence, but more recently I’ve also come to believe that parents, caregivers, and teachers of religion have an equal obligation: to contribute to dismantling the sort of separatism and hatred that can lead to horrific acts like the mass shooting in Orlando.
But let me back up a bit. Ironically, it wasn’t until I started dating my non-Jewish husband, Chris, that I gave much thought to my spiritual background. Chris has been interested in yoga philosophy and Zen Buddhism for many years, and these things have taught me the importance of getting in touch with one’s own ancestors–both familial and spiritual. Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Learning to touch deeply the jewels of our own tradition will allow us to understand and appreciate the values of other traditions, and this will benefit everyone.” (Living Buddha, Living Christ)
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Joy and remembrance are as valid to my experience of Judaism as judgment and war.
[/pullquote]Looking back to my childhood, I have realized that although religion hovered almost out of my sight, Judaism nonetheless provided a great source of joy — bringing grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins together for holidays full of fun rituals, play, and delicious food. It gave us a wonderful way to mark time — looking forward to the special celebrations and gatherings that came with each season, giving shape to the milestones in our lives. When I engage with these rituals today, I feel the presence of my grandparents, who are no longer with me, providing shape and order to my new family, and continuing the joy I felt as a child lighting the Chanukah candles, dipping a hardboiled egg into saltwater, kneading dough for challah. As my hands work, my heart remembers every family member who’s passed these traditions down to me, traditions that at times they or their ancestors had to struggle to keep alive. Therefore, I have come to accept that joy and remembrance are as valid to my experience of Judaism as judgment and war. And this helps me to connect to the joy that all spiritual traditions are capable of creating in those who practice them.
Now, as an adult, I have been exploring my level of interest in reconnecting with the religious teachings of Judaism. And together, Chris and I have been thrilled to find a congregation that embodies the jewels of the Torah — a religious community that emphasizes understanding, inclusiveness, and the pursuit of social justice, where people are encouraged to look head-on at suffering and to engage in practices that promote healing, not only for Jews, but for all beings everywhere. This is the Judaism I am proud to have come from and that we are both proud to pass down to our son.
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Let us perform the mitzvah of teaching about a world where justice and peace can thrive.
[/pullquote]I hope that everyone in a position to teach children about religion is getting in touch with the jewels in order to open their minds to the joy and wisdom in all spiritual teachings, to foster acceptance, break down barriers, and do whatever else is possible — including work to influence policy makers — to interrupt the horrific level of violence that has been occurring far too often in our country. As we grieve the deaths of too many people to name here, let us also come together to perform the mitzvah of teaching about the urgency of creating a world where justice and peace can thrive.