“Too Jewish”

Most of my life it’s been a quandary. Sure I’m Jewish but going to synagogue doesn’t do it for me. It feels more sacred to walk down the path at Wonderland in Acadia National Park; I feel more “one ” with the universe than I’ve ever felt being part of an organized religious practice.

My older brother, Joel, has his office in a building outside of Boston, which also houses  a Chabad group of religious Jews. Joel and I both went to Hebrew day school but are secular Jews. My brother’s a really nice guy, and when the Chabad rabbi was twice short of a minyan (10 Jewish men needed to hold a service), Joel took his place among the daveners,  or praying men, to help out. He told me recently that he could still read Hebrew but didn’t know what it meant. Only having to stay 15 minutes or so was fine with him.

Last week on the phone, my brother mentioned that he came across the tefillin from his bar mitzvah. One day he ran into the Chabad rabbi and asked if the rabbi wanted them.

“Oh, maybe you’ll need them, Joel,” the rabbi said.

“Rabbi, we’ve had this conversation already,” Joel replied, and the Chabadnik relented. My brother was not returning to his Jewish religious beginnings.

My kids are technically Jewish because they have a Jewish mother but they’ve never had any Jewish training except for going to Chanukah parties at the Einhorns’ house in Bar Harbor, Maine. My daughter, Brook Wilensky-Lanford — the wildly talented author of “Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden” — was interviewed on Tucson Rabbi Sam Cohon’s “Too Jewish” radio show last Sunday.

Rabbi Cohon is a sharp guy. He had told me that he’s always been fascinated by the Garden of Eden, and although I told him that Brook’s book wasn’t at all Jewish — let alone “Too Jewish” — he was intrigued. I listened to the program and as much as Brook wanted to tell about her characters searching for the Garden of Eden, Rabbi Cohon wanted to remark on any Jewish connections. That’s what rabbis do, what anyone so connected to any religion takes on in her life.

Me, I keep wondering why I’m at the Arizona Jewish Post at this point in my life. Constantly steeped in Jewish life, I’m always trying to find out who’s Jewish and has an interesting story. My calendar revolves around the Jewish one (extra days off are great).

I’m definitely not “too Jewish.” Am I not Jewish enough? Will being Jewish matter more to me one day? Why are my children so interested in the impact that religion has made in history (Brook) and cultural anthropology (Ethan)? It’s a conundrum.

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4 Responses to “Too Jewish”

  1. Ronnie says:

    It is not really a conundrum. It is the collective memory that all Jews seem to have whether they are religious, or not… or knowledgeable, or not. I can’t really explain it, but it’s what makes people who don’t even identify as being Jewish, (but are Jewish by blood), focus on social issues that are so Jewish. (Tikun Olam)

    • sheilawill says:

      Thanks Ronnie! I know what you mean, and I believe in the importance of history — as an old history teacher myself. I’ve always said that my religion is being part of the flow of history, seeing myself as part of it, therefore wanting to contribute. I remember being on top of Masada and our guide saying that the Jewish afterlife is living on in the memory of your community. History! That so resonated with me.

  2. Phyl Brazee says:

    To be alive means to always ask questions, doesn’t it? I know it can drive us crazy, but it is ultimately to be connected with things larger than ourselves….. And the issue of self identity is the biggest set of questions, isn’t it? I see myself as more and more “eclectic” but with a deep spiritual core….. Phyl

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