At my congregation in New Orleans, I teach an adult beginner Hebrew class. There are many different types of students in the class: Jews who want to be able to better follow the prayers in Hebrew during services; Christians who want to be able to read passages from the Bible in the original language; Jews preparing for an adult bar/bat mitzvah; and those in the process of conversion to Judaism.
Last week I fielded a question from a woman in that last group. Her question was not about Hebrew, but about Judaism: “I am coming to the Rabbi’s classes, I have learned the history and holidays and all pertinent information, I am learning how to read Hebrew… but I still don’t think I understand what it feels like to be a Jew. What should it ‘feel’ like?”
I invited her to attend Shabbat services with me that Friday night and sit with me so I could show her in live action what being Jewish feels like to me – how praying, hoping, and coming together with other Jews moves me, personally. She was hesitant at first; wasn’t there an easier answer? Could she “Google it on her own,” or figure out some other way to get this question answered, on her own time frame and by herself?
Quite simply… no.
Judaism is a communal experience. Yes, we can learn information on our own, but when we attend a class or have a study buddy, that’s when there is debate and discussion— and that is the Jewish way to learn. Yes, we can pray on our own, but when we attend a Shabbat service, meet and greet others, and pray together, we share a bond with our community like no other—and that is the Jewish way to pray. Judaism is, above all, a shared experience. No matter how big or small our Jewish community, the fact that we come together is meaningful.That sense of connection—that is the way to “feel Jewish.”
I don’t know if there is a way to teach someone a feeling, but when you show them how you feel things and where you feel things and why, they begin to understand and maybe can feel it for themselves. My student did come to services last Friday night, and sat beside me. After being nervous about the initial peer pressure to get up and greet someone that you don’t know, she participated. After experiencing the connections, right from the beginning of the worship experience, she said to me: “This really is a communal experience.”
Quite simply… yes.
What is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth?
A maze – as many of us know – is intended to be a structural challenge. Starting from point A, participants are challenged to make it to Point B, while avoiding as many wrong turns as possible, wrong turns that wind-up at potentially costly dead-ends.
Labyrinths, on the other hand, have no dead ends. Instead, they have just one path that twist and turns itself to the center and back again, ending where it began though – because of the journey taken – participants feel and even arguably are different than before.
“So, which one typifies the journey of your life: the maze, or the labyrinth?”
This is the question I have begun to pose to participants of our newest ISJL rabbinic project: The Linda Pinkus Memorial Labyrinth, which is presently in the testing-stage and is slated to be released in early 2014.
And remarkably, in reviving this centuries old practice in Judaism, an interesting pattern has emerged. Among younger adults, an overwhelming majority sees life more like a maze; while among older adults life is likened more to a labyrinth. But, why? What accounts for this difference?
According to the ensuing conversation, younger adults identified with the maze more because the course of life – as they saw it – is dictated by choice. Choose the right way, you are rewarded with success. Choose the wrong way, and you’ll end up squandering precious time and resources.
“Yep,” slowly responded an older gentleman. “But, looking back, you come to see that whether life’s a maze or labyrinth, there’s still only one way through. It’s just that a labyrinth incorporates the dead-ends into the journey as twist and turns of lessons learned that made one’s life interesting to live.”
Whether one is looking forward or back, each has a valued perspective on the course of our human lives. But, what’s life look like from where you stand? Is it more like a maze or labyrinth? I’ll hope you’ll continue this conversation, which may reveal even more meaning about the course of our lives!