Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
In college I was tasked with writing a “This I Believe” essay about my guiding beliefs and values. This assignment wasn’t faith-based in nature; the “This I Believe” essay initiative is just about people writing on something, anything, about which they feel passionate certainty. In writing this essay, I found that the hardest part was not to articulate my beliefs, but to identify them in the first place. In fact, it was only after I submitted my assignment and read one of my classmates’ essays, that I truly began to discover my own beliefs. Ever since then, my understanding of my own sentiments has deepened, and now, a year and a half after being assigned that essay topic, I feel like I have better words to express my own sentiments of belief.
The classmate’s essay that kicked off my ongoing engagement with this topic stood in stark contrast to mine. His premise was that he does not believe in God, and furthermore that he did not think anyone else should believe in God, either. While I respected his beliefs, I was also puzzled by the logic behind his conclusions. My classmate saw belief in God as an inhibitor of human achievement – God takes accountability away from the individual. However, my belief in God is rooted in the idea that sometimes the only thing to do is pray and hope that Someone is listening, and by doing so we can find solace, take subsequent action– but feel sustained by our belief.
A few weeks ago, my neighbor in Jackson, Mississippi, put me in touch with her friend who was enrolled in a Christian apologetics class and needed to interview a person of a different faith. As I answered her questions, I realized that my Judaism is deeply rooted in the present. The right-now. I focus on actions I can take today to impact the world I live in, as opposed to achieving a place in an afterlife. Judaism teaches that t’shuvah, repentance, must be between people. It is not enough to ask God for forgiveness; we must hold ourselves accountable for our misgivings, despite God’s existence.
Although Judaism encourages us to be responsible for our lives, sometimes there is no one to blame, no one to apologize to, and nothing else to do but believe that someone can hear our prayers. This circles back to my core belief, and my opposition to my classmate’s essay; I don’t think belief inhibits action, I think it supplements action when there is nothing that we can do.
With that in mind, I was very moved the recent Humans of New York series, focusing on the stories of doctors, nurses, parents, and children in the Pediatrics Department of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. One of the featured stories was about a Jewish boy, Avi.
In the first image of the series, his mother recounts the night they discovered his cancer:
“The doctor told us:
‘We’re having a difficult time keeping his airway open.’
I was so confused. This was just supposed to be a test.
I asked him: ‘What do you mean?’
He said: ‘Avi could die…’
Then he said: ‘It’s time to pray.’”
The end of the series shows Avi on the last day of treatment, after 30 surgeries. Prayer was not a replacement for the science these doctors had devoted their life to, but a belief in God was a comforting and powerful supplement to medical knowledge. I am in awe of the courage these individuals show each day, and have been equally intrigued by the role that faith plays in many of these stories. At first I was surprised by the nature with which doctors spoke of their belief in God, but then I thought about the depth of my own beliefs.
In my most difficult moments, I am comforted by the belief that there is something bigger than myself from which I can derive stability and hope. Belief does not inhibit action, but rather gives us another outlet for our support: This, I believe.