I know what you’re thinking, Harry Potter and the Southern Jew?
You’re pretty sure that that’s not the title of one of J.K. Rowling’s novels.
But the truth is, it might as well be the title of someone’s story—namely, my own.
If you ask a Jewish person what their Judaism means to them, they may say that it’s the “grounding force in their life” or their “constant reminder for doing good in the world.” Ask them what they think about the Torah and they may say that it’s “the most important text out there” or that it’s “what they live by each and every day.”
For me, that “constant reminder for doing good in the world,” that grounding belief system and world built around one story; the text I come back to time and time again to remind myself of what good I should put out into the world, that teaches me what I should “live by each and every day,” is the Harry Potter series.
I grew up Southern and Jewish – but I did not attend religious school and did not read the Torah as a child. However, my mother did read me the Harry Potter books as bedtime stories. She thought that a book with no pictures would not interest me, but I quickly became invested in the riveting tale detailing the magical adventures of friends, family, love, mystery and intrigue, deception, good versus evil… sound familiar?
This series became my Torah of sorts. It’s what taught me to value intelligence, courage, and bravery; friendships as family; and finding honesty, loyalty, and a good heart to be the most respectable qualities another individual can have. It’s what taught me to believe in good people; the light at the end of the tunnel; and the power of storytelling. It’s what taught me to accept that bad things do happen and we can’t always stop them, but we can always move on from them; that sometimes unexplainable things happen and we aren’t meant to know right away why they happen, but must have faith that the reason will reveal itself in due time; that although the story may be pre-written, we still must choose the right path, make the right decisions, and work hard to achieve what we are destined to.
Like the five books of the Torah, the seven books of the Harry Potter series are what I turn to in times of need. When I’m feeling homesick, I turn to the first time Harry lays eyes upon Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When I need to be told that there are more important things in life than books and cleverness, I turn to the climax of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When I need a reminder that time is precious and should be used wisely, I utilize mine by re-reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. When I forget that nothing good comes of dishonesty, I turn to almost any page of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. When I feel isolated and lonely, I turn to Dumbledore’s Army in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When I need reassurance that people are fundamentally good and will fight for those that they love no matter how difficult or misunderstood the circumstances, I pick up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And when I need to know that everything will be okay, I flip to the very end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
We all have different ways to find solace, reminders of hope, and the inherent worth of struggle. We should be reading more books these days that challenge us to think differently, consider new perspectives, reflect on our own role in society. And when we need comfort in these challenging times, whether it’s a favorite story, Torah passage, poem, or other comforting text, may we all be strengthened by the words that remind us what we hold dear.