How Do You “Feel” Jewish?

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.

10921649_334482166754785_6568975020057766505_o

Temple Sinai – New Orleans

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.

Discover More

The Jewish Funeral, or Levaya

A Jewish funeral is held as quickly as possible after death and usually includes readings, a eulogy, and a special memorial prayer.

How To Create Your Own At-Home Kaddish Minyan

Every Tuesday for a year, we came together — for a memorial service, yes, but also to experience Jewish community in a new way.

Feminism and Jewish Prayer

A variety of views on changing masculine bias in Jewish liturgy.

Reflections on Remembrance: Memorial Day and More

Memorial Day is approaching, and while I’m usually swept up in the parades, beach trips and community cookouts, this year ...

What Makes A House A (Jewish) Home?

The mezuzah isn't a finishing touch, but a starting point.

The Sweetness of Slowing Down

This apples and honey (bourbon) challah bread pudding is a Rosh Hashanah tradition.

Charlottesville Feels Too Familiar

The hatred at the Unite the Right march was unacceptable - but not "unimaginable"