Six very different people share their year of Jewish discovery
Growing up in a liberal, educated, secular social circle, there was little opportunity to explore my relationship to G-d and prayer. For years I internalized the idea that religion is childish, anti-scientific, and antiquated without really ever examining it personally.
A turning point came when I started a Buddhist meditation practice in college and really resonated with the concept of nonduality – Oneness with the universe – or no separation between me and you and everything else. This perspective catalyzed a shift and I began to get curious about my own religious traditions.
Learning, culture, and community have been defining pillars in my life. Having traveled abroad and fallen in love with language and all things spicy, I spent years passionately pursuing issues outside myself. I realized that there was a disconnect; I had not embraced my own cultural and spiritual identity.
Despite my previously undefined and recent tumbling into faith, the unconditional welcome into our B’nei Mitzvah cohort this year created more than just a framework for spiritual learning and personal reflection. It helped me identify and build links of strength and awareness with this shared rich spiritual tradition and cultural history, its evolving commentaries and narratives, and tools which inform my world outlook moving forward.
And so the journey continues! So much thanks to Rabbi Bridget Wynne and all of our classmates—Morgan, Shelly, Linda, Steve, David, and Alison— as we walk through these doors together.
I'm going to talk today about the Kaddish, the prayer we say in memory of those who have died. First I want to tell you a bit about how I got here. I grew up in Mineola, Long Island, New York. My parents were smart, but didn't have much money. My dad was a meat salesman for American Kosher Meats, which meant he not only sold the meat but also delivered it ... yep, a hardworking, blue-collar man. My mom stayed home with my older sister and me.
My parents were both first generation Americans, whose parents had immigrated from Lithuania and Russia. They knew the importance of education, and they bought a small home in one of the best school districts, which was about 50% Jewish.
My parents didn’t join a synagogue until it was time for my younger brother to prepare for his bar mitzvah. My sister and I were told that it wasn’t important for girls to have a Jewish education. While I resented this, I was also relieved. In suburban New Jersey circa 1974, organized Judaism seemed like it had more to do with the fashion show in the temple parking lot on Rosh Hashanah than anything else.
Still, I always felt that something was missing. Over the years, my path toward meaningful Jewish learning has taken many swerves and turns. But here I am on my 56th birthday, finally a bat mitzvah. I am grateful to those who inspired me along the way, including my daughter who became a bat mitzvah last spring, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, and Rabbi Bridget Wynne who so graciously guided the members of our B’nei Mitzvah group as we prepared for this day, so long in coming.
My family has inspired me to be here today to become a Bat Mitzvah. Both of my parents fled Germany because of persecution by the Nazis. They met in San Francisco at a JCC dance and married after my father returned from the European front. After starting married life and a family in San Francisco, they moved to Los Altos and became founding members of Congregation Beth Am.
I was raised celebrating Jewish holidays, attending religious school, being confirmed in tenth grade and participating in the temple youth group -- in other words, a practically ideal Jewish background to start my adult life! My parents had the courage to take on the unknown and learn new things -- in my own way I hope to emulate them.
Why am I being bar mitzvahed at 70?
Being Jewish -- culturally, not religiously -- was a significant part of my upbringing in the 1950s in a heavily-Jewish North Shore suburb of Chicago. I was not encouraged to become a bar mitzvah, despite being the only boy I knew who wasn’t.
However, I was sent to Sunday religious school where I listened to the Chicago Bears football game on my transistor radio with an ear plug, and where I met my lifelong friend Richard Schram. I completed religious school and was confirmed.