I’ve spent too much of my life feeling like an inferior Jew. First of all, it’s hard enough to define one’s Judaism. When I was asked what type of Jew I was in the past, I’d answer “I was raised Reform,” or “I’m culturally Jewish.” Now I sometimes say I’m “Con-form” or “Refervative.” The only reason I won’t commit to Conservative is because I want to join a synagogue that acknowledges the importance of gender equity.
When I was a growing up, I played with Barbie dolls and Thomas the Tank engine play sets. My engineering school has a male-heavy environment, and I’ve faced a lot of disrespectful comments and gender discrimination during my engineering education and various internships in engineering roles. From “You must be my new secretary!” to words too offensive to post online, I face gender-based discrimination more often than anyone should have to. Sometimes I wonder how Orthodox women do it. I had jobs that required wearing pants, and I wonder what would happen if I were strictly following Halakha. Which brings me back to the topic of not being Jewish enough.
The following things make me feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of aspects of Judaism that a lot of young Jews share:
- Going to Jewish sleep away camps (Too old now).
- Going to synagogue every week (Not quite ready for this yet).
- Having weekly family Shabbat Dinners (Why not start? I may have to find a makeshift family of other rogue Jews).
- Going to Jewish day schools (Too old now).
- Reading the Torah start to finish (I’m reading Exodus at the moment).
- Belonging to a youth group (They have groups for young professionals)!
Maybe I’ve missed out on a lot of Jewish activities, but that doesn’t have any bearing on my future. I was raised in a primarily secular household, but I think I still picked up a lot of core Jewish values. Missing out in my childhood just makes me more motivated to participate as an adult.
Last summer, I lived in one of the least Jewish areas in the United States. When I went to the only Reform synagogue in reasonable driving distance, I met people who felt like family to me from day one. They hugged me when I told them I was coming to say Kaddish for my beloved grandfather; and when I told them I was 2000 miles from any family, they jumped at the opportunity to make me feel welcome.
It can be scary to reach out, especially in a new city, or if you feel like you don’t know much about Judaism. Through my recent exploration, I’ve realized:
- I know more about Judaism than I give myself credit for, and you probably do too.
- I’ll never feel like I am knowledgeable about Judaism if I don’t put in the effort to learn.
- There is always more to learn, regardless of how knowledgeable you think you are.