It wasn’t long ago when most synagogues –and churches for that matter, were full every week. You see, most Americans took their religion for granted and went to Services. It is obviously no longer the case, as according to the Pew Research Report, 20% of Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. That’s up 15% from just five years ago, and the percentage goes even higher the younger you are, 72% of the young adults.
In the Jewish community, apart from the Orthodox movement which is doing well, all of the other movements are quickly losing Jews every day to intermarriage and assimilation. They just don’t care! Of course, there are many reasons why people become disenchanted with religion –liturgy may be long and/or boring, messages in sermons may not be inspiring, services may not be creative. Whatever the reason (or lack of), the passion is not there. However, most people continue to yearn for something that gives a deeper meaning, for something we call “spirituality”.
About one third of the religiously unaffiliated describe themselves as atheists. But the rest, some 30 million Americans, want to maintain some type of spiritual belief and practice, even though they no longer feel at home in a synagogue, a church, or a mosque. These people consist of the “spiritual but not religious”, the fastest growing segment of the American population. They are usually educated, liberal, open-minded, and have a belief that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Can Judaism fill that need?
Well, I would like to say “yes”. However, most Jews are unfortunately unaware of the rich spiritual and mystical dimension of Judaism. And yes, Judaism could be drastically different and infinitely more fulfilling than what they grew up with. So let’s look at 8 reasons why Judaism will enrich your life.
1 You have the potential to reach such heights!
You may ask/pray for guidance, you may ask for strength, you don’t have to feel alone, but remember; you were created with this most special spark that has the potential to become the brightest light. Judaism has a rich mystical tradition that is for you and will reach you at any level you are. Just crack open the door and everything will flow.
2 What about all the rules?
Yes, there are many rules. Some that you may opt not to follow, and many other rules that you probably follow without even thinking. For example, when was the last time you killed someone? Don’t laugh, that’s a very important rule! You may also be unaware of how many acts of kindness you perform naturally every day. These acts of kindness have tremendous influence in the life of so many people. Not all the rules are prohibitive, the more you learn, the more you realize you can be a Super-Jew.
3 It’s OK to question.
Don’t be afraid to ask. You don’t have to take anything on faith. And you may be surprised how many topics Judaism can talk about.
4 It makes you intelligent!
Join a Talmud class: learn and debate. It is more than stimulating, it is fascinating!
5 “Gd, the soul you have placed in me is pure”.
(from the Prayer Book, morning liturgy)
Judaism is not about salvation, or original sin. We are intrinsically pure but at the same time naturally created with a good inclination, and a bad inclination –both emanating from the same divine source. We have free will, and sometimes we make a good decision, and sometimes we may miss the mark. And that’s OK, as long as we learn from it. Our tradition provides us with tools, wisdom and insights to help us grow, to help us become what we truly are meant to be.
In the Shema, we proclaim the oneness of G-d. But ultimately, that statement says that everything is one. Whatever we do, say, or think has an impact in this material world as well as in the spiritual one. So simple, but when we do everything to remind ourselves of this, life around us becomes so much more beautiful.
7 The Kotzker Rebbe said: “Where is G-d? G-d is wherever you let G-d in!”
One day, our father Jacob dreamed of a ladder joining heaven and earth where angels were climbing up and down. In his dream, G-d also spoke to Jacob, and when he awoke the next morning, he said: “G-d was in this place all this time, and I didn’t even know it!”
The commentator Rashi explains what Jacob meant: “If I had known that G-d would be here, I wouldn’t have gone to sleep!”
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches in “The Book of Miracles” that “to be a Jew means to wake up and to keep your eyes open to the many beautiful, mysterious, and holy things that happen all around us every day. Many of them are like little miracles: when we wake up and see the morning light, when we taste food and grow strong, when we learn from others and grow wise, when we hug the people we love and feel warm, when we help those around us and feel good. All these and more are there for us every day, but we must open our eyes to see them.”
8 You have a treasure, don’t let go of it.
In an article in “Israel Hayom”, Lital Shemesh writes: “One of the most important poets of the Jewish Emancipation period, Judah Leib Gordon, coined the sentence, ‘Be a man in the streets and a Jew at home.’ Several decades later, Herzl declared that the emancipation, which led to assimilation, merely served to embolden anti-Semitism. Our religion is deeply and historically connected to our people and to our land [of Israel]. The moment we eradicate our roots is the moment we will have no more room to grow.”
So continue to grow, learn about your roots, and if you want innovation in your House of Worship, don’t be afraid to be part of it!