When I began to realize that I couldn’t run from Judaism any more, I was living in a small Asian country whose only known synagogue was a gathering of Jewish people in a hotel somewhere in the capital. Not an ideal place to begin my Jewish journey. Yet, I couldn’t deny that I felt some kind of yearning to participate when I heard two of the Jewish participants in the program conversing with each other at orientation discussing plans for attending the High Holy Days services. “I want to come too!” I thought to myself, even though I knew this was not possible.
At a loss for what to do next, I started to do what I always do when I feel confused: I went out, I bought a journal, and I began writing.
As I began to write, one of the first things I wrote about was that without ever having been raised Jewish, I had a wealth of Jewish memories. It’s a peculiar quirk of my childhood that I grew up surrounded by Jews, though at a secular school, and Jewish culture was very much embedded into our school atmosphere. I had memories of learning the four questions for the reenactment of the Passover seder for our annual assembly. In kindergarten, we learned for the first time the story of Queen Esther and Haman, and got much delight in eating hamentaschen and twirling our groggers around. Latkes, rugelach, and the deliciously tinned apple juice and matzo we ate in school are vivid in my memory, as is the vibrant yellow of the daffodils we pinned to ourselves at each Passover assembly. By the time seventh grade was over, I’d been to dozens of bar and bat mitzvahs, and the line Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam had sunk into my head, never to be forgotten.
I recognize that these are very superficial Jewish memories, but it’s the power of ritualistic acts to create a sense of memory that can be easily recalled, and for me, this was an important starting point. Judaism is the religion I feel most comfortable in and around, the one whose rituals and stories I have soaked in as a child.
Yet, paradoxically, now I find myself worrying and wondering how I am going to create Jewish memories for future children. I feel tremendously underequipped to do so without the help of family, and while I know I will have the support of a congregation in filling in the gaps, it’s not quite the same.
It’s simultaneously liberating and daunting to imagine creating my own sense of meaning out of these timeless rituals to build my Jewish memory as a Jew, and to transmit that memory through the generations as Jews have done for centuries. I’ll take it one step at a time, and there’s no right or wrong way to do any of this, but the desire to create memories and make them meaningful is undeniably strong.