As longtime readers know, I was raised without any formal Jewish education. When I was around twelve, my grandfather died and I felt a deep longing to want to know more about Zayde in particular, my family history in general, and, somewhat out of left field, the religion and culture that so many of them had practiced to varying degrees. Initially I think I just wanted to get a better sense of what my grandfather's values and life would have been like, and learning about Orthodox Judaism, and Hasidim in particular, seemed like a good place to start.
It was a tough start. While initially my parents were on board with my request to have a Bar Mitzvah, that tanked pretty quickly after Abbot Yid got into a fight with a rabbi of one of the big Reform shuls in town (since I was already learning a second language, Abbot wanted to see if there was any possibility of me working with a private tutor and/or skipping some of the nonessentials of Hebrew school leading up to the Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi got offended and said "We don't do quickie Bar Mitzvahs here," which promptly got Abbot Yid offended and led to him storming out and never going back). From there I was basically on my own. I didn't get very far for a while until eighth grade when we happened to read Potok's The Chosen and it was like a fire got lit underneath me. There was something about seeing religious Jews in literature that crystalized Judaism for me in a very dramatic way. I don't know if it was the surprise of realizing that people wrote novels about Jews or the thrill of getting to discuss Jewish history and minutae in class, but it gave me a huge charge. I read the book in three days, and while I've long since grown to appreciate most of Potok's other books as more interesting or better written than The Chosen, it will always have a special place in my heart as the text that sparked my Jewish identity-- an identity which previously had been barely existent.
I started reading whatever I could about Hasidim-- mostly things printed from the internet. In high school, I found the religion section of my school library and started reading books on Judaism. And I found a friend whose family was gracious enough to invite me to High Holidays, which was how I started my first ambivalent forays into participating in Jewish ritual instead of just reading about it.
Which is where this post comes in. In the past sixteen years I have had a lot of spiritual development, but I feel like there's lots of things I still don't know and have yet to really think about when it comes to forging a spiritual path that's both comfortable as well as intellectually consistent with the kind of Jew I'd like to be and the kind of Jewish life and family I'd like to have with Mrs. Yid.
Mrs. Yid and I have some big Jewish goals for the year, one of which is to get back on the Hebrew wagon and another of which is to start studying some Jewish texts and commentary so we start getting a more solid grounding in this big Jew game we supposedly want to play in. I also have another personal spiritual goal for the year, which is to start taking a serious look at the mitzvot and decide which ones speak to me, which ones don't, and which ones I'm interesting in trying out a little more so I can decide. (Similar to how Mrs. Yid has been wearing headscarves for the past 2 months since our wedding, though me being the super observant sleuth I am, I did not make this connection until someone complimented her on her tichel at shul.)
As anyone who knows me (or has been reading me for a while) knows, there are some pretty definite red lines we have already established, so I don't have any expectations that I will be fruming out or that Mrs. Yid will be prepping herself for an Orthodox Bet Din. But at the same time, it seems dishonest for me to talk about the silliness of adhering to unexamined dogma, or advocate the concept of personal choice and autonomy when I haven't bothered to investigate the issues enough to really be in a position to make a judgment about these things one way or the other.
Here's looking forward to a meaningful, thoughtful, and engaged year.