by Catherine Share, congregant
Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality and a Deeper Connection to Life-In Judaism, by Sarah Hurwitz
Some part of every person’s journey to conversion is filled with hours of self-examination, study, and questioning. At least that was the way it was for me. But after reading Here All Along, I’ve come to realize that a person who was raised (minimally) in the tradition can follow that same journey.
Sarah Hurwitz, the quintessential lapsed Jew, has three degrees of separation from me. My daughter Alison who lives in DC and works on Capitol Hill is a good friend with a woman who worked with Hurwitz in Michelle Obama’s office at the White House. As with many people who attended religious school as children, be it Hebrew school or CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, a religious education program of the Catholic Church for kids who do not attend Catholic school), sweet release from the torture comes with a bat mitzvah or confirmation. This was certainly Hurwitz’s story. Then later, when attending college, Hurwitz discovered eastern religion and experienced teachings that she felt were wiser and deeper than Judaism. The wisdom grass is always greener over somebody else’s property (to paraphrase Erma Bombeck).
So what made her, as well as thousands of other Jews, rediscover what is in our own backyard? There are so many paths to fundamental truths; what makes our tradition unique and fulfilling? A political writer, Hurwitz came to realize that in Judaism the answers are not as important as the questions. By virtue of our name (Israel), we are expected to wrestle with God and ask the difficult questions. Hurwitz writes, “There is something to be said for committing to one [religion] and engaging deeply with it–wrestling with it, learning from it, challenging it, and rejecting or reimagining the parts of it that have become obsolete.”
Hurwitz herself engages deeply. She willingly dives in to free her image of God from the childhood trappings of the all-powerful puppeteer in the sky. She bravely attends a weeklong silent retreat in her attempt to face her embarrassment about even considering a belief in God. Prior to that experience she considered herself above the need for belief. Hurwitz states, “To be honest, I felt like I was too smart to believe in God…for me, I was above that.” She realizes it is daunting to begin the quest with theology, and for Jews, perhaps a little unusual. Throughout our history, it is our experience as Jews and touchstone events that provide our framework. Holidays mark our history. Shabbat celebrates our covenant with God and the fundamental concept of tikkun olam (social justice). Hurwitz comes to realize that Judaism is not so much about what we believe, but rather the doing that comes from belief and at the same time leads to that belief.
Hurwitz concludes her story without a conclusion. Rather, she tells a story of becoming. She encourages us to seek and grapple, just like Jacob (Israel), and to collectively create the kind of Judaism that has meaning for us as individuals and as communities. Granted, there have been so many starts and stops over the centuries. If we look closely at our history, it seems that the really hard stops have been points where we have tried to be something other than ourselves. Probably the hardest stop was the Holocaust when the fantasy of emancipation and assimilation in Europe was shattered. As Jews in the US, we are daily faced with acts of anti-Semitism and a perpetuation of the world’s oldest hatred (according to Deborah Lipstadt in Antisemitism: Here and Now).
One of the things I like best about this book is that as a new Jew, just beginning to figure out my identity, Hurwitz’s story tells me there is not just one way to become Jewish. Rather, since I have chosen this path and apparently it has chosen me, it is imperative to make this journey meaningful and to understand that it is a lifelong process. Reading this book, I also came to realize that this day and age, we are all Jews by choice. Ms. Hurwitz states, “[Our] tradition focuses a great deal on our obligation to be ancestors and pass Judaism along to future generations.” One of the ways I choose to do this is to live and practice my Judaism in community. We are not hermits, trying to find God on a mountaintop or in a cave. We find the image of God in each other and practice our Judaism by what we do to make the world a better place.