I spent this past week in Clayton, Georgia, doing training for my Hillel internship this year, and just being more Jewish than I have been for quite awhile. I still can’t really say I’ve ever been to the South, because soul food and kosher food are not really the same thing, and Jew camp in a mountain isn’t really Atlanta. But, regardless of my geographic location, I had a great time.
I grew up Jewish, but the religion wasn’t really the main part of it, and I decided on my own to quit being religious when I was about 13. Since then, I’ve found I really want to go back to it, but it’s been hard, because you feel very uncomfortable when you’re a college student but you were never bat mitzvah’ed and you don’t read any Hebrew. Hillel’s siddurim do not have romanized transliteration of Hebrew, so I am completely lost when I go to services, and that is why I bought a teach-yourself-Hebrew book. I have yet to open it, but it’s a start.
Since we were really there for training, we spent a lot of time clustered up with another campus, Rutgers in my case (and our cluster was cluster F, so we had a lot of fun with that), and did bonding things and leadership things and peer networking things, since that’s the basis of our internship. However, we also did a fair amount of Jewish learning, and since I was there over the weekend, we had Shabbat stuff to do that was wonderful.
Before this summer, it had probably been about seven years since I had attended a Friday night service. While I was in Uruguay, we went to services, but as I wrote, I didn’t always enjoy them, though just the feeling of being around people chanting in Hebrew was very comforting. This Friday, though, was the best feeling I had felt in a long time. It made this summer finally feel like summer (magical), and it made me feel as if going to services more often (and taking a b’nai mitzvah class if I can find any free time and more participants) would really help me keep my sanity. I loved it.
Though this is a very ancient tradition, the custom of wearing white on Shabbat has kind of died, I think. But it is apparently a camp-y thing to do, so almost everyone was wearing all or mostly white as we had three processionals to the outside arena where we met, sang, danced horas, and learned other nigunim (songs without words, but sung with many voices including things like “lai lai lai” or “bim bim bom”). Then there were many options for services, and while I could have gone to a traditional one, I chose to stay for the one that other students had put together, which was not very religious, but included singing, active resting by learning about yoga, discussion, reading, etc. I forgot how wonderful it is to go to a service, and I re-familiarized myself with songs, terms such as “d’var torah” (a chosen reading from the Torah that is used to start a discussion about a value, current event, book, or whatever), and just the customs that I grew up participating in (though in a very lax, reform way). I felt really uncomfortable a lot of the time, like on Saturday morning, because I had never been to a morning Shabbat service, and I still don’t know all of the mourner’s kaddish or every song to sing, but even in my moments of discomfort, I’ve scarcely felt so peaceful in recent memory.
I love being Jewish. I can’t wait to become more so this year.
Next time, a blog about other ways to be Jewish, and other things I learned.