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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's Been a Year in Israel

I came to Jerusalem almost exactly a year ago, intending to stay only for a couple of months over the summer to learn Hebrew and a bit more about the Judaism that was pulling me closer to itself. A year later, I've studied and learned and absorbed and engaged and worshiped and listened and questioned.

I stayed here because I just couldn't leave Israel and her warmth and support and the sense of belonging I feel here. I couldn't leave a place that felt like a community rooted in space and time in a way I have never before experienced.

But there is something else as well. The sense of community and family also comes with a strong religious component, and in Jerusalem, the intensity and energy are even higher, and everything takes on a sort of Kodachrome saturation. And for me, in my personal and internal way of processing, religion - even my own religion - very quickly feels like a cage.

The bars of the cage are also its support columns, and it's hard to know sometimes what is holding you up, and what is holding you in, and what is holding you back, and very often these are identical. And while I'm grateful for the support and the structure and the place of belonging, I get a little panicky on the spiritual level when it feels like I have to stay in the cage to keep the connection.

The cage is the sense of being obligated to Judaism as a religious practice according to a particular understanding and way of being Jewish. The cage is the sense that this religious observance is built into the fabric of an entire country, which is considered a democracy, not a theocracy. And coming from the US, where my religious observance (or lack thereof) was almost exclusively a personal matter, religion being part of the public and political municipal sphere still feels foreign. Even when it's my own religion.

A very powerful, senior yogi once held my hand, looked me deep in the eye, saw straight to the very center of my being, and said: "You are very naughty." And we both laughed when she said this, because we both knew she was right, and I also knew exactly what she meant. That while I love G*d very, very much, I do not hold by the authority of human beings and their ideas unless they're really, really good. And a lot of them aren't - neither the people nor the ideas.

I've spent a year exploring ideas I didn't have access to before, and I'm profoundly changed by the exposure. They are all part of an amazing narrative that is more rich and complex than I realized, and it's all still at work inside of me, shifting and sifting and sorting itself out as I digest this religious meal, eager to see what it ultimately nourishes within me.