Apr 16, 2006


In the Master's Thesis I will someday write, I want to explore the value placed upon symbols in various cultures, particularly in a spiritual or protective sense (evil eye, hamsa, hex symbols, etc.) and, and, and, how these values sort of get passed along from generation to generation and become part of cultural consciousness.

So, I've been into Romani (Gypsy) stuff lately, and I wonder about something. As Jews, we have our seder plates with symbols of pyramid mortar, of tears, of bitterness, of sweetness, of spring and renewal and the like. We, just like most religions, have small symbolic rituals that we do to remember, to observe, to find meaning and to interpret. Okay, the thing I have been wondering about lately is why we limit ourselves to just these? I mean, under the umbrella of interesting folkloric things, there are tons. And, few of us really have to limit ourselves to identifying with any one culture, no? Yes, I do things that culturally identify me as Jewish, but, for whatever cosmic reasons, I feel connected to my Alsatian heritage, my vague northeastern European heritage, blah blah blah. So, what reason could possibly exist that would limit me to only Jewish symbolic gestures? Why not, say, Alsatian things or Balkan folky things (explains my gypsy-fixation, eh?) or, and this is bound to flip out a few... why couldn't a part of a another religion be part of my Jewish practice as long as it, say, doesn't negate Judaism?

For example, what is stopping me from finding the sacredness in yoga? Nothing. I feel grounded and connected when I do yoga. Alright, what about this. I have long been aware of these tiny bottles used in some European folk/Wiccan/neo-pagan circles. Basically, you take a small sliver of wood, you write your name on one side to represent yourself and your essence. On the other side, you write the name of some one you want to think favorably about you to represent them and their essence. Okay, so then you fill this tiny bottle with water and honey or sugar and a few herbals (depending on who makes the bottle, there are some cultural/religious variations on the matter) and seal it. The folklore is that each time you shake the bottle with intention within in, the sweetness of the bottle swirls around the the symbolic essence of the two people represented and thus, favor is won. Okay, logic tells us that the only thing workable about this is the focused intention and the manifestation of focused intention within a collective unconsciousness, if even that. But, why is this different from us (Jews) eating apples and honey on Rosh HaShannah to create a "sweet" new year for ourselves? It really isn't.

I'm just saying that I don't think anyone is limited to the confines of any particular practice. Maybe, just maybe, we have been taught to believe that some things are so "hippie" or just plain "weird" that we believe that traditional religious practice is actually something born out of the 18th century. When in actuality, doing the precise things that you feel could be meaningful are a more true traditional way of practicing religion. Right?

No, no, I don't think we should have a "Chanukah bush" or anything insane like that. But, when things hint at conectedness, maybe we should listen. That's all. Judaism uses a solar modified lunar calendar. We pay attention to the seasons, we throw bread in rivers to "cast off" our shortcomings, we have a holiday devoted to hoping for rain, women gather together around phases of the moon, wine gets blessed, trees and plants have spiritual value. Now, doesn't sound a little like nature-based religion? Indeed it does. Sure, our unknowable, formless, single concept of g-d differs from the Triple Goddesses of neo-paganism/Wiccanism, but the paractices that are symbols to encourage home/family harmony (Shalom Bayit), women's lunar cycle gatherings (Rosh Hodesh), the four changing glasses of wine and symbolic food (Tu B'shevat seders, Passover seders), well, sometimes the similarities are strinking. Maybe, the acts, the gestures we make to add meaning to our lives, maybe some rituals could be shared. I mean, we shake branches in every direction with a citrus fruit pressed on top of it and acknowledge that g-d is all around us during Sukkot. Wiccans call upon the watchtower-dieties of different dirrections and a fifth direction to represent the spiritual. C'mon. Come on! It's too close not to notice. We don't even have to borrow practices from anyone else, but would it kill us to at least stare at the similarities head-on and allow them to make us question ourselves often enough to keep thinking of and looking for layers of meaning to add to our practices?

Now, let me pause here and say that few things piss me off more than people that claim two religions. You cannot, I repeat, cannot be "half-Jewish". To say that implies that you are buying into the Nazi propaganda that Jews are a race, instead of Judaism as a religion. Jews are a spiritual community and you either are or are not. It is okay to say one of your parents was Jewish or something along those lines, but, please, do not ever say that you or someone else if half-Jewish. So, my point is that there are some people that say things like, "Oh, I'm a Buddhist Jew." Nope. I think it's fantastic to be inspired by other religions, and it's even fine to modify a tradition of certain religions (keyword: certain, meaning not every) to enhance your own Jewish practice. After all, a Christian came to my Passover seder last week and found great meaning in it and is considering celebrating Passover next year with a more-Christian feel to it for himself and some Christians that he knows. I'm tickled pink that someone in another religion found meaning in Judaism. He felt connected to the Exodus story and honors Judaism by making this connection, I feel. Granted, a Christian looking to Judaism is perhaps different than even the reverse, just for doctrinal reasons, but you get the idea. But, to say you're a Buddhist Jew or or Whatever-Jew implies that there is only room in Judaism for certain rituals, and that sort of thinking seems very un-Jewish to me. I just can't shake the feeling that bridging cultural and religious gaps could enrich us all. I mean, some Sephardic Jewish brides observe hand-henna rituals before their weddings. Isn't that a beautiful way to plug in and find understanding in parts of Hinduism or Indian culture?

I think finding sacredness in the ordinary is a large part of Judaism, but also, to me, I think Judaism is patchwork by nature. We all bring something to the table and all of our perspectives are valid and okay and worth discussing. Americans in particular tend to think of Jews who look like me, the eastern European (Askenazi) Jew. But, there are Jews all over, from many cultures and each of us find our meaning in different places. I don't see anything in the world wrong with getting more into our roots and following unexplainable interest-hunches and seeing where they lead.

That said, I saw an Easter serving dish that looked like a seder plate and I finched. Yeah, we put an egg on our seder plate, we don't so much decorate it to hide the fertility goddess aspect of it.

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