Gabi Friedman, far left, in Jerusalem with Diller Teens on the Israel Summer Seminar. Courtesy Gabi Friedman
When I was very little, I would go to a prayer meeting, or minyan, with my dad every morning. I remember munching on rye bread and bagels at the small breakfast afterwards while my dad talked with the others in attendance. My mom says that the sweets they fed me for breakfast at the shul ruined any hopes she had of convincing me to eat a regular, healthy breakfast. I remember, too, when I first began to realize that not everybody was Jewish. My mom absolutely forbade telling the other girls in my kindergarten class that I knew Santa wasn’t real. I can’t remember if I listened or not.
Now that I’m in high school, Santa Claus no longer threatens my social life; I rarely have to deal with the overriding beliefs of others. Instead, I struggle with defining my own beliefs. In a group of my well-educated, secular friends, I often find myself nodding along, even participating in an atheist rejection of God. Of course there’s nobody up there in the sky. The Big Bang, evolution and natural selection: I can throw out the AP Biology terminology alongside with the best of them. Often, I even believe myself. I explain to my friends, and to myself, that I follow the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions, kashrut, and observe the Sabbath not out of devotion to a higher being, but because I respect the policies of my parents’ home. I attend services and chant verses from the Bible (or Books of Prophets) because I enjoy the melodies, not because I’m praying, not because I believe.
And yet, when I watch lightning zigzag though the sky, hear the endless silence of the forest, feel the precious softness of a newborn chick, taste the salt in the air of a storm, I am convinced that something far greater than man must be present in such wonders. And I remember why I’ve never had a cheeseburger or indulged in bacon. I remember why I can’t go out to the movies on Saturday or attend that great Friday night concert. I remember what I’m singing, who I’m praying to and that I do believe.
So yes, during Passover this year, I’ll think about cutting carbs. I’ll joke with my friends about archaic traditions and necessary evils. I’ll once more recite prayers I don’t really understand, partake in traditions that have largely lost their meaning and mumble through sections of the service I don’t really know. And that’s OK. But it’s also OK that in the heart of the next storm, I’ll whisper a prayer of my own and once more renew my faith.
I’m the daughter of a rabbi and a science teacher, at the intersection of two different ways of life. I live on the edge between the secular world and the world of observant Judaism. I’m not anyone else’s kind of Jew: my Jewish identity is distinctly my own. And I am certain that whoever may be up there in the sky is OK with that.