My Jewish Faith

I have no special expertise or knowledge on this topic, but I am a person of faith, and this is a topic that given its importance in so many of our lives doesn’t get talked about enough. So my understanding is that today, we are just going to talk about what our religion or our spirituality means to us and how that connects with our professional and personal roles in life.

I thought I’d start us off under the premise that we should never ask students to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves.  So I identify as Reform Jewish, which is the most liberal branch of Judaism, the others being Conservative and Orthodox, which in turn in split into many factions. Actually,  I’m probably closer to being a Ju-Bu, if you know that term (Jewish-Buddhist).  My father was Jewish, my mother was Episcopalian, and as a result I grew up in a household that had no religious practices, although we celebrated secular Christmas, secular Easter, the main observances of the dominant Christian society. I married a Jewish man who stopped any sort of religious observance after his bar mitzvah, and we spent several years of our young lives studying Zen Buddhism, including living for 3 months in a monastery in Japan.  When we had kids, we started thinking seriously how we wanted to raise them, and committed to returning to our Jewish roots, which we both had to study.  At the time, if your mother wasn’t Jewish, you were not considered Jewish (although I believe that has now changed), and eventually I underwent a formal conversion, including a bat mitzvah.

In many ways I am not a “good” Jew. We no longer belong to a temple, although we did for 15 years when our kids were growing up.  Judaism can be a very behavioral religion and many practices, such as kashrut, keeping kosher, I no longer follow.  But my religion is very important to me, along with my family, it is one of my main anchors in life.  We are scrupulous about observing shabbat, the sabbath, every week, lighting the candles, saying blessings over wine and bread, calling all our kids and grandkids to share One Good Thing, and singing.  The sabbath is a 24 hour period when you turn over all your burdens to God, and are commanded to be joyful, no matter what is going on in the world or in your life.  It is a time of rest, renewal, and hope.  Other Jewish holidays, such as the High Holy Days, Chanukah and Passover, are similarly important reminders of who I want to be in life and what really matters.

Many Jewish concepts also guide my life.  Two of the most important are tikkun olam, repair of the world, and tzedakah, or giving.  Tikkun olam has to do with finding and then doing your small piece of the cosmic puzzle to make the world a better, more just place; and tzedakah, to give a hand to others, has been a central part of my life in all its manifestations.

In terms of professional life, obviously I’m not a physician so I can’t speak to that directly.  But again, I come back to the concept of anchoring.  In the days when I commuted in-person to work, I remember many times when I would literally be praying or reciting psalms on my drive in and my drive home.  I would be upset or stressed by a personal problem or a work problem, and prayer was like a mantra – it gave me a larger context, it made me feel that there was Someone or Something that I could lean on, it reminded me that others across generations have faced difficulties and felt despair.  My sense of God or the Divine has supported me through many heartbreaking life events and confusing, upsetting work situations, and has provided me with consolation and comfort.