Recently I wrote about being Jewish and how it impacts my dating life. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about my Jewish identity through a different lens, one that encompasses more than whether it’s important or not that my mate be Jewish. One that is about my own personal Jewish identity.
A few months ago I signed up for a program offered through the Combined Jewish Philanthropies called LEADS, “a social, eight-session introduction to what CJP’s Young Leadership Division (YLD) and the Boston Jewish community have to offer!”. To be honest, I can’t even remember how I came upon the link, I just found it and signed up. I had no idea what to expect. And I think, I really didn’t expect that much. I expected that I would go to one session and then think of reasons why to never come back. It wouldn’t be the first time in the last year that I signed up for something with full on enthusiasm only to realize that I like all my free time. But I figured it was worth a shot to try to connect with the Jewish community in Boston; something I had tried to do a few times since moving here over 12 years ago but had never really succeeded at.
Most of my Jewish identity over the last 10 years has been tied to my family and our traditions (which mostly include my mother’s incredible Sephardic cooking and going to synagogue). While during high school I was really involved with B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO), it has been years since I’ve made that kind of personal and social connection with my Jewish peers. And it wasn’t until reconnecting with friends from BBYO over the last 5 years on Facebook, that I realized how much I missed that connection. But since many of these old friends live in NYC, I felt even more disconnected in Boston. And as much as I sometimes have dreamed of moving to Brooklyn to be surrounded by my tribe*, well it isn’t really in the cards at the moment.
Being single in a city, it can be hard to find a religious home. While many synagogues have been plenty welcoming, I have often felt that without a spouse and/or children, I haven’t really known where I belong in them. And because I’ve moved around so much, it has been difficult to really become a part of one community. I was recently asked by someone to talk about the role that Judaism plays in my life these days and when I thought long and hard, I realized it mostly had to do with my family and the way we spend our holidays together. And like many things in my life, I think I took the easy road out to explain that this was because I didn’t have a spouse and/or children so therefore couldn’t find a home in a synagogue or Jewish community of my own in Boston. Somehow I had started to feel like these places were not for the single folk.
And this is not all a bad thing. I was fine that my Jewish identity had become wrapped up entirely in family. I didn’t really feel like anything was missing because this was just how things were. But obviously there was some sort of void. A void that had been growing slowly bigger since I was 18 and went from having all sorts of Jewish friends in high school to knowing very few in college and in the following years.
And then I went to my first LEADS meeting. Where, again, I was hesitant. It wasn’t in the location I thought it would be in. There was a lot of small talk. After the main meeting we went to a bar that I hadn’t been to since college. And I escaped early to go on a (disappointing) blind date. And to be honest, part of me wondered if I really had time and space for more in my life. But I went back to the next meeting. And I started warming up to the idea and to the people I was meeting. And over the next few weeks, I realized that this void, this void that I hadn’t even realized existed, was filling up with the connections I was making to Jews. For the first time in years. Yes, these were also just new friends. But there was something about it that reminded me a lot of my time in BBYO and the connection I’ve had to those folk. This sense of belonging. Of not having to explain myself or the holidays I celebrate or the food that I eat or why it would just be easier to meet someone Jewish. And I was meeting other people who wanted to meet new people. Meeting people who were ready to explore the city. Meeting women with simliar dating woes. And who struggle with whether they want/should/need/etc to be dating Jewish men. It felt like, similar to BBYO, I was finding my people. And it was really nice.
There are still a few more weeks in the program. And I find myself really excited for them. For the connections still to be made. For the new female friendships that I will continue to develop. And for the fun and silliness that comes from these new friendships. And I have this feeling that even when the program ends, many of us will still stay in touch. And even if it’s not on a regular basis, there will still be this Jewish thread that binds us much as I feel with my friendships from BBYO.
As my dad converted to Judaism when he married my mom, I was raised Jewish but we “helped” my paternal grandparents celebrate holidays like Easter and Christmas. I lost my grandmother almost 10 years ago and my grandfather passed just this past December. So I found myself this Easter, with no real plans or place to go, and feeling a little lost and missing my grandparents. For someone who is so close to family and spends most holidays with them, it felt really odd and different to be on my own a bit. A Jew so used to Easter brunch.
Someone from my LEADS group decided to organize a brunch outing for whoever was around for that Sunday. I eagerly joined. And while nothing will ever replace the time I had with my grandparents, it felt like a next step in my adult life. Creating my own tradition. Taking over the trajectory of my religious path a bit. And slowly, creating an adult Jewish identity and life that is more about my own place in it. And eager to see what comes next.
*It seemed fitting that as I wrote this post, This American Life had an episode on entitled, “Tribes“.