a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self


Posted on: August 11, 2010

Today is the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.  Muslims every where spend from now until September 10th fasting from sun up to sundown.  In the evenings, they break their fasts with friends and family, reading the Quran and enjoying the spirituality and sense of awe  and reflection that the month-long fast brings.  At the end of Ramadan a 3-day celebration called, Eid al-Fitr, or the the Festival of Fast-Breaking.

So why is this Jew talking about Ramadan?  Does she really want to be a Jew or is she just interested in religion?  To answer my own questions, I’m talking about Ramandan because it inspires me.  And yes, I really want to be a Jew but I’m always interested in learning and being inspired by other faiths.  I’m spiritually inspired by devout Muslims and devout Jews because unlike devout Christians who (some of the time) actively seek out new Christians by telling “non-believers” of the hellfires that will, no doubt, greet them if they’re not saved.  the same can be said of Buddhist and Tibetan monks.  Buddhists, Jews and Muslims go about their day on a spiritual level as individuals and as groups without “bothering” anyone else.  They take the time and spend the time to connect to G-d.

Muslims are supposed to pray, facing Mecca, 5 times a day.  The first word in the Quran, or so I’ve read, is the word “read.  For Jews, it is the same.  One of my favorite websites, written by an Orthodox man (he’s not a rabbi) is Judaism 101.  He says this on prayer,   “For an observant Jew, prayer is not simply something that happens in synagogue once a week (or even three times a day). Prayer an integral part of everyday life. In fact, one of the most important prayers in Judaism, the Birkat Ha-Mazon, is never recited in synagogue!”  http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer.htm

In almost every book I own on Judaism there is a chapter about prayer.  Jews, like Muslims, face a certain direction when they pray, towards Jerusalem.  Jews where tallit, a prayer shawl with fringes, over their heads when they pray, and there are countless videos of Jews rocking back and forth or swaying to and fro when they pray.  That part, the rocking and swaying, reminds me of growing up in a Baptist church.  I found the almost staunch lack of movement in the Catholic services I attended in school cold and almost uncomfortable.  How can you praise G-d sitting in your seat motionless?

When I walked into my first synagogue I was a bit disappointed that there didn’t seem to be movement during prayer, where was the swaying, where was the rocking?  Did only orthodox and Hasidic men enjoy the spirituality of prayer?  Thankfully, Central Synagogue has time for movement in prayer, especially when we sing the Shehecheyanu, a prayer of thanks for blessings.

But what does this (Ramadan) have to do with me and my Judaism?  It has me thinking about spirituality, prayer, and the High Holy days.  From what I gather, attending synagogue during the High Holy days are sort of like the big 2 in Christianity-Easter and Christmas.  The two times a year when your normally quiet church becomes over-crowded and packed to the rafters with people who remembered they were Christian.  With Judaism, however, you actually have to pay for High Holy Day tickets.  Tickets!  Can you believe there are tickets?  That reminds me,  I have to buy tickets.

Anita Diamant, the author of “Choosing a Jewish Life” and “Living a Jewish Life” warned me about High Holy Day tickets and I sort of dismissed her.  Why would anyone have to get tickets to attend synagogue on the two most important days of the Jewish year?  Because they are the two most important days of the Jewish year.  Here I am, a few weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and I’m trying to wrangle myself 2 tickets for Mirs and I.  “According to tradition, the entire Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashanah, Elul, is dedicated to preparing for the Days of Awe.”  Guess what, we’re in the month of Elul right now!  So what did I do?  I went to my favorite Judaica store, Eichlers, for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer books, of course!  Unfortunately, while I feel a bit more comfortable with how the order of service will go the books are entirely in English or Hebrew with no transliterations.

Besides getting comfortable with the service there’s the home aspect, my favorite part of Judaism, that I have to contend with.  My apartment is teeny tiny but still, I want to prepare a Rosh Hashanah seder (it is the New York, for pete’s sake) as well as preparing myself for the day-long fast that is Yom Kippur.

10 days separate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Let’s ask Anita what she says about those 10 days.  One of the overarching metaphors of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is “the Book of Life”  According to legend, on Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the year, the names of the righteous are written in this book, inscribed for another year of life.  But those who are not entirely good or righteous, even the wicked, have the next ten days in which to turn away from the wrongs and repent before the books is closed and sealed on Yom Kippur. 

There, that is why I’m referencing Ramadan and wishing all of my Muslim friends a good one at that.  Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, asks us to abstain from all things that are pleasurable from sun up to sundown.  We do not eat, we do not drink.  Some people cover their mirrors or refrain from bathing or even brushing their teeth.   We spend the day in synagogue reflecting on the wrongs we’ve done the previous year and, essentially, are judged by G-d that day.  For you Christian readers, think reconciliation services.  Yom Kippur happens for one day out of the whole year.  There are many other fasts that happen throughout the year, this is true, and whether or not we observe them is up to the individual.  There has to be something said for the fact that all Jews, observant and not so observant come together on High Holy days as one spiritual people.  On the same token, there is something to be said of Muslims coming together as one spiritual people for the month of Ramadan.  For that reason, I wish all of my Muslim friends a very blessed Ramadan.

3 Responses to "Ramadan"

[…] It’s a wonderful realization for me personally because I wrote about Ramadan last year on my blog.  On August 4th, my blog will celebrate its 1st Birthday and a few days after my blog’s […]

May I use your photo of a woman saying sabbath prayer over candles. I am writing a book on the orthodos and would like to use the picture in a section on women in the synagogue.

I would like to use your photo of a woman praying over candlesticks for a book about an Orthodox shul that I am writing in Birmingham, Ala. The book is self published and will have a small circulation.
Please let me know if this will be permissable.

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