a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

The Knicks Lost and I Won:Reconnecting to Judaism One Mitzvah at a Time

Posted on: May 23, 2013

When I posted about Shavuot on my personal Facebook Page I got a wide variety of responses:

From my cousin:  Playoffs are just 40 days, religion is always there! Watch the game!

From a Jewish professional: I pray more watching the Knicks then I ever do in shul.

From a colleague: Learning goes on until late tonight – watch the knicks first, go study after!

I laughed while the advice came in and ultimately decided to watch the Knicks get their asses handed to them by the…I can’t even remember who they were playing. Oh right, the Pacers. I spent the evening of Shavuot watching that disaster of a game. The next day I woke up and prayed as I normally do and picked up my Tanakh and read the book of Ruth, one of my favorite in the whole Tanakh.

“But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Turn back, each of you to her mother’s house. May the L-rd deal kindly with you , as you have death with the dead and with me! May the L-rd grant that each of you find security in the house of a husband!’ And she kissed them farwell. They broke into weeping and said to her, ‘No, we will return with you and to your people. But Naomi replied, ‘Turn back, my daughters! Why should you go with me? Have I any more sons in my body who might be husbands for you? Turn back, my daughters, for I am too old to be married…They broke into weeping again and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell. But Ruth clung to her. So she said, ‘See your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Go follow your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your Gd my Gd. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.’ “

The region around 830 BCE. Moab is shown in purple
from Wikipedia

Ruth the Moabite goes on to marry Boaz and she has a child who became the grand father of David.

There’s a lot to love in the story of Ruth. The first and most obvious is that it’s a convert’s story. She doesn’t go through the ringer on first glance, but as I continue to read the story I sort of believe that she is tested. In Ruth chapter 8 Naomi first tells her daughters-in-law to turn back, “Turn back, each of you to her mother’s house.” then again in chapter 11, “Turn back, my daughters!” and the finally after Oprah leaves and Ruth remains in chapter 15, “Go follow your sister-in-law.”

Three times.

Three times Naomi tells Ruth no, tells her to go back to her people, to her customs, to her gods, to what she knows and three times Ruth declines and instead goes with Naomi to her people, her customs, her Gd, to what she doesn’t know.

Chapter 18: “When Naomi saw how determined she was to go with her, she ceased to argue with her…the two went on until they reached Bethlehem.”

As a convert I’m fully Jewish, but a lot of times I feel as though I’m still straddling an invisible line between my old life, customs, religion and my new life, customs and religion(s). Not in the sense that there is remorse or longing, but with the realization that being Jewish isn’t like simply being born Christian. As a Christian I felt little guilt about forgoing church on Sunday. I didn’t think about why I ate a large feast on Christmas or Easter, but as a Jew we have reminders all of the time that lately, I’ve ignored.

I walk into my home to a beautiful and ornate mezzuzah that I only kiss once a week, maybe.

I don’t pray the traditional and full morning prayers because I can’t pull myself out of bed to do so.

I drink wine without the bracha. I eat bread without the bracha and I leave the restroom without the bracha.

On one hand, these customs, traditions, mitzvot aren’t required by my Reform conversion and I don’t know many Reform Jews who observe these mitzvot and on the other hand I do know Reform Jews who do and feel guilty (Yay, I have Jewish guilt!) when I don’t.

I’ve written it before and it still bothers me now, but friends seem to think that this sort of lull in my religious life is just the natural progression into mainstream Judaism. As my partner and I start thinking about starting a family I can’t help but be concerned that this ambivalence will leak into our family life and before I know it we’re eating pepperoni pizza on Friday night watching television instead of gathering around the Shabbat table!

Is this a crazy thought? Yes. We don’t eat pizza that often and we’ve both vowed to raise our children in a very Jewish home, but if I can’t make an effort now when I don’t have the added stress of child-induced sleep deprivation how am I to be sure that I will make the effort when we’re parents? So I’ve giving myself a Reconnect Challenge. Starting today I’m going to take on one mitzvot, bracha, tradition a week for an entire year.

Starting with bracha before meals. Wish me luck 🙂


6 Responses to "The Knicks Lost and I Won:Reconnecting to Judaism One Mitzvah at a Time"

Always, when something is new, there is an excitement and energy. Always, that fades. What happens next, the struggle to remind ourselves constantly to do better, and what we learn about ourselves in that struggling, is the important part.

But you knew that already, so this is just a pep talk!

Let me ask you this, do you feel there are non-religious ways of connecting to the Jewish people that you would have an easier time doing or keeping up with?

[…] The Knicks Lost and I Won:Reconnecting to Judaism One Mitzvah at a Time – a blog post at Black, Gay and Jewish […]

@Matt-So true! The pep talk is much appreciated.
@Dena-What I didn’t write is that I’m engaged in Jewish life, text, community every day-I work for a Jewish non-profit and I’m always elbow deep in text. There’s a Tanakh on my desk right now and did you know the next Shmita cycle is coming 🙂

I feel engaged to the black and white Judaism, so to speak, but haven’t connected to the spiritual, prayerful aspect as much.

Good for you! Once you say a bracha daily it’ll become habit. The easiest for me to start out with were morning blessings, since I can just take them on the go either with my siddur or phone.

Is it your goal to daven in hebrew or English?

I love you, my frummie, frummie friend 🙂

Because I want to work on my Hebrew, I’ve been praying in Hebrew. Our organization has a bracha card which I keep in my wallet. I thought I’d start with meal brachot but it’s too hard, so it’s been AM blessings. Although, not the traditional ones 😛

The Adamah fellows at Isabella Freedman retreat center pray each morning as a community at 6:00 AM before heading out to the farm. The service is called Avodat Lev, which translates roughly into “service of the heart” I think. It’s a beautiful, spiritually uplifting and moving practice. Every time I’m at Freedman I join them and feel spiritually fulfilled. So I bought a copy of the CD, downloaded the siddur to my phone and listen/sing/pray each morning.

It follows the traditional shacharit prayer, but in a way I can connect with.

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