I sat in the rabbi’s study, an hour in an ordinary day devoted to looking at biblical sources and studying the meaning behind this time of year in my tradition.
Although the leather couches were comfortable, I sat poised on the edge of my seat as the conversation went deeper, and grew more fascinating. I am so lucky that the rabbis at my synagogue, Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills, Michigan, are willing to give me an hour of their time to study Torah.
This month, I met with Rabbi Aaron Bergman (check out his blog here and a recent web interview with him here) and we looked at the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, page 21b, and from the Book of Maccabees, but really the sources were just the jumping-off point for a conversation that went long and deep, from ancient times to today.
The Chanukah story focuses on assimilation vs. protecting tradition, and there are nuances to the story that we don’t much focus on. From our studies, this question arose: “What is your dominant identity? And to what are you committed?”
For American Jews, it’s a good question indeed. Are we Americans first, or Jews first? Do we think about that? And if we do, what does it mean?
The Chanukah story has within it lessons on the dangers of any type of fanaticism – extreme secularism blending into the mainstream and religiosity so deep and hard that you can’t even where clothing that mimics modernity.
The intense struggle of the Maccabees and the Hellenists was between spirituality and nationalism. What do you struggle with today?
One day it’s not feeling Jewish enough. The next day, it’s a concern over being too Jewish and not blending in well enough. We battle our internal identities like a tennis ball lobbed over the net and sent back again, when really we are battling mostly against ourselves.
The expectations of others have no place in the identity we choose for ourselves. I and I alone have to live with my choices. Who am I becomes a question of who do I want to be and with that comes the dilemma of which community, which group, which clique I want to belong to.
So much of our external identity today is based on superficial fitting in. The internal identity most people don’t give much focus or thought. So many of us drift along our days doing what is expected of us, doing what is familiar, what we have always done, and then one day we may wake up and wonder, what is it all for?
We are so many things at once: I am mother, wife, woman, writer, entrepreneur, business owner, Jew, American. The list could go on and on.
I cannot simply choose one clear identity, for I am all those things and so much more. The real identity lies deep within, and it’s a place most of us rarely, or never, visit.
Who we are comes from the soul, that never-ending lineage of being, that in our busy lives we grow distanced from.
A calendar year is ending and with it, the dawning of a new year. I said to my husband yesterday, it seems like time passes so fast. How did it become December, and now the year 2015? I remember the 1980s and ’90s so well.
Let us enter into the new year with certainty for who we are, and who we want to be, and take active steps toward becoming, fulfilling, aligning who we truly are with the person facing the world.