Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Eli Talks #2: The Unbearable Lightness of Judaism

Alright, ladies and gents.  Welcome to our second installment of Eli Talks!

Here is Micah Lapidus, discussing a topic that is dear to my heart, but I like how he puts it: the incredible lightness of Judaism.  He raises the issue of Judaism being viewed as a burden for some - whether identity or observance - and what to do about it.


Eli Talks director Miriam Brosseau says:

We all want to live lives of meaning, of purpose. How do we get that? How do we make meaning? 

When I think about the things in my life that are most meaningful, those things that give me a sense of purpose, they're all the really hard stuff. Family is one of those things. My husband and I have a 1 year-old who is the greatest thing on the planet, and all of the tough stuff with him is also the very best stuff. I can't count how many hours I've spent humming and singing and shushing my little boy to sleep at all hours of the night. And now he's teething and his nap schedule is off and he wakes up...oy. It's exhausting! But then, in the middle of all this, I suddenly have that moment where he's curled himself around me, totally trusting, his sleepy weight sinking into me...and I get it. I love it. I wouldn't exchange those moments for anything.

The weight of a (not) sleeping baby, or family in general, or work, or community, can feel like a burden we want lightened. Judaism can feel like that. But what do we lose when we lighten the load? What does that mean for Judaism and Jewish life? Can we make still make meaning if we don't feel that heaviness? And if we can't, what does that, well, mean? Micah Lapidus may not answer all these questions in this talk, but he asks them in such an eloquent, genuine manner that I can't help but think about it.



OOTOB's Ruchi Koval says:

I sometimes feel like the object of pity.  I "have to" wear long sleeves in the summer, cover my hair, and be restricted in what I eat.  And in all honesty... those things sometimes feel burdensome to me too. But if I didn't feel like Judaism offered me so, so much, it would feel like a heavy burden all the time. So how does Judaism feel not only light, but that IT'S carrying ME?

Judaism to me is an answer.  It gives meaning to my days, clarity to my questions, and depth to my emotions.  It's a destination for my prayers, eternity to my feelings of smallness, and an infinite legacy for my fleeting moments of joy and sadness.

Forget about carrying a burden; how could I survive without it??

Imagine a man hiking in the desert with a backpack of food.  Is the pack heavy?  Yes, and the heavier it is - the more that's in it - the more he will be nourished.

Now the question is, how to transmit this to the next generation?  Not a complete answer in any way, but the only way to even have a chance at successfully transmitting anything to the next generation is to be totally sure of it ourselves.  Which begs the next question... how can we teach ourselves that Judaism is not only light, but lightens our load in life?

What do you think?




17 comments

17 comments:

  1. Hi, When I clicked through to Eli Talks there were some very not Orthodox presentations there...now your audience are all adults and it's our job to filter what we watch and who we listen to and all that, but it seemed like a strange choice of a partner for your blog? Just wondering.

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    1. Here's what I wrote in the first intro: "Eli Talks are offered by a variety of Jews - different educators and lay people. I do not personally endorse the content, and will offer my responses where we differ, and my comments where I agree."

      I thought it was a great choice since the topics are things my readership would find interesting. The talk itself is just a starting point.

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    2. Ruchi- thank you for sharing this talk! I really appreciate your perspective that Judaism can carry us and love the backpack image. One of the things that I love about Judaism in this regard is the fact that Judaism both comforts and challenges me- usually at the same time. I can't think of anything else in my life that does this so seamlessly. Again, thank you for sharing the talk and your perspective!!!

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    3. My pleasure. Thanks for presenting so effectively. That image of the note you wrote in your chumash really stuck with me.

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    4. Fair enough, I was definitely something of an iconoclast as a teen!

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    5. Ok, here's what I just posted to Facebook this morning!

      Q. Why did the mother chicken put up with her kids' adolescence for so long?
      A. To get to the other side.

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  2. When I was a child, I felt burdened by Judaism. I wished that I had been born a non-Jew so that I didn't have to follow all these (what seemed like) arbitrary rules. I also really wanted to know what a McDonalds hamburger tasted like. It was only after I grew up and started learning more about the meaning behind the rituals that it meant anything to me and became grateful to have been born a Jew. I also got a chance to taste a kosher McDonalds hamburger when I visited Israel and I realized I really wasn't missing that much. Anyway, my point is that the only way to transmit these ideas to our children is to always explain the connection between the ritual and our spiritual growth. For example, instead of saying to your child, "remember to say a bracha (blessing) on your food", say, "remember to thank Hashem for giving us this food". I think your analogy to a backpack when hiking is perfect.

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    1. You know, sometimes I wonder if all the language I use so mindfully with my kids will really just come home to roost in the future. I think a lot of kids (not all) have to go through the stage you mentioned, to differing degrees of course. If they were given very positive and mindful messages throughout, and had a generally positive experience, chances are good that they will feel lightened and not burdened by their faith. I love the way you reframed the blessing instructions. Thanks for that.

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  3. Should be workingJune 12, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    Is the only way to transmit *anything* (your emphasis) to the next generation to be sure of it ourselves? That seems like a high bar, an exclusionary and problematic one. And it also seems to go against your urging people to go ahead and do some Jewish stuff even if they are not sure or do not deeply feel the belief.

    If this is the only way to transmit *anything* Jewish then there is no reason for me (and a lot of people, even some more believing than I am, which would not have to be very much) to even try to transmit some small thing. I don't think you mean this.

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    1. Sbw, can you give me an example of something unrelated to Judaism that you have successfully transmitted to your kids that you're unsure of yourself?

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    2. Should be workingJune 13, 2014 at 12:56 AM

      My examples would be of things I have transmitted in their uncertainty, not that I gave my kids complete confidence where I lack that. As in: political issues--X is important and so I'm voting this way but I'm not sure if that outweighs Y. Or in principle I want to support this social cause but I'm not sure if I have understood the repercussions. Or there are some big issues to decide about schools and they are important but I'm not sure how to rank the issues and thus the school options.

      More abstractly I've transmitted, I hope,values like kindness but also in hard situations have said that I'm not sure what is most kind to do. More concretely I seem to have transmitted a sense of order and organization (to one kid anyway) where I myself am very inconsistent on that.

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    3. So you're saying you've successfully transmitted an ambivalence you're sure of :-)

      As far as organization, perhaps there's a difference between sureness and proficiency. You probably believe strongly in it as a value.

      Also sometimes our kids develop a value independent of us. I'm discussing where they're not independently motivated, and we're trying to motivate them.

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  4. Should be workingJune 13, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    Your first line: Exactly that, yes.

    Not sure how much of this is hairsplitting, maybe yes, maybe no. I can transmit a value I hold, even ambivalently, even with the ambivalence.

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    1. SBW I always love your comments. You ask such good questions and they are so thought provoking and really force me to get straight what I think in my own mind, even though I might think about things differently from you. Just wanted to thank you for you contributions to this blog. Ruchi is doing a great job but what makes this a blog worth following isn't so much the posts as the conversations they inspire. And that's in a large part thanks to your great questions. Please don't stop asking them!

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    2. Should be workingJune 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      LOL SomethingSweet, thanks. Likewise your contributions. I like a good conversation, esp. if it's borderline uncomfortable, but still friendly.

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  5. Should be workingJune 15, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    Whoa, new format. I dislike change for the most part, but I like how your replies are now in the box of someone else's comment.

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    1. Thanks! I've been working with a designer on the makeover for a while!!

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