18 WAYS TO DEEPEN YOUR JUDAISM
Jewish Outreach Media Campaign
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18 SIMPLE PRACTICES AND RITUALS TO DEEPEN YOUR JUDAISM - ONE STEP AT A TIME...
As we say in our ad campaign:
"Judaism - The more you do it,
This is so true. In our experience, the more we entered into the PRACTICE of traditional Judaism, the more meaningful the whole religious experience became for us. Judaism is COMPLEX - it has many levels and facets to it, which also makes it RICH - and meaningful - in many ways.
Here are some relatively simple steps that are enjoyable and bring real traditional Judaism into your life in a meaningful way.
We suggest that you start with just a few that appeal to you.
These practices belong to ALL JEWS.
They are YOURS to enjoy.
We urge you to ENJOY them.
1. PUT A MEZUZAH ON YOUR FRONT DOOR.
This is pretty easy.
What does this do for you?
How do you do it?
Once your Mezuzah is installed, the traditional custom is to gently touch it with your fingers as you walk through the door, then lightly kiss your fingers. This is a sign to you, your children and family - that you value the Jewish way of life.
After September 11th, we would do this "kissing" of our fingers after they touched the Mezuzah as we passed through our door and we felt, "YES! Yes! We believe in the goodness of Judaism - in the RIGHTNESS of Judaism's laws: 'Thou shalt not kill!' - in the RIGHTNESS of Jewish ideals: 'Justice, Justice shall you pursue!' - Yes! - Judaism offers a GOOD WAY OF LIFE - We VALUE Jewish VALUES!" It became especially meaningful to reaffirm our belief in the goodness of Judaism by "kissing" our fingers with the words of the Mezuzah. We still feel that way - of course...
2. LIGHT SHABBAT CANDLES.
This is a beautiful ritual that Jews have been doing for thousands of years. It's quite simple and it actually transforms an ordinary evening - Friday - into - "ta da" - Shabbat! It really does! You can feel it - you can see it - because the glow of the candlelight comes to have a special "Shabbat aura" to it.
Also - there's a special "bonus" this ritual offers: Traditionally when you light the Shabbat candles at sundown (all Jewish holildays - including Shabbat -start at sundown), you connect with The Infinite Power - G-d - and so the moment after you say the blessing over the candle-lighting is considered a good moment in which to add a personal prayer of your own that is meaningful to you at that time.
In addition, lighting Shabbat candles at sundown on Friday connects you with Jews all over the world who are also lighting candles for Shabbat. The Jews in your region will be lighting Shabbat candles at just the same time you will be (if you follow the "lighting time" guidelines) - and you are connecting with them. With this ancient ritual, you are also connecting with your ancestors - mostly your great, great grandmothers - all of them! - going back thousands of years - and, in addition, with future generations who will continue to light Shabbat candles.
Once you get into the "habit" of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday evening we're pretty sure you'll not want to skip it. It's that lovely. And it's pretty simple. Here's how to do it in the traditional way:
Once you get used to doing this, you start to look forward to it each week. Enjoy it! It's a core act of being a Jew...
3. SET UP A TZEDAKA BOX.
In the old days, most Jewish homes had Tzedaka boxes - little boxes to hold coins for charity - because Tzedaka - giving to "charity" - is a basic component of Judaism. Traditional Jewish law requires that we give charity each day - even if only a single coin - a penny even! Even the poorest among us is obligated to give at least one coin a day. It's a lovely practice - because giving is good for the soul - and giving to those less fortunate is an ultimate good - there's no arguing that - AND giving rewards the giver with a sense of well-being - a sense of being "rich" with many blessings - even if the giver is terribly poor!
Tzedaka means both "charity" and "righteousness" in Hebrew - because these two concepts are absolutely linked in Judaism. You cannot have one without the other.
Tzedaka is the one Mitzvah (commandment/good deed) for which G-d practically "promises" a positive return! ("Bring me your tithes and see if I don't open the storehouses of heaven." - Malachi 3:10)
Here's how you do it - couldn't be simpler:
What does this do for you?
In all these ways, it helps to bring perspective to your world - while it helps to make a BETTER world. And it's so very simple - just drop at least one coin (preferably more) in the Tzedaka box each day (except Shabbat & Holidays).
And by the way - there are many beautiful Tzedaka boxes you can buy and display in your home.
[ Would you like to give tzedakah now? Click here to send a check to KEHILLAH to help us with our work - or, here's another good one: www.Tzohar.org - wonderful school for special-needs children in Israel. ]
4. GET ACQUAINTED WITH A SYNAGOGUE.
Synagogue is the center of Jewish Community life.
It really is the center of Jewish communal life.
Now we know that many people had TERRIBLE experiences in their synagogues when they were growing up. We hear often about the insensitive Rabbi - the tyrannical Hebrew teacher - the materialistic congregants - etc...
We say: Forget all that! It's a new world in Synagogue these days - it's a new generation of Rabbi's - it's even a new generation of congregants. You'd be surprised at the number of hip, savvy people - artists and writers! - who show up in Synagogue these days. Why? Because there is so much more GOOD stuff - GREAT stuff - stuff of SUBSTANCE - than all the bad stuff you remember. Times are different now - and you're different now, too. We say go and check it out. If you don't like one Synagogue - try another. Different strokes and styles and congregations for different folks. It's called Shul Shopping - checking out the different Synagogues available to you. You're guaranteed to learn a great deal doing it.
Once you start going regularly to a Synagogue you like - especially Shabbat services - you may find it habit-forming. You start to look forward to Saturdays and seeing the same folks - catching up with them - hearing the Torah Parsha (portion) discussed each week - watching a fellow congregant struggle through the reading of the Haftorah and vigorously offering congratulations ("mazel tov!") when he/she's finished - and then sharing a delicious Kiddish (prayers and goodies). There's a lot that happens in the Synagogue on Saturday and it just might surprise you how good and interesting and joyful it is.
Of course there are many different reasons to go to Synagogue. You can go for the social life if you wish - that's a perfectly good reason to go. Many people find it's an effective anti-depressant - to put on some decent clothes (hey - dress up! - that's the most fun) and go hear some great stories (from the Torah) and uplifting ideas - usually a pretty thoughtful sermon - and some beautiful prayers and songs - and then the Kiddish - "refreshments!" It's really quite lovely.
Judaism is so RICH with good stuff - important ideas and ideals - challenging concepts - DEPTH - a group of bright interesting people to interact with - celebrations galore - and great food. Enjoy it - it's YOURS to enjoy!
6. STUDY JEWISH SUBJECTS. There are loads of classes, study groups, courses around - in every state in the Union - we'll bet even North Dakota! - (well, maybe not - we don't really know much about North Dakota...). Check your local Syngaogue, newspaper, Village-Voice-type journal, etc. It is VERY STIMULATING to study with Jews. Some of us love to argue, right? And discuss. And talk and think. And all that's fun! AND you learn while you're doing it. We personally have made many friends over the years through the classes we've taken. Taking classes is an excellent antidote to loneliness and isolation - and ignorance. (Jews today are incredibly well educated in the most sophisticated subjects, while at the same time, they are unbelievably IGNORANT about Judaism!) Taking a class in a Jewish subject, as a general rule, is an all-around GOOD THING TO DO.
7. TURN FRIDAY NIGHT INTO SHABBAT.
Shabbat is a great institution. You work hard all week and then, come Friday evening, you stop rushing about and instead you turn away from the noise and blare of the Real World and pull in towards a deeper, quieter, more contemplative time - you rest and relax and enjoy and partake of ancient prayers and rituals, great ideas and ideals and share meals with warm, good people - including your family!
You can start doing this at home quite easily. It's really very simple - and you can add more traditions and rituals as you learn more and want to deepen your experience of Shabbat.
On the simplest level though, what you start with is having a lovely Friday evening Shabbat meal.
There are many more customs and rituals that go with a Real Shabbat dinner - but this is how you start - by turning down the NOISE of everyday life and turning Friday night into a joyous celebration of Shabbat.
What it does for you:
8. LEARN TO READ HEBREW - It's surprisingly easy. We learned through the Hebrew Crash Course given by National Jewish Outreach Project. You can contact them at 1-800-44-HEBREW or at www.NJOP.Org and they will tell you where a class is given near you - FREE!
By the way, by the end of the first class you will be able to read the word 'Shalom' in Hebrew. And you know what? Once you can read 'Shalom' in Hebrew, you can almost always find your place in the prayer book - because it pops up often in Jewish prayers and once you spot it, you can find your place!
There's a whole element to learning Hebrew that brings you to another level of Judaism. Once you can follow the service and see how to pronounce the words of the prayers correctly (because Hebrew is written phonetically! - unlike our much more complex English) it changes the whole service for you - makes it much more accessible and User-Friendly.
In addition, Hebrew is the language of PRAYER - it has a holy qualilty to it. Prayer in Hebrew has a different quality to it, a different dimension, than praying in everyday language.
And of course, when you pray in Hebrew, you are praying in the languge of your ancestors - AND in the ancient language of Judaism - the language of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs - the language of our Torah.
And once you can read the prayerbook in Hebrew - or at least follow - and you're a bit more familiar with the prayer service - the order of the prayers. etc. - you can practically walk into any Synagogue in the world, and, with just a bit of adjustment, follow the service! How about that?! It's one of the reasons Judaism has survived for so long - because our prayers are familiar no matter where you go on this earth - there they are in "good old familiar Hebrew!"
9. GET A JEWISH BIBLE - THE TORAH (Five Books of Moses - also known as the Chumash) which is part of the TANACKH (the complete Bible) for your home - and start to familiarize yourself with it. Maybe follow the weekly Torah Parsha (portion).
We were amazed when we discovered - and it's totally logical of course but we didn't know this - that all over the world, Jews read THE SAME WEEKLY PORTION OF THE TORAH! So a person in New York, another in Billings, Montana and a third in Tokyo will all be reading the same Parsha (portion of the Torah)! Wow! That's so SMART!
Of course once we understood more, we came to know that the Torah is read through in its entirety every single year. So if you've been meaning - since you were in college - to actually READ the Bible - you will automatically have that "happen" for you by attending Synagogue services every week for a year. Bingo! - you'll have read the entire Torah (Five Books of Moses.)
But of course there's so much more than just reading it. It's the DISCUSSIONS that take place around these stories, descriptions, laws, concepts - that makes it simply fascinating.
The Torah is the HEART and SOUL - the core document - the very center of Judaism. Everything else comes FROM the Torah - essentially. This is a document that has shaped human history - human thinking - human belief - over the centuries. Once you're familiar with what's in it, you will be a much more literate Jew - a more literate PERSON. But it doesn't happen overnight - it can't possibly happen overnight - it's too big and complex. It takes years of discussions and classes and readings and experiences to start to ABSORB this very special document called The Torah.
The sooner you start, though, the sooner you'll become (somewhat!) knowledgeable.
10. TRY OBSERVING A REAL SHABBAT WITH THOSE WHO ARE RELIGIOUS.
This is an incredible experience. To be with a religious family during Shabbat - or even just for the Friday evening meal or the Saturday lunch. It's totally WONDERFUL to participate in the rituals - the prayers - the food - the wine - the laughter. Shabbat meals are a special delight. But that's not all there is to Shabbat. When you see how a whole community observes this special holiday - EVERY WEEK - it's very powerful - very affecting. And after you've spent some time in observance of Shabbat, you FEEL DIFFERENT - you walk out of the Friday night dinner feeling DIFFERENT - the peace and quiet of it, the contemplation of it, the seriousness of the rules and regulations (they are what sets the stage for Shabbat to be so special) - the discussion of worthy ideas and ideals, the interactions among people, the humor! (you'll laugh for sure) - the warmth - it's an amazingly lovely experience.
We ourself were quite amazed to find out how delightful Shabbat is. It was something we had NEVER, EVER experienced even though we GREW UP IN A JEWISH NEIGHBORHOOD - where NO ONE observed Shabbat! What a pity - for us - for all of us. How much we missed!
Stop "missing" Shabbat. Try it - you'll like it - (though it may take some getting used to, too.)
11. TRY A BIT OF KASHRUT (KEEPING KOSHER.)
Having not grown up with Kashrut (Kosher laws concerning food) we have found two things about it: One is that it's not that hard to learn about it and start doing it. And two is, it can be very hard to give up some of the foods you may love that are not Kosher.
But over time we've also come to appreciate the discipline of Kashrut. And once you get familiar with the more traditional community, you will WANT to observe these laws when you're with those people. And eventually, it starts growing on you. You start noticing what you're eating - with what else - how - when, does this package have a "hechsher" (sign that it's Kosher) or not? - etc. You get sensitized and it changes you.
Eating Kosher food is a way to connect with the deepest values of Judaism - including compassion toward animals. Also - animals that prey on other animals are generally not kosher. It's the peaceful, cud-chewing group that are kosher. Makes a difference....
And it's a way to tell your children, THIS HOUSEHOLD IS CONNECTED TO THE JEWISH RELIGION AND TO JEWISH IDEALS. In truth, because it requires some work and some sacrifice, it expresses a SOLID COMMITTMENT.
It's also another way to CONNECT with the Jewish community - all over the world - and to connect with your Jewish ancestors - and your future progeny.
Taking the first steps to START keeping Kosher is actually pretty easy.
12. LEARN SOME BASIC PRAYERS. THEY'RE NOT HARD and they add a very important element to leading a Jewish life. Here are some good prayers to learn:
Friday Evening (sundown) Candle lighting: Baruckh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Meleckh haOlam, Asher Kidishanu B'mitzvotov, vitzivanu leckhadlickh ner shel Shabbat;
Over Bread: Baruckh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Meleckh haOlam, HaMotzi Lechem Min Ha'aretz;
Over Wine: Baruckh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Meleckh haOlam Borey Pree HaGofen;
Hand washing before breaking bread: Baruckh Atah Adonai, Eloheynu Meleckh haOlam, Asher Kidishanu B'mitzvotov, vitzivanu al nitilat yadayim.
13. ACTUALLY "KEEP" PESACH. It's not hard and it changes your whole perspective on Pesach.
Many modern Jews think that Passover is a one-day Holiday. Well - that simply is not the case. Traditionally Passover lasts for 8 full days. And during that time, traditional Jews do not eat ANYTHING that has even a TRACE of CHOMITZ (leaven) in it. That's why they clean out their houses thoroughly in preparation - and then do a special Bedeken - inspection - by candlelight! - (It's a lovely tradition) to be sure there are no traces of chomitz anywhere. And then they sweep up - with a soft white feather - a few final crumbs that have been left for just that purpose. (This is a wonderful ritual that really gets children INVOLVED with the process.)
And the laws are so strict about Passover that one doesn't even eat off the usual plates - but substitutes either paper plates or a special set of Pesach plates during those eight days.
Now here's the thing. You might think that that sounds AWFUL - Oh, my God - so much WORK! - SUCH A BIG DEAL FOR NOTHING!
We had always observed Passover as just a one-day holiday. We loved it of course (most Jews do - it's one of the most widely observed Jewish rituals) - very nice - very enjoyable - and that was IT. After the Seder, it was over - The End.
Until one day we ran into a friend of a friend - not particularly religious - who said she always gave up bread for the eight days of Pesach. And we thought to ourself - hmmm - we could do that - that's not such a big deal. Well - it turned out to change our ENTIRE PERSPECTIVE ON PASSOVER! Passover means NOTHING UNLESS YOU GIVE UP CHOMITZ for the full 8 days! And then it comes to mean a GREAT DEAL! It's another of those brillliant Jewish holidays that really TEACH you something - through the EXPERIENCE. When you give up bread for 8 days - and other products that have chomitz in them - like pasta - crackers - corn chips, cake, cookies, pizza, etc. - you GO THROUGH AN EXPERIENCE that changes you.
It's actually DEVISED to give you an experience that changes you - that helps you to IDENTIFY with our ancient brethren who had to flee in the night from Egypt without the usual leavened bread. And it's meant to help us identify with those who are deprived of delightful food - people who are hungry or starving or otherwise unfortunate and suffering.
This annual rite of mini-deprivation (during which you eat all kinds of super-delicious foods, of course - but DIFFERENT foods from usual) becomes very meaningful when you ACTUALLY DO IT!
It really is the perfect example of our advertising campaign line: "Judaism - the more you do it, the more you get it." So true!...
Try it. You'll see it's pretty easy - and, at the very same time, VERY MEANINGFUL. Changes everything...
14. Subscribe to a Jewish paper or publication. There are so many that are truly wonderful - full of interesting articles, topics of interest, stimulation, OPINIONS! - and some excellent writing. And reading the Jewish press on a regular basis truly connects you to the Jewish community - to Jewish doings - and thinkings - and writers and other important people. (Click here to check out The Jewish Week - a publication we read cover to cover every week - it's so darn good....)
15. TRY ACTUALLY FASTING ON YOM KIPPUR. If you haven't done this previously, it too changes everything about Yom Kippur. By the way, IT'S HARD! - and so it becomes quite MEANINGFUL! And it gives you a bit of self-ESTEEM that you can actually DO IT! And it's not just about the challenge of it - it's also about self-deprivation - because on Yom Kippur we're focusing on our SINS - our SHORTCOMINGS - which of course we all have - with the aim, of course, of making ourselves BETTER. It's a very healthy exercise to engage in such a practice. And you can FEEL it when you do it. Yom Kippur is NOTHING without fasting.
It's also NOTHING without going to services. If you fast at home, you're not doing Yom Kippur at all. You're just going through the motions. It's the SERVICE that delivers the real wollop - WHILE YOU'RE FASTING. If you don't like the service in one place - try another service. I myself have found a HUGE DIFFERENCE between how the branches approach this holiday. You have to find the approach that is meaningful to you. But once you find it, staying home and being "quiet" is totally NOTHING compared to actually DOING IT - going to services AND FASTING. Make Yom Kippur MEANINGFUL to you - FAST AND GO TO SERVICES.
16. DISCOVER THE JEWISH HOLIDAYS BEYOND ROSH HASHANAH AND YOM KIPPUR. TRY SUCCOT - PRACTICALLY THE BEST HOLIDAY OF ALL.
And then there's Shavuot - that comes 49 days after Pesach. The fact is that Pesach is actually a PRELUDE that LEADS to Shavuot - which celebrates the "first fruits" of spring AND celebrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from G-d on Mount Sinai. This is actually the purpose of Moses leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt - to receive the "freedom" and spiritual elevation that came with the Ten Commandments and the laws in the Torah. It's all beautifully designed to give us this system whereby we live better lives by being better Jews.
17. VOLUNTEER to do something for the Jewish community. Make calls for UJA - Deliver meals to an elderly person - visit those who are ill in the hospital, stuff envelopes for the synagogue. There are a million tasks, chores, acts of kindness that need to be done - every day. Be one of the people who does one of them. That makes you special - it makes you a CONTRIBUTOR - a Good Jew - it helps to fulfill the promise of Judaism - to improve - perfect - the world.
Remember that Maimonides said to think of the world as being perfectly balanced between GOOD on the one hand and EVIL on the other. And it is the ACTS THAT YOU PERFORM THAT TIP THIS BALANCE - ONE WAY OR THE OTHER!.... (If that isn't supremely BRILLIANT I don't know what is...)
18. VISIT ISRAEL. Israel is an amazing country. It's beautiful and exotic and extraordinary - and loaded with fascinating history and wonderful people. If you're a Jew and you haven't been to Israel you are missing one of the key experiences of Judaism. And it will teach you a great deal about Judaism - just by being there. Of course you will learn a great deal more if you put yourself into experiences that include Jews who are actually observing the religious practices - or studying Jewish texts. These are excellent ways to REALLY learn about Judaism...
But whatever you do, be sure to go to Israel. You are guaranteed an AMAZING EXPERIENCE. Guaranteed.
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