Question: What do you get when you take four most thoughtful, compassionate, committed Jewish teens, with whom I have studied Judaism for eight to twelve years, and put them together up on the bimah at Erev Shabbat services?
Answer: A very moving Confirmation Class service.
Congregation Or Ami’s service last night was deeply meaningful. Our Confirmands – Alex Krasnoff, Ross Meyer, Jonny Wixen, and Sarah Wolfson – led the prayers and in between, offered their reflections on a series of questions:
- If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say?
- What do you believe or think about God?
- Having studied Judaism for 10-13 years, what ideas or parts of Judaism are most significant or meaningful for you?
- What has Judaism taught you that will help you later in life?
- How do you feel connected to Israel?
- When have you felt the most Jewish and why?
Some of their responses include:
If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say? I would talk about Tikkun Olam, or fixing the world. What is most important to me about Judaism is that Jews care about more than just our community but also the world. At every Jewish camp or temple I have ever attended, there has always been an emphasis on community service. Community service is something that I love and my passion for helping others is influenced heavily by the Jewish community and Judaism. It is great to be a member of a faith that is comprised of a community that cares about others.
If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say? I cherish Judaism because it provides me with a moral code about how to live my life. Judaism teaches that if I follow its laws, then I will live a productive and happy life. Judaism also allows me complete spiritual freedom. I do not have to be spiritual to be Jewish. I do not have to believe in that the biblical times were historical, and yet I still am able to gain so much from Judaism. Judaism has not taught me one particular thing that will help me later in life. Judaism has shaped HOW I live my life. Many of my most defining characteristics are either due to Jewish teachings or from my experiences in my Jewish community. I live a Jewish life. I learned many of my morals and beliefs through Jewish teachings, and I strive to life my life as Judaism teaches me.
One of the most meaningful things I have learned throughout my studies it to be accepting of others. It is important to accept other people for who they are and what they believe in. Not only does it help to prevent problems, by not dwelling on peoples differences, but also you might become friends with them. Another thing I have learned it to help those in need. One of the reasons helping those in need is important is because if you were in need, you would want someone to help you. The reason I like to help those in need is the wonderful feeling I receive from helping someone else.
What has Judaism taught you that will help you later in life? Judaism is full of life changing ideas and lessons. I know that I will use my studies later in life to help me make large decisions and live a fulfilling life. Judaism teaches us to be patient with one another, which I feel is really important if I want to go far and be happy. The idea of repentance on Rosh Hashana is an extremely important idea to me. I feel that it is crucial to reflect, but not regret, and then in a healthy way move on. If I can live these values, which Judaism has taught me, I know I will go far.
Having studied Judaism for 10-13 years, what ideas of Judaism are most meaningful for you? Judaism, at least Reform Judaism, has adapted to modern times. We are not forced to follow traditions just because that is how it has always been done, when those rituals have no relative meaning to modern times. Also, Judaism allows me to choose what I believe in and yet still provides a way to live my life to its fullest. This is what I love about Judaism the most, that Judaism instructs on how to live a successful Jewish life, yet does not require you to believe in every aspect of Judaism.
Rabbi Kipnes teaches that the strength of Judaism is its teaching that every aspect our Torah and tradition is open to questioning and challenge. Even the existence of God…
What do you believe or think about God? I do not believe that God exists. I prefer to believe that in a society as advanced as ours, people can be weaned off of the opiate of the masses. I do think that there is a place for religion without God. I think that religion is a great place to build a safe community, and to teach valuable morals and lessons. It is not that I ever lost my faith in God. It is that I never had it. To be frank, I think that science makes a much more logical and compelling case for creation. I believe that history makes a better case than the bible, although I think that neither science nor history account for life’s little unexplainable miracles.
What do you believe or think about God? Deism is the belief that God created the world but has no business in it today. I do not believe that God is someone that directly controls our daily lives. I believe more in free will instead than destiny. My understanding of God is slightly different from the God in which most people seem to believe. I believe that God is what you make for yourself.
In what ways do you feel connected to Israel? I wish I had a stronger relationship with Israel, the Holy Land. I feel connected in the sense that it is our ancestor’s land and that I have read and been taught many wonderful things about it. But I have never been. I want to go to Israel very soon. If I am fortunate enough, I will go on my birthright trip within the next few years to deepen my connection.
In what ways do you feel connected to Israel? I never really felt a connection to Israel until I visited Israel with Congregation Or Ami’s first Family Trip two winters ago. I found Israel to be a magical, beautiful place. I developed a connection to Israel the more I thought about how Israel was a nation that had risen from a horrible tragedy, existing among unfriendly neighbors. There is something very powerful about having a Jewish state in such an unfriendly and extremist area. I think that Israel is something that we need to protect for not only historical reasons but also because regardless of its past, today it is a Jewish state with Jewish families, people who have made their lives there. That right to exist must be protected. It is in that cause that I feel most connected to Israel.
I feel connected to Israel not only through the fact that I am Jewish but also through the friends I made that live in Israel. The first time I went to Israel I was too young to really appreciate it. Then in the 6th grade, I went back to Israel to visit my Great Grandmother and it was so meaningful that I do not know how to explain what I felt when I was there. Then last summer I was a counselor at my summer camp and became friends with a group of Israelis. Now I am trying to find time to go back to Israel so I can visit them and see the sights once more.
When have you felt the most Jewish and why? I felt most Jewish a few summers ago as I stood before a row of cribs in South-east Vietnam. I had traveled there with my parents and other Or Ami members on Or Ami’s Humanitarian Mission to the Orphanages in Vietnam. I felt most Jewish not just because I was with a group from the temple, but because of the emotions that I felt during those three weeks. I knew that being there was crucial to my growth and development as a boy becoming a man. That experience showed me that there are so many things to be thankful for and that it is our duty to give back whatever and whenever. It illuminated for me the Jewish ideal of Mitzvot, that we all have the responsibility because of our good fortunate to give back to others.
When have you felt the most Jewish and why? I felt most Jewish when I hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain and she attend a High Holy Day service with me. Before the service, I had to explain Judaism to her. Although I do not believe in God, I found in explaining Judaism to her, that I do have an extraordinary connection to the community and the lessons of our religion.