Shevi Zeff

Defining “Religious” in the Chosen Land

Anyone seen me?

This a little more personal than other blogs so if you’re not “into” reading a 22 year old Australian’s outlook and reflections on life, feel free to quit while you’re ahead and stop reading now.

Anyway as you, my readers, may or may not know – I’ve finished my service for the defense forces of Israel (wahoo!) and am now a free citizen of this beautiful little country. I’ve found my footing and have a solid plan for this year and the year ahead (for those who read about my canvas theory- I can now give my Aussie friend an actual comprehensible answer). So all’s good on the home-front of my existence baruch Hashem.

But you see, if I open up to you a little – and here I am doing just that – I can share with you how incredibly lost I am. I’m a lost, lost soul. So lost I don’t even know where the light switch is to begin the process of finding myself. So lost I couldn’t tell you if I went left or right at the intersection, or made a U-turn and got hit by an on-coming truck. I’m so incredibly lost that if you asked me my name it would take me a minute to contemplate which answer to give you (but that’s probably cos I go by Shev or Shevi or if I’m being formal or don’t like you– Elisheva) My point is that somewhere along the lines and potentially related to this still relatively new life in Israel – my sense of self has become blurred and the process of finding it proves a challenging one.

And on that note let’s talk religion.

Back in ‘straya life was clear-cut. If you were religious you lived by a.b.c and if you weren’t religious d.e.f. applied. It was all very easy (in our minority Jewish bubble in a mostly non-believing country) and on the whole my life as a religious Jewish girl didn’t meet with any real challenges in practice of belief. Coming to Israel and becoming Israeli – that was a curve ball I was ready and willing to catch – but one whose impact I hadn’t anticipated.

Cos you see, here in Israel when you meet with Israelis and live with them on a daily basis (going back to army days when that was my reality) you realize that people are religious in different ways and Judaism is a dynamic and living thing that doesn’t follow letters of the alphabet.

For instance, you can find an Avram who lives in Jerusalem, wears a large black kippa and studies every day the works of God before a daily trip to the kotel, and then you can find a Davidi the arsi from Or Yehuda who takes selfies in front of clubs with the caption התחלנו but on a Friday night will say Kiddish at the dinner table with total devotion. You can meet a Talia from Tel Aviv who used to keep Shabbat and kashrut but now is into yoga, veganism and the belief in Budda, and you can meet a Sarah from Rechovot who has five tattoos and a wild-child past but recently been inspired to hit up a charedi lifestyle.

I could go on to list a whole range of religious and secular, and grey matter in between – but you get my point – that in Israel nothing is clear-cut and divisions of black and white ooze into one another so that what you once saw as a.b.c is now resembling something in calligraphy that you can’t exactly make out even though you’re squinting and look like a fool with your head at that angle. It’s a hella confusing reality but one we all have to accept – this God given country is bursting with Jews of all spectrums of belief, and sometimes finding where you fit in the puzzle isn’t as easy as you thought it would be when you first looked at the picture on the box.

So without going too much into detail – I’ve fallen under the category of grey matter in the east of middle and I’m working my way through understanding exactly where I’m standing at the mo.

That being said, I truly believe that “being lost” isn’t necessarily something that should be associated with negative connotations. In losing a clear understanding or belief in black and white, we are forced to venture out of old comfort zones into new (or old) realities, depending on the outcome of our search. We are challenged to challenge ourselves and, in doing so we experience paradigm shifts that re-shape who we are and how we see this world, and ourselves as entities within it.

So though grey aint so pretty a colour to add to the canvas – I see it as important and necessary to have found myself in a field of unknown and to be going through this stage of life where nothing is certain and the me I am today isn’t necessarily the me I was yesterday or the me I’ll be tomorrow. That’s the beauty of Israel and that’s the beauty of life. And on that note I’m gonna enrol myself into a how-to-read-calligraphy class. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Shavua tov okes and folks!

About the Author
Just your average ex-Australian olah chadasha, currently serving in the IDF, who enjoys expressing thoughts and opinions based on daily life experiences and the ups-and-downs of living in a land of milk and honey.