My Judaism wasn’t always mine – I wouldn’t let it be. I would fight it at every turn. Judaism tells us exactly what to do in every aspect of life and I tend to do the opposite of what I’m supposed to. In high school I would question every sentence in the Chumash/Navi/Gemara and I would drive my Rabbis crazy taking apart everything they taught and doubting every word that came from their mouth. I laughed at the women who covered up every inch of their body and I made fun of the men who learned all day instead of earning a living. I hated tefillah, I hated tzniut and I only liked Shabbat because it was a day off from school. I hated all the rules, all the restrictions, all the discrimination towards women and I was unable to connect to any part of Judaism so eventually I stopped trying.
I never said tefillah, I dressed how I wanted and I pretty much forgot about the existence of God. I just focused on college classes and partying. All my friends were “flipping out” in seminary and I was drinking and dancing the year away. During this time, in my late teen years, I was still living with my family so the only thing I still kept was Shabbat and I didn’t mind keeping it. Not because I felt something spiritual about it… I just enjoyed disconnecting from the world for a day – personally, I’d recommend Shabbat to non-Jews as well. But for the most part, God was not a part of my life and I didn’t even care.
Fast-forward about 2 and a half years, I’m married, religious, dressing the part and feeling connected to some sort of higher being. Instead of looking for beauty in the specific parts of Judaism, I started looking for beauty in living life within a group, with a set of guidelines and a spiritual connection. By not seeing tzniut as a restriction, by looking at tefillah as a form of spiritual meditation, and by not taking every word of the Chumash/Navi/Gemara as fact, I slowly started to appreciate Judaism as a whole.
Now when I say tefillah, I say the words I want to say, not the words I am “supposed to” say. Now when I put on a skirt instead of jeans in the morning, I think about the skirt as a uniform that lets others know that I am part of an exclusive group. Now when I light Shabbat candles, I think of how many generations of woman lit those same candles before me.
All of this is not to say I am madly in love with Judaism. Yes, I love lighting candles for Shabbat, I love all of the chagim and how family oriented Judaism is but there are many things I still cannot connect to – like covering my hair, or the fact that Rabbis keep adding things into our rules that never existed before as in niddah and kashrut, but I have finally found some value in living life according to guidelines that you don’t necessarily understand yet you accept. I have found strength in doing the mitzvot I love as well as the ones that I hate. I have found love in tradition. I have found a way to make Judaism work for me by tailoring it to meet my own personal needs.
And now, my Judaism is truly mine.