#MyJudaism is a Crown and a Shield

Of all places where I can write about my Judaism, I find myself in one of the strangest situations of all – it is my birthday, it is Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass, the night the Nazis went on a rampage burning and destroying, beating and killing…and I am in Germany at a business conference when I saw the challenge to write about “my Judaism.”

My Judaism has been on my mind since I boarded the El Al jet more than 24 hours ago on a journey that has already surprised me. It is with me every minute right now. In a land where once they labeled my people, I have labeled myself with a Jewish star. Theirs was a yellow cloth with the word “Jude” on it; mine is a gold star, artistically crafted and bestowed upon me by my husband.jewishstar

Seventy-seven years ago, in 1938, in the land where I am now, synagogues were burning, Jews were being beaten. Now it is quiet, the sun has just set and darkness is surrounding my hotel and in safety, I write.

My Judaism is a religion of compassion above all else – it is one that commands me to reach inside myself to help others and yes, to learn that there are times I need to accept help from others.

My Judaism is joining with my community to raise 18,000 NIS in two nights – to give all the money to charity. My Judaism is finding out that I have to have shoulder surgery four days before Rosh Hashana and then two days before the holiday, hearing a neighbor arrive with no less than 20 trays of food for my entire family for the full holiday and beyond.

My Judaism was landing in Israel on a bright and sunny summer afternoon, knowing that all that we owned, all that we had built, and much of what we loved in the world was now forever planted there in our homeland.

My Judaism was holding my first child in my arms, knowing God had trusted me enough to give me a whole world…while I desperately hoped I would prove worthy enough to raise her…and then each time in blessing, holding four more and now having the greatest of honors to begin holding the children of my children as they are born and thriving in our land.

My Judaism is saying Baruch Dayan Emet – blessed is the True Judge…even at the untimely, seemingly impossible deaths we are forced to accept in our lives – especially these days. For young men and women who were in the wrong place; for elderly people sitting on a bus or at a bus station when terror came at them with a knife.

I will say those three words when I hear that a Tzadik, a righteous man, has died and though others disagree, I will say it when a terrorist is permanently neutralized because I know that at the Gates of Heaven, the True Judge knows where to send the evil man (or woman or child) and where to send the righteous ones.

And though it hurts sometimes beyond all imaginable pain, when a child buries a parent too early or (she’lo naida) when a parent buries a child, I will struggle each time to recognize the hand of God and the wisdom of God in each case because my Judaism teaches me to have faith and trust.

My Judaism stood by me as I sent two sons to the army and it will stand with me again in just a few weeks, when my third and youngest son goes into the army. It was there during the long days and nights when my oldest was at war; when my middle son was driving God only knew where. It will be with me deep into the nights and through all the worry and fears for this one too.

My Judaism is about family and food and warmth and love. It is about belonging, recognizing kindred spirits far from home. It is a smile between Israelis when the German bus comes EXACTLY on time and a laugh and a comment because how often will the Egged bus come on time…and despite that, I’ll take that Egged bus and Egged driver any time.

My Judaism is someone getting on a bus and handing the driver a cupcake and the bus driver loudly saying the blessing and the people on the bus answering “amen.”

My Judaism is a complex and detailed list of rules and requirements and commandments that I spend my life trying to follow – knowing that I’ll never fully succeed and knowing that it doesn’t really matter because God expects only that I be the best that I can be…I’m not in competition with anyone.

My Judaism is in Jerusalem where I turn to every day – even from here in Germany, knowing it is the center of our universe and all that we are. It is there at the Western Wall, and up there on the Temple Mount. It is in Hevron at the graves of our patriarchs and matriarchs and it is there in every inch of our land.

My Judaism is internal and built on respect for others, regardless of the paths they choose, even if they choose to do or not do things that I do or do not do…with the desperate hope that they will offer that same respect back – that they won’t judge me, that they won’t assume what I think, what I feel.

My Judaism is in learning to remember that it is wrong to think of myself (or my people) and not of others…and it is wrong to only think of others and not of me (or my people).

My Judaism is in the belief that I am what God intended me to be and I don’t have to be anything or anyone else. I don’t have to be a man (I don’t want to be a man). I don’t have to take on his commandments just as he doesn’t have to take on mine. In believing that who I am and what I am and where I am at this moment in my life is who and what and where God expected me to be.

My Judaism is in the challah I mix and bake each week…and in the rolls I prepare and give away each week thanks to two amazing women who care enough to collect challah rolls each week and take them to the elderly and other in the rehabilitation center in Maale Adumim.

My Judaism is in my prayers which I try to say daily and each time I push myself to say one more, I marvel at it’s beauty. For me, here, it is in the words I say at night: “To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head God’s presence”

My Judaism is my crown and my shield – that which makes me part of a noble people and that which protects me each and every day (and night) of my life.

And finally, my Judaism is in my God, in my faith that though I may stumble, He never will.

Beit HaTfusot – The Museum of the Jewish People wants to know what YOUR Judaism looks like:

Send a story and a pic to annah@bh.org.il 

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.