Shani Weinmann Kay

Thanks to the Army, I Found G-d

When in a non-observant environment such as the army, I am often asked why I believe in G-d and keep the commandments. I am asked these questions by Israeli Jews, the majority of who, learn more about the Bible than I did in Jewish private school. They will often quote books of the Torah that I’ve never even learned. However, even with all this knowledge, Torah and G-d do not seem to be priorities in their lives. Friday night dinner is a weekly family get together and the holidays are mini vacations made for going to the beach.

For a while, then, I answered their questions with hesitation because truthfully, I didn’t know what to say. I knew I couldn’t argue with them; they didn’t want to hear the speech about why Torah is important. I also had no answer. Period.

I started to ask myself why did I do all of this? Why did I insist on this way of life?  My biggest question was really what is G-d to me? How do I view Him/Her/They and what is our relationship dynamic?

I formulated a theory that I know doesn’t work for everyone, but worked for me: the Father Theory. As young kids, we are often taught to view G-d as a father figure, in order to understand the balance of love and judgement associated with G-d to bring fairness to the system. As a child and as an adult, this theory helped me grow closer with the creator because I have a wonderful father. The hands-on, caring, and attentive personality of my father only enhanced my love of the greatest father out there: the one who made everything. My own father never says no and never punishes unless he sees fit for my own good and the good of my future. Similarly, G-d only punishes if it is for the good of the people and for the greater plan. My father is one of the most loving individuals that I know with a readiness to help and a deep desire to get to know personally each guest that walks through his door. Much the same, G-d wants to know us so badly that prayer was developed just so we wouldn’t forget to talk to Him about ourselves (which unfortunately I am not so on top of, sorry Abba). G-d knows everything (much as I believe my father knows pretty much everything), however still wants to know how we feel about it and share with Him our opinions. My dad does the same. I, in turn, could better love G-d immensely and also fear disappointing Him just as I want my father to be constantly proud of me.

Once I understood the dynamic that I had chosen in with which to connect, it was time to add in the details. How do I pray and what is it to praise? What is my stand on the commandments of the Torah and more importantly, on all of the seemingly crazy commandments that no one seems to comprehend. So I set off to find the power in the books. I used mediation as a springboard to inspect myself and my desire for connection to a higher being. With my broader knowledge of the Hebrew language thanks to the army, I payed more attention to the words in the siddur and made meaning of the daily prayers. Additionally, I talked to G-d throughout the day and got into a habit of asking Him for help to catch the bus or to get through a challenging day. I also thanked Him everytime I caught the bus or saw something in the world that I especially appreciated like a beautiful sunrise during guard duty.

As awareness of G-d’s presence grew in my life, the metaphorical Hand of G-d manifested into the path I had been searching for. I recognized that nature functioned, I was breathing, and each person in my life was a beautifully wrapped gift from the One Above.

Now where was the Torah in all of this? He must have created man with a purpose otherwise He did a pretty bad job if our lives were only to run after money and obsess over physical pleasures. Man therefore must be created to bring good, do good, and be good. Just as one can’t build a machine without the instructions, warnings, and the parts themselves, the world can’t function without the manual. It comes with warnings of the trials gone wrong, success stories, and accounts of obstacles one may face in their life the way our forefathers did.

A common psychological tendency in humans called similarity indentification causes people to feel a bond with those who have gone through similar experiences. Humans love to share, give advice, and participate in dialogue. G-d knew this of course so He gave us a book with a summary of His world, His people, and how to navigate it all. However, within this glorious tale of triumph and failure appear seemingly random statements that leave one confused. Great leaders have tried to explain and even written additional laws in attempt to alieve the struggle. What if I don’t understand it even still? What if it seems silly, outdated, or just crazy? Do I skip ahead? Delete those pieces?

I then had my answer. It lies in the big picture. If I identify with and see value in around eighty percent of the given information, then surely the remaining twenty percent is dependable as well. This is my Trust Theory. If most of the time someone leads me in the right direction, then the one time I do not comprehend their actions is when I have to rely on the trust we have developed prior. G-d is the being I have the most trust in. He created a whole functioning universe with millions of scientific details, surprises, and secrets that have still yet to be discovered. He created complex structures within the human body that allow us to eat, walk, and invent. Should I then scrutinize and detach from the pieces that don’t fit into my personal puzzle? Not at all. If a simple orange was made with a special scent, peel, and internal system just for our enjoyment, then the Torah must be, on a larger scale, a multifaceted story for us to enjoy and learn from.

I now possessed a curriculum for teaching my perspective of religion to others and a way to dissect each law in order to find a more positive way to observe it.

As a result, throughout my army service, I blossomed into the icon Dati Girl: an entertaining character representing my observance and a testament to my “Jewish Journey”. She knows how to answer the questions that challenge faith and understands that building a life with meaning is really all about how you look at it.

Thank you to everyone who has played a part in my discoveries and those who find familiarity in Dati Girl’s journey. Thank you to the people who asked me the tough questions because without you, I wouldn’t be me.

About the Author
Shani Weinmann Kay was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF. She is studying Dance and Psychology.