I mentioned at the end of part 1 that although I enjoyed my course on Judaism, I didn’t do anything about it at the time. So what did I do?
By the time I graduated from college, I decided I was done with religion in all its forms and declared myself an atheist. Not surprisingly, most people in my life did not take this news well. Fortunately for them, I was about to discover Buddhism.
In fact, my introduction came from What The Buddha Taught, which I mentioned in a previous post and still consider to be one of the best introductions to Buddhist philosophy out there. The system described in the book seemed to de-emphasize belief in favor of practice, which was something I’d also appreciated in learning about Judaism. The book emphasized the need to try things out for ourselves. Then it’s not a matter of belief – it’s a matter of knowledge from experience. This deeply appealed to me, since I was having such a hard time with belief.
While I did find some of the meditation techniques and the philosophy to be helpful, I never found a Buddhist community that I clicked with. Also, the groups I encountered didn’t seem to match what I’d read in books. Later I’d figure out that this difference is part of human nature, but I hadn’t learned to control for those factors yet.
Fast forward a few years. I’m in the Marine Corps, stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Shortly before my departure, I was told that Marines who go to Okinawa become one of three things:
- An alcoholic,
- A gym rat, or
- Extremely religious.
I’ve never been a big drinker, and an open fracture in my arm six months into my tour put the kibosh on my gym rat tendencies. However, I did see a lot of people fall into these patterns. This meant that I practically had on-base shopping to myself on Sunday mornings because:
- The alcoholics were sleeping off Saturday night,
- The gym rats were at the gym, and
- The religious people were in church.
Most Sunday mornings, I would get to the base bookstore within a few minutes of its opening. I would browse the books, and if I bought one that week, I’d take it over to the food court where I’d get a coffee and start to read it.
You could say it was my version of a religious practice, since most of the books I bought were related to spirituality or self-improvement. This was where I’d picked up some books on Pagan practices. Again, there’s a lot about the philosophy that I like, but I never found a practice or community that I could settle with in the long term. While I know many people find satisfaction in practicing their Paganism in a solitary fashion, a completely solitary practice isn’t for me.
So one Sunday morning toward the end of my tour, I was browsing the religious books as usual. A book caught my eye – Judaism for Everyone by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. These days I’m not a fan of Rabbi Boteach, but the book was helpful to me at the time. It wasn’t about how a person can be Jewish, but rather how a person can incorporate Jewish ideals into their life regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Reading the book reminded me of the positive experiences I’d had learning about Judaism a few years prior. So even though this wasn’t the book’s intent, I started considering the possibility of converting to Judaism.
I knew that the process would have to wait until my next duty station, since it requires a minimum of several months of study and regular participation in a Jewish community. But there was a complicating factor: I’d just gotten married, and my husband wasn’t interested in Judaism. So I put it off for about a year while we tried other things.
But none of those other things felt right for me. I felt like I had to at least give this Judaism thing a shot. With my husband’s begrudging blessing, I went to a Friday night service at Pearl Harbor. I didn’t want to overcommit too early, so my plan was to keep a low profile, check out the service, and decide what to do from there.
The plan went out the window almost immediately. This particular Friday night happened to coincide with the first night of Chanukah, and the congregation was having a potluck dinner before the service. A woman who was probably in her eighties introduced herself to me and began escorting me through the food line. Apparently I really needed to have the salmon. Others introduced themselves, and we started chatting like we’d known each other for years.
I was home.
How have you dealt with competing needs in your life? Let me know in the comments!