I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home…to clarify, not politically conservative, but rather a middle ground between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Synagogue on Friday nights as a family, holidays celebrated in the home, our Passover Seder table included friends from various faith traditions. I attended Hebrew school until I was 16; even now reciting the Shema before bed..the signature prayer of the religion
“Shema Yisra’el YHWH Eloheinu YHWH E?ad
“Hear O Israel, The Lord Our God, The Lord Is One”
The translation that best resonates for me was offered by my friend Rabbi Rami Shapiro:
“Hear O Israel, That Which We Call God Is Oneness Itself”
and the Modeh Ani upon arising
“Modeh anee lifanecha melech chai vikayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha.”
“I offer thanks to You, living and eternal One, for You have restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.”
And, to their credit, my parents supported my exploration of other beliefs. I attended services with Christian friends, and my parents, sister and I spent Christmas with my mother’s dear friend Miriam and her family. I always wondered how Santa knew to bring gifts there for two little Jewish girls. That tradition continued into my 20′s.
When I told my parents about becoming an interfaith minister, my mother had one question: “Are you converting?” My response echoed that of my friend Alan Cohen who when asked if he was a Jew For Jesus, he replied with words to the effect: “I’m a Jew for Jesus, an Alan for Allah, A boy for Buddha, A Man for Moses, A Cohen for Confuscious.” I did not convert, I expanded my belief system to include various teachings.
The motto of The New Seminary, founded by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, from which I graduated in 1999 is “Never instead of, always in addition to.” Those powerful words encouraged us to come from our spiritual roots and branch out from there.
Ziggy Marley’s song Love Is My Religion speaks so beautifully, the concept I embrace that religion is meant to be unifying, not divisive.