By Yigal Adato
I started to sing at 5 years old when I pulled up a chair next to our cantor on a Friday night service, and after that Shabbat, I was at the bimah for the next 25 years. In time, I learned most of the melodies and prayers and would step in when the rabbi was out of town or even when he needed a small break. I studied at a Jewish Day School so the reading came fairly easily and the voice came from my father, who is an amazing singer. For years I sang and sang and enjoyed leading the services until I realized something: I had no idea what I was saying when I was standing and leading the services.
“Wait a minute,” I thought, “I have been repeating the same prayers for more than 25 years and I don’t even know what I am saying. Come to think of it, I do not know the ‘why’ of most of the traditions that have been passed down from my family.”
Yes, Jewish Day School taught me many of the laws of Judaism and the steps of the religion, but can true meaning really be taught to a 12-year-old, pre-pubescent boy? Even when I asked my parents or grandparents, they said the same thing I am sure everyone says, “This is the way it has been done in our family for generations.”
I was told to “just accept it” and “this is what it means to be Jewish,” but the truth is that it just made me question whether these laws and traditions were just old fashioned. I was tired of just doing without explanation or just believing because I was told to; but then again, I had done nothing all these years to learn the true meaning and find the answers that I was looking for on my own. With so much technology, maybe I had gotten lazy and it was just easier to leave it by the bedside. (Plus, not many of my friends are sharing posts about why being Jewish is cool, or why Shavuot is important.)
I see my generation and those younger than me begin to really question their faith, specifically as it relates to the way traditions have been passed down. Although most of us have pride in being Jewish, we don’t really know much of the why or the how of it. Some of us blame our families, our communities and even our rabbis, but I believe this is just an easy way out. It is easy to not ask questions about where we are from or why we have been around for so many years.
Although sometimes I agree with it myself, I realized that even though we may question our faith, we go around looking for something to believe in. We take yoga classes in Sanskrit, we listen to webinars of meditation by Deepak Chopra and we even look to gurus for answers. What if we took the same opportunity and instead of searching for answers in other people’s traditions, looked to our own rich history and teachings? We might find that maybe our sages weren’t just talking nonsense.
So I pose this challenge to you today. Ask questions, read a little bit more and seek those answers in the Torah, Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash. I promise you that feeling in your heart—that deeply ingrained identity of “Jewish”—will grow because of it. B’Shalom.