This evening I had the privilege of attending a dinner party at the home of some friends from JCDS. It was a grown-up dinner, and the special guest was Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, who spoke on his work in ethnomusicology with the Abayudaya of Uganda, among other interesting topics. The other guests were all somehow associated with the school as well, and the conversation was wonderful.
Toward the beginning of dinner, we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves individually around the table and say a little about our connection to JCDS. When my turn came, I mentioned my sons and how I want them to have a Jewish education so that they can take ownership of their Jewish identities along the way to adulthood. As I warmed to the topic, I realized that my choice of a Jewish education for them is aspirational. I want them to have what I don’t: the background and education to live out their Jewish identities as they wish. In my own life, I frequently feel hampered by my lack of Jewish education. I feel that there are things about Judaism that don’t truly belong to me.
After dinner, the group began the Birkat haMazon (after-dinner prayer) and after the first paragraph, I had to drop out because I didn’t know the words and couldn’t fake the tune. It went on for several pages like that, and as it did, the tears came to my eyes. In a room full of my people, I felt lonely.
As the evening ended, Rabbi Summit approached me and encouraged me to regard the gaps in my Jewish education as remediable — and to get started remedying them. He said there’s no reason to think of it as this big problem that can never be solved, and as he spoke, my eyes filled again.
I’ve said many times that I want to learn how to daven (pray Jewishly) — and yet something always stops me from following through in an organized fashion. I might study every day for a few weeks, but then some other project takes precedence and I lose focus. Yet we are taught that teshuva (return) is always available. I think I will start on the Birkat haMazon.