Over the past month I've written about various people in the community doing something inspiring in the name of religion or spirituality. It's part of a new series called "Faith in Motion."
It's been a labor of love for me. I am a religious Jew, and I believe in the Torah — what Christians call the Old Testament. For me, it's not just a way of believing, but also a way of life: of thought, prayer and action.
We keep kosher, which means that much of the food sold in grocery stores and offered at parties is off limits to us. My children have learned to look for the kosher symbol on packaged foods and which Hebrew prayers to say before eating or drinking something.
But sometimes the discomfort comes when we can't choose the menu. I was a bridesmaid in my college roommate's wedding last year, and, as my husband and I selected food for our children, we came to a large pig roasting on the end of the buffet. Roasted pork is not something we eat, though the site of it was amusing for our children nonetheless.
Even when eating at our own parents' homes, I must take a deep breath first and decide how rigid I'm going to be. They are learning to be more aware of the laws of Judaism, such as not eating shellfish or pork, and not mixing meat and dairy.
The laws of Judaism have been observed for more than 3,000 years, but many families in the last couple generations here in the United States have become almost fully secular. The Bal Teshuva movement is bringing more and more of us back.
I now dress differently than I used to. No more tank tops and shorts. Observant Jewish women dress more modestly, typically wearing skirts past the knee and shirts past the elbow. They cover their hair, though that part I haven't adopted fully. We also observe the laws of family purity, and each month I immerse in a ritual bath (mikvah).
We don't go to birthday parties, baby showers or other events that fall on Shabbat (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). A couple of the places I looked into for my daughter's fifth birthday party this summer only did parties on Saturday. We ended up having a great party at home on a Sunday that included words of Torah before digging into the princess cake. Rebbetzin Dina Eber of Trinity spoke eloquently to our houseful of children about honoring your parents, and doing the right thing, even when they're not watching.
With the help of people like Dina and Rabbi Yossi Eber of Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco, and Rabbi Shalom and Chanie Adler with Young-Israel Chabad of Pinellas, we can continue to grow, albeit a slow and unfamiliar path. They're on a daily mission, reaching out to unaffiliated Jews like we used to be. I'm drawn to them and admire their genuine love of Judaism and faith in God.
Believing in something greater
In recent weeks I've written about a retiree who prays for elected officials, a homeschooling mother who wants to incorporate Christianity into her children's education and a Pagan healer who uses henna body art to draw out the content of people's souls.
The people I write about, for the most part, have much different beliefs than I do. I've been preached to and attempts have been made to "save" me. I've listened to people and read e-mails about things I disagree with. I've been told flat out that I'm wrong, that there is only one right path to the ultimate truth. It's becoming an occupational hazard that makes me both uncomfortable and intrigued.
As different as my core religious beliefs are from some of the people I've interviewed and written about, I continue to find a thread of similarity that runs through each of us. We believe in something greater, some higher calling or power that moves us. We have different names for it and different approaches, but ultimately we are all human beings trying to do better.
I hope that by writing about other faiths I am not giving the impression that I necessarily endorse them, or that I believe less fully in my own. While I believe in observance of the laws of Torah, I also believe in religious tolerance and the right to find one's own path.
Being in the minority is never easy, but it doesn't mean you should abandon your beliefs or blend in to avoid feeling uncomfortable. The options are out there for those seeking something more, something better — whatever your faith.
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions for stories about others seeking to do the right thing or trying to find their way. You can e-mail me your ideas at Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.