At least, home as my Jewish forefathers would have it. I remember having an argument in school once. A Jewish girl refused to accept that I was a Hare Krishna. If, as I truthfully claimed, my mum was originally Jewish, then I was too. Despite my protests that I’d never celebrated a Jewish festival in my life and that I knew more Sanskrit than Hebrew, she was having none of it. By Jewish law, Judaism is in the blood, and unless you can find some way of changing that (and there isn’t one) there’s not much you can do about it.
It’s not that I objected to claiming a bit of cultural heritage. I grew up comfortable with Judaism, as well as Christianity, which my Dad grew up following. I attended bar and batmitzvahs of my cousins, and loved to eat the Jewish food my mum made occasionally. My family had very broad musical tastes and we even used to listen to a lot of klezmer music, which I still love today. Sometimes we even used to celebrate Chanukah at home, albeit with a Hare Krishna slant – lighting the menorah then having kirtan! But ultimately, I didn’t like the idea that the Jewish community felt that they could claim me as one of theirs, just by dint of my birth. When I spoke to Jewish friends about their beliefs, I found them so confused. So many had no idea what the purpose of life was, or what happens after death. Inevitably, none could provide explanations for the many specific practices and traditions followed in Judaism – keeping Kosher for example.
So what compels me now to travel to Israel for ten days with a group of Jewish students? Honestly, I’ve been questioning it myself, and I haven’t come to a set conclusion. Part of me is just curious to explore what my forefathers believed in, and part of me wants to broaden my outlook on my own beliefs. I feel completely certain that I don’t want to dedicate my life to any other religion, but it is still great to learn about them, and be inspired.
The trip is organised by the Union of Jewish Students and is completely free (which the Jewish side of me is very happy about!), sponsored by Jewish philanthropists as part of the Birthright Israel program. It’s open to any Jewish person between the ages of 20-26, with the idea that every Jewish person should have the right to visit the homeland of ‘their people’ at least once in their life. Israel is a fairly small country, so in ten days a great deal can be seen and experienced, including meeting members of the Israeli army, travelling to all of the major holy places, such as the Wailing Wall and Jerusalem, staying with Bedouin tribes in the desert and experiencing the hospitality of the mystical Druze community. Then we’ll find time to float in the Dead sea and attend short lectures on topics such as Kabbalah and the Israeli political situation.
I think it will be a very interesting experience. Whether I’ll feel it was worth it, I have no idea. I’ll be interested to experience something that the Jewish community are providing to inspire their youth. After going on the Vaisnava Youth Summer Tour for three years in a row, I want to see how other religions take care of their young people. I definitely think it will test me in many ways. I don’t spend a great deal of social time with people that aren’t Hare Krishnas – mostly through circumstance but also through choice. Therefore, I’m not called upon very regularly to explain my beliefs or to defend them. I anticipate having to do that quite a bit on this trip – that is, if I’m brave enough to just be myself and not pretend to more Jewish than I am. I do think it’s extremely important to have knowledge and respect for all religions, and I think having broadening experiences like this is one way of achieving that. The religious society of ISKCON can be a social and cultural bubble that’s easy to sit comfortably within – but bubbles must pop eventually, however long they float for.
I won’t post again until the New Year, when I’m back from the land of milk and honey – until then, I wish all readers overflowing strength, sweetness, health and spiritual prosperity for 2009. I am so sincerely thankful for the fact that you read this blog, and to those that encourage me to continue to write, I am forever indebted. I often question why I’m still doing it, but I suppose it has become habitual after almost three years. If you find any inspiration here, my purpose in writing is fulfilled.
It’s traditional to eat tapuach bidvash (apple with honey) for the new year, and wish eachother ‘Shana Tovah!’ – Happy New Year!