This is a guest post by Vidhya Subramanian. A former Minneapolis transplant, Vidhya and her two children now live in New York, though her ties to Minnesota remain strong through the (Jewish and non-Jewish) relationships forged during her two years here.
In the past year I have learned to say “Mazel Tov” and “Shana Tovah,” experienced Rosh Hashanah and Passover, been to more Shabbat dinners than any other social event, listened to the Torah on multiple occasions, and have become fluent in Yiddish (okay the last part isn’t entirely true).
Not bad for a conservative Hindu Brahmin who grew up in India.
The introduction to your religion has been a beautiful journey, one that will be indelibly branded in me.
In this day and age where it has become fashionable to say that one is spiritual, I am one of those souls that truly believes in the teachings from our age old scriptures – the Vedas – and strives constantly to apply them in my daily life with a spiritual angle. Hinduism is considered the world‘s oldest living religion, and us Brahmins are the most conservative and spiritual sector – the so-called “high caste”. We served as the priests and scholars in ancient days, and this pride in education still carries on today. Whether it is the roster of Nobel prize winners or serving in high positions in the scientific, academic or corporate world, we make our presence known.
That is just one of the striking similarities I’ve seen between my culture and yours. My experience with Jewish professionals , both in New York and Minneapolis, is a group of people that are very highly educated, intelligent, successful, and instilled with a strong feeling of community.
Just like us.
Talking about community, I have been impressed by the importance that the Jewish religion places on family and friends, and the larger society in general.
In the Hindu culture, families play a pivotal role in one’s life. Decisions and priorities are always around the near and dear.
Holidays and festivals are seen as opportunities to get together and share the love. When I got invited to my first ever Rosh Hashanah dinner a year ago by my special friend’s mother, just two weeks after having met him, I cooked an Indian dish, wore my traditional saree and felt immediately welcomed and accepted by his family. Having moved away from the country I grew up in, I was touched by the warmth of the large family setting that night, a night that reminded me of home. I have immense respect for the role that family plays in the Jewish culture, and the pampering of grandchildren by the grandparents deserves a special mention as the highlight of family dynamics in both cultures.
Another similarity is the staunch need to pass down our scriptures, generation to generation.
In this modern age, to still relentlessly follow the rituals and traditions of the religion means a lot. The thousands of years old scriptures have meaningful knowledge of our ancestors embedded in them, whether it is the Torah or the Vedas. Children in a Brahmin household grow up reciting shlokas, the Sanskrit verses from the ancient Vedas. It is not dissimilar from when my friend’s children are reciting the traditional Shabbat prayers. I can absolutely relate to the reverence that is placed on the past history, ancient wisdom, respect to the previous generations and the value they add, and the strong belief that it needs to be carried on, no matter how many technology gadgets encroach our lives.
There are many other attributes I have come to learn and appreciate about the Jewish religion and culture. Community service, giving, looking out for each other, non-violence, treating wealth and abundance with respect but not flaunting it , modesty, a carefully selected diet, and the belief in continued learning are a few things that come to mind. Of course there is also the meticulous bride selection that Jewish mothers employ when it comes to their sons’ partners. You guessed it right – Brahmin mothers aren’t very different either!
You may be saying that despite the similarities, the whole monotheism versus polytheism still puts us worlds apart.
However, the many Gods in Hinduism are simply a manifestation of various aspects of human life – creation, destruction, protection, wealth, education, prosperity, bravery. The fundamental belief is still that there is one God – the Paramatma. The all pervasive One God.
Hinduism also depicts most Gods in a fundamental human form – “b’tzelem Elohim“. In my opinion, the smaller nuances and differences are there to only make them more colorful and interesting. The spiritual side of me believes that the various religions are nothing but parallel paths to enlightenment and happiness. My learning of Judaism has made that belief stronger.
As someone once told me, “no matter which path you take to go up, the view from the top is the same”. I hope to continue to learn more about this beautiful religion in all its splendor, and continue proving we are all One.