It was never so much about the religious aspect, per se, but rather about the sense of warmth, togetherness, and understanding provided by our community. As a kid, I remember my mom explaining to me that “when you meet a fellow Jew, you will just know … there will be a sense of innate familiarity that you will experience.”
As the years drove on and I moved out of my childhood home, and on to college in Indiana, and later to a life in New York City, I found her words to be absolutely true. There was a kind of reassurance in meeting other Jews from around the country. Though we may have had different upbringings and life stories, we also had essential similarities: our cultural sameness and value systems instilled in us through our families and faith. We could connect over evenings at Hebrew School, the thrill of our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and the unexplainable magic of Jewish summer camp. These commonalities provided an immediate bond that would make us feel less alone in our newfound independent lives as college kids and early 20-somethings.
This same sense of comfort through community, as well as my inner fortitude provided by my faith are, in part, what has also gotten me through the tougher times: A life-threatening health scare, the unexpected and untimely loss of my father, battles with anxiety and depression, and most recently, the menacing bomb threats aimed at our very own. During each of those difficult experiences, all which shook me to my very core, I felt a great sense of gratitude and pride at being a part of a community which truly pulls together and gains strength during challenges, and simultaneously takes care of one another, showering its members with love, prayer, support and kindness. This same community has also helped me celebrate and profoundly feel life’s joys and blessings, such as my marriage, and the birth of my three beautiful children.
I want so deeply to pass these feelings of cultural kinship on to my children – the feelings of belonging, concern for others, pride and resilience. But at the same time, I realize these are unexplainable and unteachable sensations that my kids must experience for themselves to truly understand. And once they do, it is my hope, as it happened with me, that they will feel the same sense of wellbeing, accountability, comfort, and affinity that I have felt all these years being a part of such a special community.