More Questions than Answers



by Stacey Zisook Robinson

On the first Sunday of the first day of religious school, I challenge my seventh grade students: How do you have a conversation with God in the 21st century? Do you have a conversation at all? How do you come to God when life is good? More, how do you come to God in times of anger or sadness or despair, when all you want to do is curse at God?

Being a fan of symmetry, on the last Sunday of the last day of religious school, I asked them: “What is it that connects you? To Judaism, to God? Are you connected? What does it mean to be a Jew?”

I don’t know that I have answers any more now than I did when I started that year. For that matter,  any more than I did when I lost God, when I was convinced that God had lost me, or any more than when I felt sheltered and carried gently in the palm of God’s hand. But I know now, I think, what connects me. I know, now, what binds me to my faith.

Hooray for me (she said, somewhat drily – after all, this is not about me). But still, I ask myself: “Have I done enough? Have I, have we, the community that surrounds and supports these questing, growing, questioning minds – have we given them enough, to anchor them in their doubt and disbelief, to strengthen them in their journey to adulthood? Will they, too, become Jews by choice?

I look at my son, who, at 13,  is right there: a jumble of belief and doubt and cynicism and hope, so ready to believe, so fearful of his honest disbelief. What can I give him, that he will choose to be a Jew? Around and around I go, on my own merry-go-round of ask-and-answer. Every so often, I’m lucky enough to stop long enough to hear enough from others who ride their own merry-go-rounds of hope and doubt and faith and love.

It lets me know, if nothing else, that I’m asking the right questions. At least, that we are all asking a lot of the same questions.  And we’re finding, if not answers, at least a little bit of clarity. And so I can say: What does it take to be enough? And I can start to hear the tinny calliope of an answer coming back to me: It’s about passion, I think. My passion. Our passion. The passion and joy and exuberance of being Jewish: of study and community and service and prayer and family and God. It’s choosing and being engaged in the choice. It’s mindful and sometimes difficult and sometimes frustrating and always, always, it is OK to be passionate. It’s good to find the wonder and sense the awe. Judaism can be an intellectual pursuit, but it is so much more, can be so much more – if we allow it, if we let it. How can we not show that? How can we not share that?

But wait! There’s more (she said with a cockeyed smile). It’s also about obligation. We spend so much time sheltering our young, giving and teaching and doing for them, that we don’t always remember to teach them their obligation to us, their community. We don’t always show them that there is as much joy, as much passion in obligation and service outwards as there is in being served. God knows that lesson well: We are commanded to serve, we are bound by our obligations one to another, to our community and to God. It is that obligation that helps give us all a framework of connection that can transcend doubt or disbelief.

Passion. Obligation. Joy. God. Beginning the conversation. Being caught in the act of choosing, every day, to be a Jew. What else, what else, what else? What am I missing? What are we missing?  I don’t know it all, not by a long shot, but I’ve learned that there are those who can fill in the blanks, if I ask. There are those who can help me find the questions, if I listen.

I’m asking. I’m listening. Is it enough?  Is there joy enough, wonder enough to bridge the doubt? What connects us? What will bind us, one to another and to God? What words do I give to my son, so that he can find his own way to choose, every day, to be a Jew?

And finally, I offer a small prayer of my own: that we can all listen in wonder, ask in joy, choose in faith, dance with God. Amen.

Stacey Zisook Robinson is a member of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL, and Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL.

Originally posted on Stumbling toward meaning: Stacey’s Blog as a follow-up to her post “Jew by Choice.”

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