On the seam between spirituality and activism
Journal for the Study of Religion
The first time I was consciously aware that I was Jewish was when a group of Cypriot young people came as exchange students to our high school in Tel-Aviv. The most tantalising fact for us Israeli teenagers was that they were probably not circumcised. Identifying these young men as the "other" made me interrogate my own religion: what does it actually mean to be Jewish? Until then it was an unquestionable part of me, like my blue eyes or my gender -something that I was, but not something that
... ot something that involved doing anything "religious". Indeed, every Friday we went to the grandparents, but we had always seen it as a family gathering rather than the religious ritual of welcoming the shabbat. Every Yom Kippur, rather than perceiving it as the Day of Atonement, the holiest of all holy days, we played hopscotch on the highway, as the empty, car-less road was a novelty; and at Passover the only place to get bread was at the Arab bakery in Jaffa -all Jewish bakeries took their annual leave during this week, as they were forbidden to sell any bread. Some three decades later, when I became acting rabbi at Temple Hillel, the Progressive Jewish community in East London, South Africa, I had to admit to my congregants that before coming to South Africa, I had never been inside a synagogue. When our grandparents went to synagogue, all the grandchildren went with them, but we stayed outside to play on the sidewalk with the other children. Occasionally we heard the shofar being blown, or special communal prayers that were louder than our peers' shrieks, but the spiritual meaning of these was lost on us.