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Choosing Faith Anew: A Yom Kippur and Ashura Reflection

About the Author: Julie Sherbill is currently a Peace Corps Volunteer serving near Marrakech, who hails from Washington, DC. Having lived in Turkey and worked for an international fellowship program, she believes well-designed cultural exchanges are crucial for a more peaceful and just world. Read more about her service on her blog: In the End, We’re All Shoes

There are similarities in the Jewish and Muslim calendars—to start with, they are both lunar. The Jewish and Muslim new years overlapped as well.  And like last year, Yom Kippur coincides with fasting for Ashura, which is the 10th day of the first month in the Islamic calendar.

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Social versus Spiritual

So, what does this have to do with my time here in Morocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer? Well, like many PCVs, living in a village where Islam is a big part of life here has of course driven me to reflect on my own religious identity, faith, and resolve. As the New Year begins, celebrating Ashura and Yom Kippur simultaneously embodies this experience.

Back home, as bigoted groups take the center of national news, and activists have to take on identity-based hate speech, the social aspect of my Jewish identity in an American context seems to take a front seat. While I undoubtedly benefit from white privilege, anti-Semitism is still a nuanced, subtle reality especially as “hatred toward Jews has been deeply intertwined with the idea of Jews having unique sorts of advantages.”

But in my day-to-day life in Morocco, religion is not a matter of identity, but rather, of faith and belief. Now I’m realizing that when I remove the social aspect of my Jewishness, there doesn’t seem to be much left. That’s especially as a lot of people I hang out with here pray on their own every day, read the Quran, and base many of their daily beliefs and actions on the teachings of the prophet. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to clarify my definition of God.

Collective History and Nationalism

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, so like in any religion, everyone interprets and practices their beliefs in vastly different ways. Specifically, for many of my friends in my Peace Corps site, faith is not something you observe when it’s convenient, but rather, a sacred code that dictates how to live and view your life. They live out their beliefs with friends and family, but also on their own in their daily routines and perceptions.

My closest friends here know that I am Jewish, but I’m not sure they understand what it means to me back home. Most have never heard of the Holocaust (although they do study the rise of the Nazis in school). While I was explaining to one of my friends what it was, she asked me, “but why did they do this?” and I grew emotional. This collective history of oppression has been a huge part of my Jewish education.

Looking back at my days of bat mitzvahs, Jewish youth groups, ties and trips to Israel, Hebrew school, Hillel, celebrations, commemorations, shivas, and brisses, it’s safe to say I have a strong sense of Jewish identity. For that, I have to thank my family, community, upbringing, and personal choices.

But when I’m alone, without my Jewish community, without people that know my collective history, without any personal sense of Jewish patriotism, I’m only left with my faith—the core belief, spiritual, stuff. Now that I’m looking at it closely, naked, under a microscope, in a sea of other people’s unwavering faiths, I realize just how wavering my own faith is.

Wavering Faith is Still Faith

What do I do with this realization? Clearly, I’m at a crossroads in my, to sound hokey, “spiritual journey.” I could realize that religion is indeed not a “biological reality” and be atheist or agnostic, which would certainly make things easier. I could start from scratch and research all religions, and see which ones I like best. After all, at 26, I’m certainly old enough to pick my own religion, instead of the one chosen for me at birth

Except—I never did feel pressured to be Jewish, anyway. My community and family, for as long as I can remember, always encouraged me to think critically and choose my own path.

Abandoning my religion would feel like I’m letting Judaism’s emphasis on questioning, doubting, and learning lead me away from Judaism itself. And, to not be Jewish would feel like turning my back on the community I grew up in and the self I’ve created. It’s when I’m critiquing my religion, and observing it alongside friends and family, that I feel most Jewish.

It may not seem like the most solid foundation, but for now, it’s enough to keep me here—and that’s what counts. Maybe that’s what faith is—that simple, unexplainable force that makes you keep going, even when there aren’t so many tangible reasons to do so.

Concealing and Atoning

While the word Kippur means atonement (hence Yom Kippur), the root K-P/F-R in Arabic and Hebrew scripts can actually mean to “conceal or deny,” as in, denying one’s religion. This possible connection between denying one’s religion and atoning seems perfect for what’s in my head this year.

This Yom Kippur, as I fast alongside many of my faithful Muslim brothers and sisters, I will aim to begin a more forgiving, yet closer, relationship with Judaism. I no longer want to let doubt lead me to denying or concealing my faith overall.

The Struggle is Real

Listening to Krista Tippett’s podcast On Being, I was inspired by the interviewee Rabbi AmichaiLau-Lavie, who said:

Part of the reason why I’m not an Orthodox Jew but a flexidox or polydox and otherwise-Jew, and not just “Jew,” is that I do believe in evolution, not just of our species and the world, but of concepts. And if the Bible and the Jewish values that have sustained my people for thousands of years believe that women were subservient and that sexuality was of a specific type and that types of worship included slaughtering animals, we’ve evolved. That’s not where we are. So we need to read some of those sacred words as metaphor, as bygone models, as invitations for creativity, and for sort of the second meaning and the second naïveté here that still retrieves this text as useful and these narratives as holy, not as literal.”

I believe in evolution and recognize that sexuality and gender are spectrums. I might not be able to keep kosher, celebrate Shabbat every Friday, or attend Torah study. It may seem to you that I’m picking and choosing what I want, as if God’s commandments are just an open buffet.

But unlike my ancestors, I’m lucky in that, the only one who can prevent me from being Jewish is myself. It’s with this understanding that I will keep learning about religion, having belief be a part of my life, and connecting with my past and future. My own reality and the Jewish texts will never be mutually exclusive, because my own interpretation of religion gives me not dogma, but rather, a platform for freedom to further explore. 

So this year, it is with continued faith, forgiveness, and learning, that I choose Judaism anew. And for that, I have to thank a caring, inclusive, and humble Muslim community in Sidi Bouzid, Morocco for challenging me to do so and showing me what true faith looks like.

This above article is an excerpt. Read the complete article here.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Relationship Goals: Learning to “Adult”

Romantic relationships are ______? Challenging, exciting, a roller-coaster, fun, work. Ask anyone that question and they will give you a different answer. After the honeymoon period, things get REAL. Sometimes you have to have hard conversations and discuss some not so easy topics while you are dating, when you get engaged, and after you are married.

Any of these situations sound familiar to you?

Mo Money, Mo Problems?
stacy1She is a major spender and wants to buy a new flatscreen and go on a 3 week ski vacation in the Alps, her fiancé is a super saver who keeps every penny – just in case. How do you go about combining both your savings accounts or what if one of you has major credit card debt?

Christmukkah

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She wants a Kosher kitchen, he loves to cook….lots of bacon. He wants a Christmas tree in the house, and his boyfriend would rather have a menorah on the mantle. Navigating the type of home you want to build can be tricky no matter what your religious affiliation is.

Sex-pectations

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Sometimes knowing Dr. Ruth isn’t good enough in the bedroom. Communication is essential to keeping things exciting in all the rooms of your house.

Welcome to My House

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You are ready to buy piece of property in the DC area for many, many shekels, mazel tov! What are you looking for to make a house a home? Can you afford it and will your parents or partner’s parents help with the down payment?

In Sickness and In Health

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It is easy to get into the pattern of binge watching your favorite Netflix shows together and ordering take out on the weekends. It is also just as easy to watch your girlfriend get up at 6:00 am to train for her marathon while you hit snooze until noon. How do you encourage your partner to participate in an active lifestyle with you and get healthy?

Will….You Remember Me?

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You seek adventure and are embarking on one of the most difficult climbs of your life on your 2 week vacation. Who will get your prized baseball collection and condo in Colombia Heights if you don’t make it back? We are still young and most likely don’t think about worst-case scenarios but sometimes life, just happens.

The 5 Year Plan

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Law school is done and you passed the bar. You want to start planning for a family but are not sure who will care for the baby. Your job wants to offer you a promotion and a raise but you have to move to Azerbaijan. When crafting a professional path it is important to speak honestly with your partner about expectations.

Beyond the Chupah

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You have the ring. You chose your venue. One bride wants a priest and a rabbi to officiate the ceremony. The other bride doesn’t know why she has to stomp on the glass after she recites her vows. Wouldn’t it be great if a panel of event planners just arrived at your doorstep to sort out all of the details.

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If you and your partner are ready to put your big kid pants on, talk together, and learn more about these topics, you should attend EntryPointDC’s upcoming event, #Adulting: An Afternoon of Workshops for Young Couples. It will be held on Sunday, May 15th at the DCJCC. Young couples in their 20’s and 30’s of all backgrounds- in long term relationships, engaged or recently married are invited to explore major themes of moving from two individuals to one unit; workshops will delve into the topics of finance, spirituality, intimacy, wedding planning, familial relationships and other common challenges of the modern couple. Visit our ticket page to learn more and purchase a discount ticket. We are also launching a couples boot camp to get in shape for the summer.

If you have any questions email Stacy Miller, Manager of EntryPointDC , a program of the DCJCC for those in their 20’s and 30’s.