Remembering Who (You Never Knew) You Were

April 21, 2011Michael Doyle

Originally published on Chicago Carless

Four months ago my rabbi said to me, "Unless you're the greatestfaker ever-and I don't think you are-how will you know when you'reready?" It was a segue into asking me whether I felt the time was rightto take the next step in my Jewish journey and write my conversionessay-an essay to answer the question, "What does Judaism mean to me andwhy do I want it in my life?"


It was three months after beginning that journey, and while in myheart I had an inexplicable sense of knowing the Jewishness at the coreof who I am, in my head I knew that my growing Jewish identity neededmore time to settle down from the breathless exuberance of finallyrealizing who I am.

Now, more than a season later, inside, things have changed. My heartand my head are in agreement. Yet, after weeks of writing and rewritingthis essay in my head, I realize now that I've been trying to answer thequestion the wrong way. What does Judaism mean to me and why do I wantit in my life? My answer makes sense in the reverse. I want Judaism inmy life because of what it means to me. Which, as it turns out, iseverything.


What Judaism means to me is practical, not just spiritual. It ismeaning I've discovered bit by bit in moments of "doing Jewish to learnJewish"-moments which have led to other moments and others still,teaching me the truth that one mitzvah does, in fact, lead to anotherand another.

I want Judaism in my life because of the way I've found that Judaismintersects who I am so closely, and because of the way that thatintersection makes me feel whole in a way I've never felt in my life.Judaism means to me:

~A spiritual vocabulary that helps andguides me to express what I feel about God, justice, and fairness, andto make ethical decisions, as if my life suddenly, finally has aspiritual user's guide or road map.

~A body of prayer that helps me feel grounded and rooted in ancient tradition, yet allows me to express myself at the same time.

~The permission to actively engage withGod and with my faith, to doubt and to question without guilt or fear,which has deepened my faith and enriched my spiritual life immensely.

~A body of contemporary liturgical music that helps worship services feel more meaningful to me.

~Blessings and ritual practices that add asense of holiness and help me remember and maintain my faith, humility,and hope throughout my day.

~A rich calendar of holidays that allows me to remember and express my faith throughout the year, especially in my home.

~Specific rituals that help me honor and remember loved ones who have passed on.

~A community of like-minded individuals that welcomes me, gives me a sense of belonging, and encourages my Jewish learning.

~Weekly Shabbat services and Shabbatrituals and observance that give me a sense of stability, community, andspiritual grounding.

~An unexpected, deep sense offamiliarity, as if Judaism is something I've always known-as if I'vealways been Jewish, and my life's journey has been to figure that out.

~A sense of finding out who I really am and how I relate to God, after many years of searching.

~The joy of religious study and learning as a regular part of my life.

~The joy of learning, using, and hearing Hebrew.

~An abiding sense of love, compassion,hope, and joy that seems to flow from my Jewish experience that remainswith me throughout my day, and that I can call upon when I'm feelingoverwhelmed.

~A deep love of Judaism and the Jewish people.

~New friends, who understand and support all of this.

Four months later, there's a certainty in me. There's no way to turnback, nor could I possibly do so. I know without a doubt that to give upmy Judaism would be to give up who I am and what I stand for. Judaismis in me and I am in Judaism. To say now I don't want it in my lifewould be like saying I don't want my life.

How could I? Judaism helped me find my life-a spiritually centeredlife I always yearned for but never thought I'd find, one rooted inancient tradition and inclusive of a God who loves me unconditionallybut doesn't want me simply to go on blind faith. I want Judaism in mylife because, for me, Judaism is life.

And that's the best I can express it. How many different ways arethere to write that you've fallen in love with something that you neverknew that you've always been? I have a lot of time to make up for. I'vemissed out on half a life to live Jewishly. I intend to live the rest ofmy life as a Jew.

As who I am.


Michael Doyle is a member of Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, Illinois

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