Jewish Observance

Whenever I take a journey, I often find myself in a place I do not know. A strange city. An unfamiliar country. Sometimes I don't even know the language. I need help. I heed to learn the local customs. I need to find a place to eat. If I have time. I want good advice about the sites.

Whenever I talk to people who are taking their Jewish "journeys." I often sense they are experiencing the same sort of insecurity. I feel when I am in a strange place. They talk of being "lost "in the intricacies of Jewish practice. They wonder what their "next steps" might be. They want good advice about what to do and how to do it.

We need a concierge

A "concierge" is the person who sits at a desk in the lobby of a hotel and dispenses advice for sojourners. He or she is the person who can answer nearly any question and is ready with an "insiders" tip on what is the best way to eat, to drink, to sightsee. And to become comfortable with strange surroundings. They are armed with resources ­ maps, directions, and translations ­ just about anything a stranger needs.

Whenever I ask a concierge for advice, I always want to know whether they have eaten a the restaurant, taken the tour, or visited the place. The best ones have a wide range of such experiences to draw on so they can individualize their responses by asking clarifying questions. "Are you a walker?" Do you like pasta?" Would you rather spend time in a museum or strolling through neighborhoods?" I leave a consultation with a good concierge, loaded with information resources, and a number of suggestions about how to take my next steps in the unfamiliar place.

Think of each author of the wonderful books in this section as your concierge for Jewish living. Each has been chosen because she or he is a knowledgeable and gifted teacher of Jewish practice. Each has good advice for you about how to take the next step along the path of Jewish observance.

I have been a "concierge" for Jewish living for nearly thirty years. In my work as a Director of the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life and as an author of The Art of Jewish Living series published by Jewish Lights, I have met thousands of people who like the stranger in a strange land, try to figure out how to "do Jewish" for themselves. Here are a few of my "tips" for fellow travelers on the path of Jewish living.

1.   There is no such thing as a stupid Jewish question

A woman once asked me " Which Shabbat candle do you light first?" I wondered why she asked such a question, knowing that the answer was " It doesn't matter which candle is lit first" She replied. "Well, I was at a workshop on Hanukkah last year, and the teacher made a big deal about setting the candles in the hanukkiyah to the left, but lighting them to the right, honoring that night's candle by lighting it first." It was a great Jewish question. Never be afraid to ask a Jewish question. The authors of these volumes respect, indeed anticipate all questions about Jewish practice
 
2.    Take small steps.

The Jewish journey is long indeed. In fact, it takes a lifetime. Everyone has one more mitzvah to do, one more thing to learn, one more step to take. The proof is the wonderful instruction of the Passover Haggadah: " Now even the wisest scholars are required to ask questions" Start by doing a few practices Light Shabbat candles. Bless your children. Say the Kiddush. Sing a song.
 
3.   Use the Access Points

Think of all the "Jewish" things you do already. Most American Jews do come into contact with Jewish living at least a few times a year. Most find themselves in synagogues on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Most attend a Passover Seder. Most will be invited to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a wedding, a bris, a funeral. These are the "access" points for most of us. Many of the books in this section deal with these important points of contact. Read them and make a conscious effort to maximize your experience of these times in your life.
 
4.   Fun is a Serious Business

When I explore a new city. I hope to enjoy the experience, to have a "good" time. Maybe even to have "fun" Many people view religion in general and Judaism in particular as a dark, heavy judgmental, guilt-ridden experience. Jewish living can be just the opposite ­ joyous, enriching, spiritually nourishing, even fun! Among the books in this section, you will find creative suggestions to enliven your Jewish times. Use them to transform Jewish living from the ponderous to the powerful, from the burdensome to the joyful.
 
5.   Be Cautious

As adventurous as I think I am, I often find myself feeling somewhat uneasy in an unfamiliar new place. This is to be expected and the best travelers are aware of the potential obstacles and challenges. On the Jewish journey, there are plenty of these possible roadblocks a foreign language, lack of time, costs, and conflicts with significant others when they don't especially want to go where you want to go! The best of these volumes honestly confront these difficulties and offer creative solutions to avoid troubles along the way.
 
6.   Use Guidebooks

A great concierge is well-stocked with the best tourbooks., guides, and other resources for getting the best out of the experience. You have found a superb source for the best "guidebooks" for Jewish living. Reviewed by experts in the practical "art" of Jewish observance, representing a variety of approaches and disciplines, use these resources to help you reach decisions and negotiate the exciting pathways of Jewish expression.
 
7.   Many Paths, One Goal

In the end, we come full circle to where we began. Jewish living can be accessed from multiple paths. Some will choose to explore the spiritual path: others will plunge into Jewish observance and celebration. Some will travel at minimum speeds: others will break the speed limit. Some will stop along the way to explore in-depth; others will make brief visits and charge forward. There are many ways to take a Jewish journey. The goal is the same: enhancing one's life with meaning, purpose and connection, repairing the soul and repairing the world, and reaching for a new day when God's presence infuses all that we are and all that we do.

Call 1-800-JUDAISM, your concierge for Jewish Living.

 

 

Dr. Ron Wolfson


Dr. Ron Wolfson has been a member of the faculty of the University of Judaism since 1975. He currently serves as Vice President, William and Freda Fingerhut Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Center for the Jewish Future. He directs the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life and is a principal investigator of Synagogue 2000: A Transdenominational Project for the Synagogue of the 21st Century.