For a long time I didn’t know what Judaism was other than it was something that made me different from the other people around me. I was raised to believe that because my ancestors were persecuted, I needed to preserve my Judaism. I learned some of the ideas of the religion, but they were never explained to me in a way that made sense. When I asked about it, I was shushed by the adults around me. That may have been because I didn’t know enough about the subject to formulate good questions, or it may have been because the people I was with didn’t know the answers either. Perhaps a little of both.
We didn’t talk about religion in my family. At first I didn’t know why. Now I think I do. While my parents were not in Europe at the time of the Holocaust, they were alive. It was a scary time for Jews worldwide, and a time when many Jews felt abandoned by G-d. I believe that many American Jews felt a strong desire to preserve the Jewish culture in the face of what they perceived as universal, worldwide hatred, yet they lost their belief in the spiritual aspect of the religion. And so I was taught to have lavish dinners with my family on Rosh Hashanah, fast on Yom Kippur, attend a seder/eat matzah on Passover, give presents on Chanukah, and that was it. I had no idea what it meant to be Jewish on a day-to-day basis.
Judaism came to mean something to me after my husband and I attended a presentation by Gil Mann, the author of How to Get More Out of Being Jewish Even If.… His book covers a number of “even ifs” including not understanding the purpose of the kosher laws. He convinced my husband and me to embrace the aspects of the religion that worked for us and leave the rest. Doing that, he said, was wrestling with G-d, and wrestling with G-d is part and parcel of being Jewish. It was a liberating thought; one that enabled me to begin to come to terms with my own spirituality.
After that evening, my husband and I decided to make Sabbath dinner a part of our weekly family routine. While the Sabbath is one of the most important Jewish holidays, we never celebrated it when I was a child. I regret that. There is something magical about sitting together with family and friends on Friday night to welcome the Sabbath and eat a special dinner together. I began to read Jewish Folktales to my children every Sabbath evening. It became an important tradition for them and for me, and it planted the seeds for the fantasy fiction world of Awan.