Most of my life, I have not taken part in the Jewish community. I was born in Iran during the revolution and was heavily influenced by the Islamic regime. To this day, the Muslim call to prayer and wearing a scarf on my head bring me comfort and a longing for something long ago. Once I came to America, my Iranian/Iraqi mother remarried a Greek man and we participated in many Greek Orthodox holidays and rituals. The Greek Orthodox church in Greece and Queens, NY is where I socialized as a teenager well into my early 20’s. And then there was that year I studied in India where I was greatly comforted by Buddhism and had learned from Buddhist monks. I was born a Jew and both my parents are Jewish. But it was really the influences of Islam, Christianity and Buddhism that have built me up in some way and have woven themselves into my adult life.
Now I am at Congregration Shomrei Emunah and I’m hoping to build my Jewish roots here. I am hoping to plant myself deep into a community where my family and mixed marriage status is accepted. I’m hoping this community will enlighten my husband and me and help us to access the better part of ourselves to do good in the world. I am hoping my son learns about Judaism so that for all his life he can access it to bring him enlightenment, happiness and community. For these reasons, and also because we just moved into a new house with little furniture and plenty of space, I decided to host a Taste of Shabbat.
As I was shleping endless folding chairs and prayer books from the synagogue to my car and finally into my house, I felt excited and nervous. There was no telling how many people would come, if my set up was sufficient and if I had bought enough plastic plates and cutlery. I started to worry and ask myself why I had volunteered to do this. And that brought me to the question of how will a social gathering like Taste of Shabbat increase my personal experience as a Jewish person?
The actual night went very well. Just the right number of people came, the Shomrei band played beautifully, the prayers rolled off our tongues as we sang most of them and my set up worked just fine. I got many compliments on my new home, my extended family got to meet many of the congregants I love and respect. My son enjoyed himself because many children were in attendance and he had play friends. It all went just fine. And then it was over before I knew it. And what was I left with?
Once the Taste of Shabbat was over, my family and I cleaned up the house, went to bed rather exhausted and woke up the next morning feeling very happy. Our spirits were up, no one was too tired, everyone was chatty and happy to be with the other. This happiness extended into the week. We simply felt happy.
I think the Taste of Shabbat brought us happiness because we felt more bonded to the congregants of Shomrei. The synagogue community came to us, filled our home with prayer, important rituals and a sense of care that one doesn’t always experience in their day to day. When congregant after congregant took time to drive to my residence, bring food, learn more about my family and I it makes us feel valuable. It reinforces that my family and I are part of something bigger than ourselves and we are connected to others. And this brings immeasurable happiness that I believe is what religion, spirituality and ultimately being Jewish is all about.