My Judaism has come in waves throughout my life. When I was child, I was Janet Liss daughter I never had to think about being Jewish, I just always was. As a teenager, I attended Hebrew school, was involved in TALIT and was a counselor at Hess-Kramer, lit the candles every week and had a shelf full of Sholom Alechiem folk tales.
When I got to college that changed; I no longer felt observant. I ate sandwiches on Passover, rarely lit candles in the dorms (its a fire hazard!) and barely noticed the passing of the holidays. Except, how odd: the Jewish bookshelf stayed, and I found myself doing presentations on Hanukkah and teaching the kids how to play dreidel at the elementary school where I worked. I was confused; I was Jewish, but then why wasnt I connected like before? Why was I doing it what I felt was halfway?
After college, I floundered. I went to Europe to study the Holocaust with a group of Germans and Americans to try and determine my Jewish identity; talk about a maelstrom of questions! Two years later, I met Jonathan. He at first hated all organized religion, and I got scared - how invested in it was I? But the more serious I became about our relationship, the more certain I became of the importance of raising Jewish children. His non-Jewishness solidified my own; the less Jewish he was, the more I felt tied to the people and the culture. But yet I still was barely observant.
Then a funny thing happened: as he began the process of learning about Judaism, and later as we entered your class, he wanted to try out all the rituals and trappings of Jewish life. He wanted to light the candles every week and eat challah, something I hadnt done since leaving my mothers house. He wanted to go to shul, to learn how to play dreidel, to go the Purim Carnival and I found I wanted it too. I look back on it now after his conversion, six months after beginning the class, and I think, my god, I havent been this observant since childhood!
When I think about my future Jewish life, I keep coming back to this image: I subbed a few Hebrew school classes for my mom, and when stopping by the Temple the other day, a girl introduced me to her father: Dad, this is Michal, shes a teacher here. I was shocked! I wasnt just a random temple member, or my mothers daughter, but I was a teacher there, someone whom that girl looked to for guidance. I realize that I want that to be my Jewish future. Long ago I decided not to become a rabbi, but I want to be a lay leader. I want to teach Hebrew school, to be my daughters Girl Scout troop leader and teach the troop dreidel and how to make hamentaschen.
I want my children to associate themselves with the calendar based on the smells of a particular holiday food; I want to light Shabbat candles every week and laugh about who took the most inside part of the challah. I want to always keep those Jewish-themed shelves on my bookcase, and be an active temple member, not just attend on the High Holy Days. I want to take Jonathan to Israel and show him what I love about it, to try and impart that its not just a place of bombs and violence and fear, but a land of falafel and car horns and Hebrew signs and history at every turn.
I love my name, Michal, because it is a Hebrew name; I can never ignore the fact that I am a Jew. I want to give my children that same assurance, and give them the rootedness and belonging that I so cherish. No matter what I do or what state I live in, I know this for sure: I will always, always, live in the Jewish community, and be the latest link in the chain of my ancestral history and tradition.