“Hey, wanna come to Shabbat services with me tonight?”
I’ve been hearing that question a lot ever since I started school at Northwestern University. We have both Hillel and Chabad on campus (as well as a new group called Meor Northwestern), so there’s never a shortage of places to be on Friday night.
However, something always makes me say no.
Last summer, I participated in a program called Legacy Heritage Internships for Young Scientists (LHIYS), which brought thirty students from all over the U.S. to Israel in order to participate in scientific research and Judaic study. We were required to participate in morning prayers every day as well as attend Friday night and Saturday morning services.
I learned two things about myself that summer–first, that science is definitely not my calling (I’m a journalism major, which is just about as far away from science as you can get); and second, that I just don’t like praying. I tried reform services, conservative services, orthodox services, you name it. Because I don’t speak Hebrew, the prayers I’m told to say at services don’t really mean anything to me, and since I didn’t grow up in a religious family, I have no personal tradition associated with those prayers. No matter what type of service I go to, I feel uncomfortable and awkward reciting what sounded like gibberish to me.
Part of it might be the fact that these days I’m not even sure what my religious beliefs are. The idea of a traditional God goes against my sense of logic, but the idea that there’s nothing up there seems too simple. How else would you explain things like love, music, and the random appearance of life on Earth?
I’ve always been jealous of friends who tell me how refreshing and joyful it is for them to go to services every week. I wish I could feel that kind of connection. But maybe it’s time for me to accept the fact that I’m just not a religious person.
There are plenty of other ways to connect to Judaism. For instance, I love celebrating Jewish holidays with my family, and I’m always interested to know what Jewish scholars have to say about ethics and everyday life. I have yet to meet a rabbi who wasn’t full of fascinating insight.
Here’s one thing I know for certain–reciting words written thousands of years ago in a language I don’t understand doesn’t help me get closer to God, if there is one. I’ll just have to find another way.