What Judaism Means to Me

Posted on November 1, 2016 by Gari Bloom

Every day, my day starts and ends with the words, “Only to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Those are the words on a plaque next to my sink. The plaque was presented to my father Dr. Murray Goldberg, in 1984 by the UJAFederation, and they are the essence of what Judaism means to me.

I grew up attending a Reform temple in Brooklyn, NY. Tallit were rarely seen, and kippot were optional. The choir was hidden behind a curtain above and behind the raised area where the bimahs stood, as though the music were emanating from the heavens. It struck me as more like church music than temple music.

There was another local Reform synagogue, and also a Conservative one nearby, but I didn’t feel completely at home at either the Reform or Conservative temples of my childhood. But what I did love about our temple was that our siddur was mostly in English, and the Hebrew was accompanied by its transliteration, so I was able to participate in the service. (Thanks to Sarah Gluck’s adult Hebrew classes, I no longer have to pretend to read Hebrew.) When I attended services, I found the prayers and Hebrew poetic and beautiful; they resonated with me.

It was at our temple, and at my home in Flatbush in Brooklyn, where we gathered for so many holidays over the years as a family and extended family for the delicious holiday meals my mother Joyce prepared, where my personal sense of Judaism began to grow. This feeling was shaped by growing up in a neighborhood and attending public schools that all had large populations of Jewish students and teachers. The same dynamic prevailed at my childhood summer camp, Camp Red Wing on Schroon Lake in upstate New York. It was a secular camp, but the directors and most of the campers were Jewish. I grew up with a proud, strong Jewish identity.

As a young adult, I was more preoccupied with my academics and establishing my own life, so I temporarily hit the “hold” button on Judaism. After I married Charley, almost 30 years ago, we had the opportunity to reconnect with and explore our Judaism together. I was anxious to allow my Jewish identity to unfold and flourish. By contrast, Charley was less so. We needed to find a temple that felt like home to both of us. We temple-hopped in the early years of our marriage, bc (before children), attending services at a dozen or more different temples in central Jersey. It wasn’t until Steve Weitz pointed us in the direction of Rabbi Gluck and Temple Beth-El that we found the congregation we were looking for.

I was so impressed with our temple when we discovered it 17 years ago, and I am so proud of it today. It has been here at Temple Beth-El that I have reconnected with my Judaism. It is here that I learned Hebrew and explored the structure and meaning of our service and prayers with Sarah, which has made services more engaging and spiritual for me. I love the fact that here at TBE learning is for everyone, and have enjoyed endless opportunities to learn and grow Jewishly. I have also grown so much through various volunteer opportunities at our temple and in the community. I traveled to Israel with Rabbi Gluck and

Sarah and a wonderful contingent of our congregants. What an amazing opportunity that was, to connect with Israel and fellow travelers.

I am thankful for the Jewish foundation TBE has provided my children, Ali, now a college senior, and Mack, a junior in high school. Unlike Charley and me, they didn’t have the advantage of growing up in a Jewish town or spending their summers with Jewish peers, so our temple has been an essential part of their early Jewish experience and exposure. I can only hope that they will take what they’ve learned and pursue an adult life enriched by their Judaism.

As for me, the lessons learned in the classroom and in the sanctuary at our temple have provided me with an aspect of my Judaism that was absent previously. It has enabled me to function Jewishly in the world I work, live and socialize in. It has offered me opportunities for reflection, like this one, that I find important for both my spiritual and physical well-being. It has given me the context to consider the concept of God and to take notice of God’s presence. It has reinforced my desire to give and underlined the importance of being grateful. It has elevated the importance of relationships and the sanctity of all life.

What Judaism means to me is the sum total of all of these things. It’s the feeling I get when I experience life through a Jewish lens, when every morning and every night I am reminded: “To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Excerpted from Gari Bloom’s remarks at the Yom Kippur Reflection Service.

Originally published in the November-December 2016 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archive.