What Judaism Means to Me

Posted on January 15, 2021 by Julie Hirsch

Comments from the Reflection Service during Yom Kippur

My favorite Hebrew expression is kolhakavod. I heard it for the first time from a spectator, screaming from the sidewalk, as I was running the Jerusalem marathon. I was only at about mile five and this person was not just cheering ME. I was among thousands of runners. She was cheering for all of us.

The problem was I had no idea what it meant. And I kept hearing it and seeing the faces of the men, women, and children who chose to use THIS phrase to inspire. Here in the U.S. I’m used to hearing “way to go,” “well done,” or “good job!” On the surface, those English phrases are how kolhakavod can be translated. However, like all Hebrew words, the literal meaning, based on the three-letter root, is “all the honor” or ‘‘all the respect.” In effect, this stranger was praising us, and telling us, in many ways, “I respect you!”

So why share this as my reflection today? Because respect and honor are the foundation of my Jewish journey here at Temple Beth-El. It is how we treat each other, in an elevated state of love, with respect, that makes our connections here so strong. When I joined Temple Beth-El, I was definitely Jewish. But, I had never been an observant Jew. We came here, like many others did and still do, because it was time to give our little ones a Jewish education, which I had never had. When I started going to Shabbat services, it was not that I didn’t know our version of MiChamocha, I was not familiar with MiChamocha at all, or most of the Sabbath prayers or psalms or customs, for that matter. And yet…I was treated with the utmost respect and kindness, and I was encouraged! It was the support and love I felt that made me feel and know I belong, want to keep coming back to learn and pray, with you.

I have come a long way. I am proud to say I have even read from the Torah six times, in Hebrew (with no vowels!). I am most proud of the fact that I, with my husband Greg, have raised two solidly Jewish children who relish their Jewish identity — even while going to college in Indiana! We have instilled in them the necessity of respect and respecting others, even during times like these, when opinions may drastically differ. I feel like I’m still only at the five-mile marker of my Jewish 26.2-mile marathon journey, with all of you cheering me on. In return, from the bottom of my heart, I have the utmost and deepest respect for all of you…for who you are and what you do for each other and others in need. For that I say to you today, kolhakavod.

Julie Hirsch

Originally published in the January-February 2021 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.