I have a complicated relationship with religion. I know I’m not special. After all, practically everyone does in some way or another. I was brought up Jewish and have always loved Judaism. What’s not to love? Being Jewish comes with a Bubbe that makes you as many assorted carb products as you can stand and a hundred different Yiddish words to call someone a stupid jerk. But as far as the actual religion part, I never really had close friends at my synagogue. I didn’t like going to Sunday School or any of the many, many Jewish youth groups, but I loved studying Hebrew and going to services. And as I got older, I found myself truly interested in Judaism and could even see myself joining the clergy. However, I still found my social experience confusing. Judaism is such a communal religion that not fitting in at my own temple made me question my experience and identity as a Jew. Weren’t those kids more Jewish than me?
Since I was a toddler and first began Jewish preschool (major shout out to Shalom Sesame, the Jewish version of Sesame Street—because there’s obviously a Jewish version of everything—which taught me the Hebrew AND English alphabet songs), I’ve been on and off at my temple. At times, like when I was studying to become a Bat Mitzvah, I’d go almost every day, and other times, I would go months without opening a prayer book. I never quite seemed to stick there the way I’d always hoped. When I started high school, a bunch of kids from my synagogue I’d known from the time I could barely walk were suddenly my classmates, which made it all the more disappointing when I still wasn’t friends with them. I loved being Jewish and so did they, but of course, matters are never so simple.
One of my closest friends in high school is Mormon. Oddly enough, I ended up going to church with her more than I went to my own temple. Of course, this is nothing of a conversion story, but rather one about the lack of belonging. She attended a relatively small church and shared the experience of having no good friends through her religion, so I was invited to her church dances and cupcake socials. In case you were wondering, she still makes fun of me for how awkward I was at the dance. Mormon boys are famously polite though, so as far as I’m concerned, I did great.
In all seriousness, I hold my synagogue very close to my heart. Our senior rabbi converted my mom before my parents’ wedding, performed my baby naming ceremony, led me while I became a Bat Mitzvah and taught my Confirmation classes. My family has belonged to our temple since my parents first moved to Austin together as an engaged couple. I grew up there through several houses, schools and stages of life, and where I once was a preschool student, I later was a teacher’s assistant in the same classroom. I wanted so badly to belong with the Jewish kids. Being excruciatingly shy didn’t particularly help (that’s a story, though, for another time), and while I still can’t quite say that I’ve found my group there, I know that synagogue is a place that has, and always will, stick with me throughout my life.