Arts & Culture

Have You Ever Strayed From the Tribe? If So, Yasher Koach!

Are you a Jew who sometimes strays?  Or do you know someone who is constantly exploring a variety of approaches for living with meaning and purpose? For several years, I’ve belonged to an innovative congregation of Jewish adults where a sizeable … Read More

By / September 16, 2008

Are you a Jew who sometimes strays?  Or do you know someone who is constantly exploring a variety of approaches for living with meaning and purpose?

For several years, I’ve belonged to an innovative congregation of Jewish adults where a sizeable number of women and men have strayed from the Jewish party-line at one time or another before coming back in a deeper way.  Some have gone to yoga, meditation, Buddhism, agnostic therapists, or atheist writers before returning to look more intensely into the profound wisdom and daily practicality of Jewish spiritual teachings.  A number of congregants tend to have one foot in their Judaism along with another foot that searches for additional ways to explore the unknowable.

While researching my new book FITTING IN IS OVERRATED:  The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider, I asked hundreds of creative and thoughtful people from all walks of life what they can see now after spending time away from the beliefs and expectations of their family-of-origin, their social class, their religious tribe, or the entrenched habits of their high school and college friends.  Here’s what I discovered:

DEVELOPING FRESH EYES.  When you stray from the mind-set you were raised with, it allows you to return later with a much stronger curiosity and appreciation for each flavor, each insight, and each spiritual activity.  It’s almost like when you eat ginger to clean your palate in between courses at a Japanese restaurant.  This allows you to pause and breathe in slowly, to take a moment to notice what you’ve just tasted, and to open up from a place of conscious curiosity to the next flavorful experience you are about to have.

DEVELOPING YOUR ABILITY TO CHOOSE WISELY.  When you look at your own family background, your own life path, and your own religious tradition with the objectivity of a curious outsider, it’s more likely that you will choose what’s holy and healthy for the next phase of your life while steering clear of what’s toxic or no longer life-affirming.  You might choose to reaffirm some of the beliefs, values, and practices you strayed from for a while, but what’s different this time is that it will come from choosing wisely rather than blindly going along with something you didn’t quite understand previously.

DEVELOPING A MORE OPEN HEART.  In Judaism it says that to connect with the holiest energies, you first need to "circumcise your heart."  Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.  

As a spiritually-oriented therapist, I have helped thousands of women and men go through the pain and the liberation of opening up their hearts after they had broken off a formerly-comfortable relationship with a lover, a friend, a family system, or an organization that felt like home but eventually became suffocating.  Once you go through the pain of opening up your heart to something new and uncertain, a deeper sense of commitment and competence is possible.  Only with a circumcised heat can you truly connect with the relationship, the career, the friendships, and the unique path that is your own.

So if you are currently or recently a Jew who has strayed, I say mazal tov and I welcome you back when and if you are ready to go deeper.  Or if you know someone who has been feeling guilty or sneaky about the fact that they’ve received some wisdom and comfort from another path, please offer this straying Jew the love and shared search for truth that we all would want from a compassionate tribe that is committed to loving each and every spark of the Divine. 

Or if you have strayed from the beliefs and expectations of your family or your friends, I say Yasher Koach, may the strength of the Eternal One be with you as you gather up wisdom and experience that you will hopefully use as a blessing for repairing many corners of this broken world. 

It takes a curious mind and a rebellious, questioning spirit to get to the truth and to come up with innovative solutions to the pressing problems we all face.  Please don’t let anyone trample on your right to be curious, questioning, and rebellious.  It’s a wonderful aspect of being a Jew and the world needs the wisdom that we gain from our outsider’s perspective. 

(For more information about how to turn an outsider’s pain into healing and innovative ideas, visit www.fittinginisoverrated.com). 

Dr. Leonard Felder, author of Fitting in Is Overrated, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.

Tagged with: