Getting to Know You:
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Post-Bar Mitzvah it was all disillusionment. I developed this mindset that Judaism was all based around meaningless external custom, or at least that people had allowed an emphasis on external custom to develop over internal improvement. I think I was basically making excuses for not wanting to get closer to God. Another event that threw me off was a sort of "purging" at my synagogue that saw the rabbi, the assistant rabbi, and the cantor all dismissed one after the other. The push to shake up the leadership was spearheaded by this dastardly executive committee and most of the congregation seemed to allow it to happen.
My thoughts on that event went along the lines of, "Well! Some great Jews they are, watching as their community leaders are led to the guillotine."
I also felt that this committee was principally motivated by sagging membership at the congregation, which meant less funds. So that fit with the idea that, hey, organized religion is corrupt, my temple is populated by a bunch of hypocrites and so on.
Obviously, I was arrogant in a lot of ways to think these things, to place myself outside of - and perhaps above, in my mind - the community. I feel like I'm closer to reconciling with the religion than I am with the synagogue. It would be better to forgive than to cling to these remnants of past bitterness, especially since the new synagogue leaders seem to be an excellent group. It's something that I have to struggle with. As for Judaism itself, I feel bound to it in many ways and I think that there's far too much wisdom within its teachings for me to ever sever myself from it. I want to draw closer to its core.
What is your favorite thing about being Jewish?
Knowing that I'm connected by tradition to something ancient and truly noble.
Do you find that your campus is accepting of Jewish students?
It was funny, moving from one of those Jewish population clusters in suburban St. Louis to a region where many people have never seen a Jew before. I think Mizzou is "tolerant" of Jews, only in that Jewish buildings aren't set on fire. They give us our space and think what they want to think. That's perfectly fine.
Have you ever experienced religious discrimination on campus?
How do you go about explaining traditions to classmates?
Inaccurately, for the most part.
For you, does being Jewish require supporting Israel? Why or why not?
No, of course not. That's one of my major beefs with contemporary American Judaism, I think. Israel is the Jewish nation, yes, but it is one nation of many. It represents a rare and refreshing democratic force in the troubled Middle East, yes, but its needs should not be placed upon a pedestal at the expense of other lands. I wholeheartedly believe that Jews in America need to critically examine Israel's policies. One can criticize a certain decision or a certain practice without becoming antagonistic. If we want Israel to evolve into the great nation that it truly has the potential of becoming, we cannot simply rubber stamp every move that it makes because of our shared religion.
Those who cry out that all voices of dissent should be equated with anti-Semitism are clearly missing the point. Anti-Semitism remains a serious issue in our world today, which is why it angers me when people use it as a knee-jerk reaction, or a shield to defend wrongheaded thinking. I'm not advocating complete dissection of every move Israel makes, but people need to think about these policies, and not allow anyone to bully them into a certain mode of thinking.
What are your personal goals? Religious? Professional?
I want to spend more of my time in the service of others through volunteer work and I want a career that centers around music in some fashion. That way, I could never grow bitter about my occupation, because new ideas are always gushing forth from the concept of musical creation. There's no room for stagnation. I think there's something Divine about it, how progressions of sound can wordlessly and effortlessly express such profound emotions. Just listen to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," or the final movement of the "Surf's Up" album. I'm almost compelled to say that Brian Wilson became a vessel for something greater than himself on those recordings, to create songs that were so melodically uplifting yet emotionally devastating. But that's neither here nor there.
How do you think that Judaism will factor into your adult life?
It's going to be an anchor that grounds me, intellectually and spiritually, for the rest of my days.