Jewish life: one of expressing gratitude and a connection to tradition

This weekend, our youngest daughter Maya turned 1 year old. She went to bed on Thursday night a little baby, and woke up Friday morning a 1-year old toddler. In the past 12 months, she has progressed from an extremely needy infant to a smiling little girl ready to take her first steps. She has experienced all four seasons and she has taken part in a full cycle of Jewish holidays as well. Last year, I gave birth to Maya during the week of Passover, and I ate matzah in the hospital room instead of bread. She attended the High Holy Day onegs (festive meals) with our whole community, and she danced the hora with her big sister at the Latkefest Chanukah event at my husband’s congregation in Glens Falls. She wore her fox costume to the recent carnival celebrating the holiday of Purim, and now we find ourselves about to celebrate Passover with her once again, now as a joyful and inquisitive 1-year old.

When someone who is interested in becoming Jewish approaches me about conversion, I explain that to even consider making this commitment, one has to experience a full year of Jewish holidays. Not just observe them, but fully participate in our traditions and rituals. One should fast during Yom Kippur, and truly atone for their shortcomings, before breaking that fast with members of the community. One should enjoy a meal in a Sukkah with friends during Sukkot, and one should proudly light the Chanukah candles during all eight nights. One should listen to the story of our heroine Esther during Purim as the megillah is read, and one should certainly feel a personal connection to the story of our freedom from slavery during the Passover seder. And one who is considering converting to Judaism should make an effort to observe Shabbat 52 times during the year. Every single week, one should take a step back from their regular life to cherish their blessings and to thank God for the gift of time. Observing this cycle throughout the year means that you are living a meaningful Jewish life, a life in which you are constantly expressing your gratitude and remembering your connection to our tradition and to our community.

As the musical Rent so beautifully expresses, “How do you measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter and strife. Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, a year in the life? Measure in lovemeasure your life in love. Seasons of love.”

Thank you, Maya, for a year of unconditional love. A year ago we welcomed you into the Jewish people, and you made every holiday, every Shabbat, you made each and every minute, all the more precious because you are now part of our family. And thank you God, most of all, for giving us both the blessing of our healthy beautiful family, and for the blessings of our faith tradition, which provides us the structure of the Jewish calendar to appreciate You and the work of Your creation year after year.

Rabbi Rose Durbin is the Spiritual Leader of the Knesseth Israel Synagogue in Gloversville.