By Ruth Lera
I’ve never really considered myself a JewBu, but of course with a rebel mentality like mine I’ve never really considered myself anything.
Honestly, the term free-spirit even feels too confining for my natural craving to carve my own path. But according to Wikipedia I definitely am a Jewbu as it defines this as, “a person with a Jewish background who practices forms of Buddhist meditation and spirituality.”
Jewish, I have been since birth. Somehow being Jewish isn’t one of those things you ever stop being. The Buddhist stuff I chose later.
But let’s start at the beginning which would be with my earliest childhood memories, as many of them take place at the synagogue. I have memories of marching around the temple dressed as a Maccabee for Hannukah during my pre-school years, attending Hebrew school every Saturday morning in elementary school, getting up to no-good shenaningans with my friends in Jewish youth group a as a teenager, going to Jewish overnight camp and praying in the forest every summer, studying for my Bat Mitzvah and of course standing in front of the congregation on the big day itself chanting the words of the Torah.
Yes, I was entrenched in the religion and tradition of my birth from an early age, and as a child (and even a teenager), I never could have imagined that one day as an adult I wouldn’t be a practicing Jew.
But in fact it has been the opposite of what I thought would happen as a child. In fact I haven’t been a practicing Jew for any of my adult life. I turned away from my Jewish roots at the ripe, young age of 18 years old, while on an exchange program in Thailand.
The universal truth aspect of the teachings of the Buddha drew me in and brought me a peace and understanding about how human existence works, and was something that Judaism just never offered me. And it probably doesn’t surprise you one bit to hear I was a stubborn young person and I had no interest in going halfway with anything.
If the truth wasn’t in Judaism then I wasn’t going to be there either.
Now, I wasn’t convinced that the truth was in Buddhism either, and that is why I have never called myself a Buddhist, and hence why I never thought the term JewBu referred to me.
Instead what I believed at 18 years old was that the Buddha had glimpsed a type of universal truth that could be helpful for easing suffering and that through studying Buddhism, I personally could gain a deeper understanding of the laws of human existence, and this has always been the type of information that I am interested in being privy to.
But I have always understood that any Buddhist teachings are just the explanations of a man trying to share what he saw and what he knew. Luckily, that man, the Buddha himself, is an excellent communicator and teacher and he shared well and he shared wide, and I am so grateful for that fact.
One of the main things that so attracted me to the Buddhist teachings as a teenager was the fact that you didn’t need to belong to a religion to reap the benefits of the Buddhist teachings. No ritual was needed, no membership fees, no conversion or belonging to an institution.
All you needed to do was read the teachings of the Buddha and meditate on them for yourself and see what you learned and what you experienced. I have done this for 20 years now and here is the irony. I have learned that what I am missing in Buddhism for my spiritual needs is the exact same thing that was missing for me in my Jewish upbringing.
And this is God.
Recently I am recognizing that the actual spiritual experiences I am having lately reflect something I was introduced to in my Jewish childhood. It isn’t something that was ever put into words in my Jewish community, but just something that was there, and this is some sort of sense of God.
It wasn’t there all the time though, and it wasn’t there in a way I could cognitively understand—probably because most of the Jews I know are atheists, but somehow there was an underlying message in the scriptures and the Hebrew text that reflected a deep knowing, secure type of confidence of God.
I am not ready or I think even interested in ploughing back into a Jewish existence, just as I never fully entered a Buddhist one, but I am interested in living in a way that is merged with God energy in everything I do. This awareness of God energy didn’t come to me in a shrine, mosque, temple, church or monastery. This knowledge has come to me in the woods.
I walk the trails behind my wilderness home and open to the earth and open to the sky, and I feel like I am in a bubble of energy that connects me to everything while at the same time being mine alone. In many ways it feels like a big magnet, attracting more God to my own being which is also God.
Last night I started to read a book on Kabbalah.
Kabbalah is not a word I had ever heard of in my entire Jewish education, which was lengthy.
The first time I heard the word Kabbalah it was associated with Madonna. Somehow in the news I heard that Madonna was studying Jewish mysticism and it was called Kabbalah. I had no clue what that was and I still don’t really have a clue what it is or where it fits into anything for me.
But I know what truth feels like when it hits me, and it hit me strongly in the energy field last night when I read:
“Yet most people think of God as a being—like you, and me, except all-powerful and missing a body—and like us, existing in reality. But the Torah and Kabbalah teach us that God is not a being existing in reality. God is reality. We exist in reality. We exist within God. To find God you have to ask yourself, ‘Where am I?’ not, ‘Where is God?’ God isn’t in any particular place. God is the place and everyplace. We live in God.” ~ David Aaron
This is what it feels like for me when I am walking in the forest—like I am in God. And isn’t this what the Buddha taught us? To take all knowledge we learn from our teachers including him and make sure it matches our direct experience? This is what I have done.
But I never expected my direct experience to lead me back to my childhood reality, which is Judaism.
Ruth Lera is the friend you turn to when your world has gone all topsy-turvy. Not because she tells you it’s all going to be alright but because she reassures you that not being alright is just part of the whole process of being human. And she might even give you some ideas about how to feel better, too. Find her at her website, her Facebook page or Twitter.
Editor: Dana Gornall