Yesterday, Shaya and I toured the Cranbrook Institute of Science and happened upon the compelling exhibit, The Story of Us. This quote on a panel grabbed me:

“The primary joy of life is acceptance, approval, the sense of appreciation and companionship of our human comrades. Many men do not understand that the need for fellowship is really as deep as the need for food, and so they go through life accepting many substitutes for genuine, warm, simple, relatedness.” — Joshua Loth Liebman

I was heartened to see this, especially after a week that included a half-day visit to Friend of the Court with the ex. Our arguments since we split have always revolved around our differing approaches to religion and this time, the minutae of I’m-perfectly-religious-and-you-are-not hit the civil court chambers.

I know it’s dangerous to write for all the world to see about issues related to a divorce. His attorney can capture them and use them against me, so I will be aware as I type, even as the emotions threaten to overtake me.

The become-religious/fall-off-the-derech story is an old one and a universal one. People are attracted to observance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are acceptance, structure, meaning. People become less observant for a variety of reasons, too, but mostly because one form or another no longer resonates with who they are.

But if Liebman’s quote above is true even a tiny bit, then we should look at that people connection more closely. I have always said, don’t confuse Jews with Judaism. And I’m afraid I must say that ever more. But it occurred to me recently that, if we take away the Jews from the formula that is Judaism, what are we left with? Aimless paper directives, populated by arguments and dissenting opinions, that matter to no one since we’ve taken away the humans who embody this religion?

And so I am considering revising my comments to this: Without the Jews, there is no Judaism. The people are what make any system, any religion, any community. Without the people to enact, bring to life, the ideas and rituals on the page, you got nothin’.

And yet, it’s the people that fuck it up.

Humans have created belief systems for thousands upon thousands of years – to lessen the mystery of our existence, to diminish some of the fear of the unknown, to find someone to answer to other than themselves. And so we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Here are the rules – now if you break them, you’re in big trouble. Because I said so. Because he said so. Because the rabbi in the corner shaking and shuckling and professing to know what we all need to know said so. Because my neighbor may not like me anymore. Because my kids will be picked on at school.

I learned early on in my religious days that Jews are expected to know the sources and the material behind the observances they are expected to keep. That’s individual empowerment – and yet it’s all about he-said-she-said and not this-is-what-I-believe-to-be-true-for-me.

The Story of Us is a brilliant exhibit that shows how people are all the same at the core. We all make bowls. Wear jewelry and clothing. Find ways toward spirituality and worship. Fight. Make up. Make peace. Make meaning.

It’s the kind of story we should all be telling, even in the courtroom, even in our unease at variations on a theme. We are all the same. We are all special. It’s an important fact that’s so easy to forget.

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