Everyone worships differently. This is a truth that is hard and fast—regardless of whether you worship within organized religion, view the world through agnostic eyes, but find yourself worshipful of nature, or the perfect souffle, or the perfect powder day. These days, leading up to Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, I find myself contemplating my relationship to G-d and to organized religion. I’ve always been “all-in,” and had a strong social investment in the Jewish community, even serving on the board of my synagogue. And I’ve relied upon the social conventions that Judiasm affords–a way to spell G-d. A way to comprehend life’s blessings and tragedies.
Today, as I contemplate paying a shiva call when my cousin and his wife return from the burial of her mother, I am thinking of what the ritual of a lay-led (likely by me, maybe by my cousin) minyan will look like to their friends from other faith backgrounds. I am taken back to the first time I led a shiva minayan, for my best friend’s grandfather, Poppy, who was a special friend to me, and whose memory I very much wanted to honor. I wanted to do that, mainly, because it was a way to comfort my friend–who had a magical connection to Poppy. And there were, in our teens, no words for grief. Just a visceral understanding of loss.
We worship in a foreign language—Hebrew. But for some people, any worship is a foreign language. And for some, it’s because they have special needs, and their abilities don’t conform to the typical worship setup.
The very same friend whose grandfather’s shiva service I once led is someone who finds ways to decode Judiasm, in particular, for kids with special needs. And I thought of her as I read my friend Ellen’s blog today. She wrote of what it’s like to consider worship with Max, her special-powers kid.
And all I could think was, Ellen! Go to Brookline! Check out Gateways: Access to Jewish Education!
And I wanted to say it in public—because I think we can all benefit from knowing about the challenges presented in special-needs education in a religious setting, and the advances groups like Gateways are making. A place where, basically, it doesn’t matter if you spell G-d any special way—Gateways gives kids the means to figure it out on their own terms.
However we feel about G-d, however we feel about observing holidays, I will find some comfort in having a pro-forma way to communicate my sympathy to my cousin, his wife, their daughter. In some ways, organized religion allows those of us who don’t always know “the right thing to do” the space to figure it out, the structure to follow, so that the love can be shared, multiplied. Oh, yes, and we bring food. I had to organize a Signup Genius to corral the edible well-wishes that all of my cousins’ friends want to bring.
I’ll ask this: Where do you worship? What does ritual mean to you? How do you spell G-d? What needs do you wish your family’s congregation met? From special to spectacular, I’d love to hear about it….