My world is on fire.
Literally and figuratively, places sacred to me are burning.
Scorched earth. Ash. Smoke.
Baseless hatred. Vitriol. Destruction.
And I just returned from one of them (Israel) to the other (the U.S.), on a two and a half week journey – half the time spent with my unbelievable family cocooned in a suburb of Tel Aviv, walking the familiar streets I walked as a kid, eating chocolate and fresh vegetables, basking in 85 degree sunshine, dodging around construction. I visited with my 91-year-old Savta and my 90-something-year-old ‘bonus’ Savta, who has lived around the corner from my family seemingly since the beginning of time. When that blissful vacation ended, I headed back to Ben Gurion Airport to meet up with 400 Jewish moms from around the globe, all there to experience Momentum, a moms’ trip through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project.
In Israel, before the fire started, I met a girl. She grew up Jewish, was always proud of her identity. But she didn’t know what she felt about G-d. Despite a strong Jewish identity and upbringing and being involved in her community, G-d and the spirituality of Judaism was an elusive idea, something she could never quite define for herself or for anyone who asked her what she believed. Judaism and the thread of the Jewish people burned strong in her, and yet…
She told me a story about how when she met her husband, he was not Jewish. He asked her what Jews believe about G-d and all she could tell him was, “It’s complicated.” It’s not that she did not want to bother explaining it. It’s that she literally could not know for certain if G-d was real. She knew she believed in something – a higher power, something that was bigger than herself. But she could never put her finger on exactly why.
When this girl went on to marry her husband, she knew she felt some spirit around her as she stood under the chuppah with her now-Jewish husband. She knew, too, in that labor and delivery room – and for many moons after the birth of her first child – that there was SOMETHING there but it was something she simply could not describe. Hours upon hours were spent staring at this tiny human of perfect proportions, marveling at the miracle of it all. Surely, G-d was in that place.
At this point in the story, you are probably wondering whether this girl had a ‘religious conversion’ of sorts on this trip and came back with a long skirt, a wig, and a commitment to make challah each week. I’ll tell you now – spoiler alert – that’s not what happened.
Something bigger transpired. I met this girl. She’s super cool, serious but sarcastic and pretty funny. She works hard and plays hard and wants what we all want for our families – to see them happy, and healthy, and very much alive. She always thought she knew who she was. But then she went to Israel with a group of Jewish mothers from all walks of life, from across the political, religious, and observance spectrums. And somewhere, in between the learning and the shopping and the eating and the pro-Israel advocacy, she found something meaningful, a fire deep inside.
She was reminded of one of her favorite quotes from one of her favorite (not Jewish) spiritual advisers, Marianne Williamson, a quote that she printed and had framed back in her college days before she ever began to question any of it, long before she could see how this was exactly the core message of Judaism that spoke to her.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of G-d. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of G-d that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
It’s liberating to tell you – that girl was me. The truth is, she returned home to a place that feels different and uncertain. And she’s reminding herself every hour of every day of the fire that was lit within, the divine spark, and she’s going to let her own light shine. She’s ready to light the world on fire.