My time thus far as an Interfaith Fellow has been inextricably tied to my ever-developing experience of personal and collective identity in the past few months. The early weeks of the program coincided with the Jewish high holidays, and our group of Jewish fellows was spotlighted in order to invite non-Jewish participants to get a glimpse into our traditions. In the midst of all this, I felt a sense of detachment that I was unable to adequately express in this setting. I realized that in my exploration of Jewish identity the last few years, I haven’t always explicitly known what exactly I was looking for. It was predominantly about community and it remains mainly about that, though my attempts to find some spiritual resonance have occasionally felt heavy-handed. Part of my journey has been about accepting that there’s nothing wrong with simply looking for community. My exploration has looked different at different times, and one of the most enduring takeaways has been that I will only connect spiritually if I am engaging from a place of personal interest and not out of a subtle sense of pressure.
Each meeting I’ve been faced with some slight internal tension about the identity I brandish. I haven’t spoken openly in this group about the spiritual guidance that I continue to draw from Buddhism. Why do I first and foremost identify myself as a Jewish Interfaith Fellow when Buddhist philosophy and practice has more explicit bearing on my thinking? Partly because I hold on to some concern about how the nuance of Jewish identity may be misconstrued. Jewish ethnicity is certainly a big part of who I am. It relates to the conversation of race and faith in America. I benefit from white privilege, but surely my relatives a few generations back were not considered white. Contemplating this ethnic dimension is important enough in its own right. But I also realize that the role of Jewish community and culture in my life is more significant than simply spending time with people who share similar life experiences. It has imbued me with a reverence for social justice, for commitment to making the world a more righteous, just place.
In letting go of some of the need for certainty, for being able to reconcile different aspects of my identity, I’ve felt more comfortable in my own skin. Worrying about whether my identity will be perceived as being coherent is a recipe for frustration. Even though I still haven’t spoken about Buddhism, I find that I can speak from a place of greater authenticity when I am less concerned with markers of extrinsic identity.