August 14, 2008
Week 248, Day 4
13 Av 5768

Nisim B'chol Yom Part Three
Mishkan T'filah, p. 203
Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg

The first time I actually prayed with the new, published prayer book was at a board meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.  The service was led by my colleague, Rabbi Karen Bender.  Instead of the usual responsive chanting of the morning miracles, Nissim B’chol Yom, she had us chant the left side declaration of the early twentieth century poet, Edmond Fleg, “I am a Jew.”  I was captivated by her choice because it taught me that we can chant the English and it actually works.  It, too, is prayer.  I then pondered the connection between the miracles that are featured on the right side and the insight of Edmond Fleg.

On the right hand side there is featured in the middle of the page the blessing for making me a Jew.  On the left side we read the reasons why Edmond Fleg re-affirmed his Judaism.  On the right side, we are passive, expressing our gratitude for the fact that we are Jewish.  On the left side we are active, proclaiming that, in a modern world, we choose to become Jewish, or at least to take our Judaism seriously.

Recently, the Pew Forum released a study reporting that a very large number of Americans change their religion.  I would hope that we American Jews will keep being Jewish, but I also understand that to keep being Jewish with any meaning means making a choice.  We choose to learn Torah, to cultivate a Jewish spiritual life, and to engage in acts of kindness and social justice.

Edmond Fleg wrote the reasons why he was a Jew in France in 1927.  His words – especially when chanted as part of a prayer service – encourage us to formulate our own answers to a question more timely now than ever.

His words are more timely because we live in an age in which the relevance of religion (and belief in God) is routinely questioned.  The books by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, etc. don’t lead me to disbelieve in religion and God, but they prompt me to re-examine the nature of my faith.  I know that, for me, faith is a choice (not to mention Jewish actions), not an automatic result of being a Jew.  So, like Fleg, I value a Judaism that demands no “abdication of the mind”.  And when, in the midst of my doubts, I re-affirm my commitment to Judaism, I am declaring that “I am a Jew”. 

I no longer believe in the supernatural miracles of the Bible.  But I profoundly believe in the power of choice, and that, by choosing to make my Judaism meaningful, I need to express my thankfulness that such a heritage exists for me.  I need to show my thanks for the direction in my life afforded by Jewish teachings.  I want to say thank you for the conversation between texts, teacher and centuries in which I as a literate, serious Jew can engage. 

In short, I want to thank God for making me a Jew, but I want to thank Judaism and the Jewish people for enabling me to enrich my life with the collective Jewish enterprise that awaits for me every day.  My Judaism: A daily miracle?  Perhaps.  A life-time of opportunites?  You bet!

 

Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg is the senior rabbi of Temple Judea of Coral Gables, FL. He is also the vice-chair of the Commission on Worship, Music and Religious Living.

For more information about Mishkan T'filah, visit urj.org/mishkan.

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