Sydra Shapiro

Dancing Around the Room

One Friday morning, in an over-air conditioned, under-decorated basement of a temple where I wasn’t a member, I danced around the room in a circle of seventeen teenagers I had been with for just six days. I had gotten there early that day, and I had decided that I was going to walk around the room in a circle until everyone had arrived. One by one, I encouraged my peers to join me, and, one by one, they did. Slowly but surely, all seventeen people in the room joined the circle. I looked around me, and, despite the masks that hid our flushed faces from each other, our smiles were bright and our eyes were gleaming. Someone turned on music, and we began to dance around the room, moving our bodies to the rhythm. No matter what, we continued around and around and around. That Friday morning, we played music and laughed and danced and sang and breathed that moment, together.

Throughout my childhood, I often felt lost within my Jewish identity. My family celebrated big holidays and sent me to Jewish sleepaway camp. We said the Shehecheyanu and sang Oseh Shalom. My Jewish heritage has traveled across continents and over centuries, yet I so often wandered aimlessly in my determination to connect with Judaism in a way that made sense to me. What does it mean to be Jewish? It was a question that no one else was allowed to answer; no one seemed able to explain it to me, and the explanation always seemed to dissipate into thin air just before I could ever reach it.

But it was that Friday morning when these answers finally found me. For my entire life, I had believed that to connect with God, to connect with my community, and to connect with myself, I had to carry out the one thousand, two thousand, three thousand year-old traditions just as my Jewish ancestors had. I thought this meant that in order to be Jewish, to be truly Jewish, I had to daven in the morning and eat a kosher diet and wear a skirt that covered my knees and marry into a Jewish family. But it was in the very notion of this burden where I realized the truth: tradition is only as powerful as the faith that it can encapsulate. To blindly follow tradition is to lose yourself in a sea of obligation; to faithfully choose tradition is to endlessly find yourself.

On that Friday morning, I faithfully chose tradition. I danced around the room, surrounded by a group of kids that had chosen to do the same. I abandoned everything that I thought Judaism should be, and I found everything that Judaism truly is. Judaism is a gift, one that enables me to find meaning in my own experience. Being Jewish gives me infinite opportunities to find answers to the questions I don’t yet know to ask. I chose to find meaning that Friday morning, and all of a sudden, meaning had found me. It was that one Friday morning where I finally discovered Judaism; my faith is everything, created from nothing.

Sydra Shapiro
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