Mapping Our Jewish Journeys

liftarn_Compass“These were the journeys of the Israelites who started out from the land of Egypt” – thus begins the last Torah portion in the Book of Numbers. The books of Exodus and Numbers tell the story of the Israelites from Egypt to the banks of the Jordan River. This final Torah portion pauses to review where they’ve been before they cross into the land of their ancestors, the land they have been seeking all along. Their journey did not end with the river crossing, though. In truth, the journey of the Jewish People was only beginning.

Where are you on your Jewish journey? Are you a tourist, checking us out? (That’s OK, by the way – you are welcome to learn all about us.) Are you on a journey toward Judaism, seeking to connect with the tradition and perhaps convert? Are you already Jewish, but looking for a deeper connection with your people and your tradition?

My guess is that if you’ve come looking for this website, you’re on some sort of a Jewish journey. To get the most out of it, and especially to get where you want to go, it’s wise sometimes to stop and take your bearings.

Do you have a Jewish community? Traveling through the wilderness alone is miserable, if not impossible.  Joshua ben Perachyah, one of the most ancient rabbis, used to say, “Provide yourself a teacher and get yourself a friend; and judge every man towards merit.” In other words, don’t journey alone. Whether your Jewish community is a class, or a congregation, or a club, or a chavurah, you need other Jews. Otherwise you’ll lose your way.

What’s your immediate goal? If your goal is conversion to Judaism, there are specific steps to take. If your goal is to learn more about Judaism, find a class! Many synagogues and Jewish community centers offer “Intro” classes that are appropriate for a wide range of learners. If your goal involves making a Jewish choice, like how to raise your children, or how to manage within an interfaith relationship, local Jewish institutions can point you to resources and there are also websites with good information. Or you may have a very specific goal. There also your Jewish community can come into play: look for Jews whose path you admire, and learn from them, whether it is how to make bagels or how to speak Ladino.

Where have you been already? Just as Moses paused to recount the journeys of the Israelites, you may want to make your own map of where you’ve already been. What worked? What was a good experience? What was difficult? Was something both difficult and a good experience? What was worthwhile? What wasn’t?

Where are you afraid to go? The Israelites often stopped in their tracks to wail that they were scared, they hated the wilderness, and that slavery seemed like a pretty sweet deal. They were afraid to enter the land, they were afraid of the wilderness, and in their fear, sometimes they did dreadful things. But sometimes the things that scare us the most turn out to be the best journeys of all. If something looks scary, or feels too difficult, that might be a sign that it’s exactly your best next step, whether it’s learning Hebrew or calling a real, live, offline rabbi.

I am on my own Jewish journey, too. Mine started, improbably, in Catholic school back in Nashville. Today I’m a 59 year old rabbi pursuing new challenges. Thank you for including me in your journey!



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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

5 thoughts on “Mapping Our Jewish Journeys”

  1. Thank you for this post. I have not thought about my Jewish journey in a deliberate, focused way, in quite a while. My Jewish journey has been one of peaks (great times of involvement, practice, community) and valleys (times of isolation and disconnection). I think I am currently in a gently rolling field. I was stunned by your comment that if you go it alone, you will get lost. Ironically, in my life, when I found the courage to end an abusive marriage, the people whom I counted as friends, in my congregation, turned a cold shoulder. I did go it alone, Jewishly, for about two decades. I think that I did struggle to not get lost. Non-Jewish friends from other corners of my life stepped in. I have often wondered what my Jewish journey would have been, if I had not been isolated within my Jewish community, back then. 34 years later, the ice has melted. I probably know more about finding and giving forgiveness than I might have ever needed to know. It is a good, life giving skill to have. But, my Jewish journey has also been about family. There is no doubt that my practice and knowledge has, in each case, been enhanced by my daughter’s Jewish journey. That connection has been a light on the path.

    1. Our children can take us on the most interesting adventures, can’t they?

      I am so sorry that you had to go it alone, Jewishly. A situation like the one you described is the dark side of Jewish community: it can sometimes be very cruel. I like to think that good leadership can nip that stuff in the bud, but sometimes leaders aren’t aware of it, or aren’t able to lead well enough.

      I am personally very grateful for your presence in Jewish life, because I admire that daughter of yours very much, and because your comments enrich my little community here! Thank you so much for being willing to comment about something that must have been hideously painful.

      1. I’m uncomfortable with the sentiment that ‘the Jewish community can be very cruel.’ I see cruelty as a potential aspect of every community and potentially every human. A number of Catholic priests have been revealed to be child molesters but I would not say that the Catholic community is made up of abusers.

        A community has so many individuals. Surely not all of them are uniformly cruel.

  2. Rabbi Adar, Thank you for reading my mind. I know I’m not a tourist and yes I am afraid. I’m afraid of rejection. Once upon a time my skin was so thick, resilient, and now the thought of microaggressions can raise bruises. I can’t spend my life hiding in Jewish classes that are 30 miles from my home, or can I? There’s a synagogue not more than 10 minutes from where I live. A community should be close enough to build on shared experiences. I’ve been visiting this website for years.
    Do you know anything about this community?

    1. I know the reputation of their rabbi emeritus, which is excellent. Otherwise, I’m not familiar, but given how small they are, that isn’t all that surprising.

      Since there’s no rabbi, the person to call there is the temple president. One possibility is to give him a call and lay it on the line. They talk a pretty good line about diversity in their website. I have often found it instructive to say to the head of an organization: “OK, your website says you appreciate diversity. Here’s my situation – how well am I really going to be treated in your community?”

      Another possibility: if you’d like to set up a safari to go check them out, but with reinforcements, we can set up (via email, not here) a mutually agreeable Shabbat to visit. I’d like to learn more about them.

      Another possibility: there’s a really nice Reform congregation in Stockton, CA. I would enjoy introducing you to their rabbi, who would treasure you as you should be treasured.

      So let me know. Do you still have my email?

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