As children, we learn the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The story is about finding things that are “just right.” Let us forget the premise that she has broken into the bears’ home (that is a discussion for another time). Each time Goldilocks goes to taste, to sit, or to sleep, she is challenged by how things are not quite right. It is the porridge, the chair, and the bed of the bear that is most like herself that she finds just right. Would Goldilocks the twenty something make the same choices? What about Goldilocks the mother? The empty nester? The senior?
Each of us experiences our Judaism through the prism of the here and now. What inspires us today may have seemed irrelevant before. Sometimes rituals or prayers take on different meaning based on challenges we are facing or successes we have had. The beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it has many different access points. The tradition is available to us regardless of our background or prior knowledge. Who we are or who we wish to be helps us to experience Judaism in a usable way. We do not have to engage the same way as we did before or in a way we will want to in the future.
Unlike Goldilocks’ chair experiment, you do not need to break anything to find the right one. There are many different ways to find your chair. The beauty of Judaism is that it has teachings, programs and people who feel the way you do, and are interested in the things that are important to you. Judaism is not all about which chair you sit in to pray. It is about sustainable living, about learning through doing, about social action, about spirituality and meditation, about creating meaningful moments with friends and family. It’s about you. Choose to attend programs at the synagogue, the Jewish Community Center or the Jewish Museum, or not. Judaism is not only about what exists. It is also about what could be? Create your own unique experience by connecting to online communities, reading books on history, philosophy, cooking, and parenting, by traveling and experiencing Judaism and different cultures. Who knows you many even choose new chairs regularly because your needs are different.
For those of us who are setting out the chairs, we need to make sure that they are easily rearranged. We need chairs in all sizes and shapes. We need to understand that not everyone feels comfortable in the same chair. We need to be flexible and receptive to change. Our institutions need to “redecorate,” so to speak– what worked for the last 10 years may not anymore. People may now want something different, and we need to listen to those new ideas, and revisit ideas that didn’t work before, as they may find an audience now. Open the doors. Greet people when they walk in. Talk to those we do not already know—and not just “hi,” but genuinely get to know them as people and create relationships, so that we can help them find the right chair for them.
This is scary. It is scary for people who have had bad experiences to come back and try again. It is scary to walk in to a room where you are not sure you fit in. It is scary to leave the comfort of your friends and strike up a conversation with a stranger even if you are somewhere familiar. But scary can be good. Scary makes us put ourselves in another’s shoes.
So, regardless of who you are, it is incumbent on all of us in the Jewish community to make sure that everyone can find the right chair. I personally am working to make sure that there are plenty of chairs, and to create new chairs that fit the needs of those who want to try them. Join me in welcoming and creating a Jewish community where people can come in and say, “This is just right.”