Why do Jews today connect with Jewish practices and ideas? For some it may be a desire to pass on hallowed traditions. For others, an innate sense of pride. For still others: guilt. Or, all of the above (at some point or another).
There is another kind of motivation to ‘do Jewish’ that I’m interested in understanding, because I feel it myself and I wonder where it fits. I feel it when at a Shabbat meal I hear and sing a melody that resonates and reverberates around me – sometimes because it is the tune of that time of year, other times because of the beauty of the melody itself. It comes when I emerge from a pre-holiday mikvah, ready to be new again. It arises when I look around a kumtzitz campfire, take in the faces of people I am connected to and sense the way in which together we make a community.
If pressed to choose a word for this feeling, I would call it ‘joy.’ Perhaps I could call it ‘pleasure,’ but pleasure can sound so hedonistic. Better yet, Simcha is a Hebrew word that comes closer, but maybe that’s because I read more layers of meaning into a Hebrew term than into a stark English word. Regardless of what we call it, it is a very positive feeling. A Gen-Xer who grew up in a mostly ritually unobservant home, as an adult I participate in Jewish practices … because I enjoy them.
Not every person will find comfort – or even joy – in every aspect of the vast set of traditions, practices, philosophies and mindsets that is Judaism. Still, where do people find pleasure and joy in participating in Jewish practices and behaviors? Are there particular conditions under which people find and feel more joy ? Or conditions under which more people find joy?