Jaynie Levinson — Connecting Jewish Young Adults
Finding Spirituality in Taglit-Birthright Israel
“Deep inside my heart I got this,
Everlasting light it’s shining,
Like the sun it radiates on everyone.
And the more that I give,
The more I’ve got to give.
It’s the way that I live.
It’s what I’m living for.”
Where this song came from, is unclear. An internet search had lots of people singing it, with no author or origination present.
This song was our spiritual anthem on our Cincinnati Community Taglit-Birthright Israel trip, which returned last week from Israel.
Taglit-Birthright Israel is a 10-day journey to Israel to connect Jewish young adults around the world to their Jewish identity, the country of Israel, and their Jewish peers. This trip was special because it was mostly Cincinnatians, allowing us to connect with our partnership city of Netanya and maintain the bond we build back home.
Birthright creates an environment for Jewish young adults in all different places of their Jewish journey to feel comfortable finding what they connect to the Jewish faith. Birthright doesn’t want you to practice Judaism in the traditional way, they want you to practice Judaism in your own way. And find ways to keep that spark created in Israel alive when you return. On each trip, we discuss the concept that no one is judged on whether they are more Jewish, less Jewish, a good Jew, or a bad Jew simply by what they chose to practice or not practice. We are part the Jewish people, and with that we are blessed with the ability to choose how we want to use Judaism to find meaning in our lives.
The most spiritual moments of our Birthright trip weren’t saying traditional prayers over Shabbat services or studying Jewish texts at Hebrew Union College or Binah (a secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv). The most spiritual moments of the trip were singing the above song instead of the candle blessings while lighting candles in the Old City of Jerusalem. Or singing this song in a bomb shelter (see video), on the bus, or walking around Tel Aviv.
The most spiritual moments of the trip were doing a Tibetan mediation exercise exploring who you truly are. And doing our “pshhh,” or meaningful, moments of the day in our evening reflection sessions. Singing songs together, with our arms around each other, feeling like we’re part of a something bigger than ourselves. Dancing to modern Hebrew gay-pride anthem “Tel Aviv” on the bus or in the desert. I would argue our most holy, Jewish moments of the trip were not traditionally Jewish at all.
What does that mean for Jews to find spiritual meaning in non-Jewish prayer? Could we be just as Jewish as members of the ultra-orthodox community through this type of prayer?
When I lived in New York City, I went to an indoor-cycling gym multiple times a week called SoulCycle. SoulCycle has revolutionized fitness, with celebrities on both coasts appearing in classes. But what’s unique about Soul Cycle is the spiritual component of the class. We are told to “live your life, like you ride your bike,” “find the point when you’re on your edge and see your potential,” or simply “tune out the noise and trust your gut.” This all while feeling extremely vulnerable and at your breaking point with each challenge on that indoor bike.
I believe SoulCycle made me more spiritual. Helped me mediate. Calm my nerves. Helped me find the courage to dig deep into who I really was. And because of SoulCycle, I started to connect to Judaism more. When I was in traditional Jewish services, I started resonating with Jewish texts and prayers because I had a stronger connection to myself and their meaning to living a full life. I saw that if you looked at the translation of Jewish texts, the SoulCycle mantras were the exact same messages but in modern day language.
What if we began to praise Jews around the world for finding spirituality, even if it wasn’t in the Jewish context? What if we promoted this idea to find ways for you to be more spiritual, and in turn, that makes you more Jewish? What if we as an organized religion or community of synagogues took a leap of faith and tested to see if promoting spirituality of ANY kind to Jews would bring more “Jews of no religion” back to us?
Our Birthright community already has plans to integrate our own spirituality into our future group get-togethers. We might even read a New York Times best-seller, Conversations with God, that our Israeli tour educator recommended. If that leads us to more spirituality, and we’re in a Jewish community while finding this spirituality, isn’t that the purpose of finding our Judaism?
What if we could create a new Jewish world where Jewish young adults were spiritually invested in the Jewish community, truly in their own way? If these Jews enjoyed the prayers they were saying on the holidays? Because isn’t finding meaning and spirituality in our lives the whole reason we are Jewish?