Friday night service at our little synagogue here in the small town where I live is not a major event. On an ordinary week, not many people turn up for the short service and vegetarian potluck dinner. The other night we were a handful of older women gathered to say the ancient Hebrew words and to send healing prayers into the world. We lit our Sabbath candles, just as our mothers’ did before us, and sang in celebration while dancing arm-in-arm. We welcomed the Sabbath.
Our rabbi had brought the results of a recent study about American Jewry to share with us and we discussed the data. According to a Pew Study, 2.2% of the population of the U.S. identifies as Jewish because they practice Judaism, were raised Jewish, and/or have at least one Jewish parent. The total number of Jews is estimated at approximately 6.6 million people. Of those American Jews, only 4% live in a rural community. Interestingly, 40% do not belong to a synagogue and about one-third stated they don’t believe in God. Being Jewish is an odd “category” of cultural identity. A person from any ethnic background can be Jewish, since it’s a religion of course. But it’s a distinctive culture; and absolutely, definitely not “white.” Trust me on that. Every one of us at synagogue the other night stated emphatically that we have never thought of ourselves as “white,” even though we have often felt pressured to check the “Caucasian” box on forms. Any group that has been as discriminated against and oppressed as much as we Jews will understand why we have an aversion to being lumped into the same category as the dominant culture. It just doesn’t work like that.
After our discussion of the statistics, and after we said the blessings over wine, hand-washing, and breaking bread, we sat down to our potluck dinner. Since we belong to that 4% of rural Jews, much of our food came from our own gardens. As I looked around at the other women seated at the table, I realized that almost all of us at that table grow food. One of the women keeps poultry. I have an orchard. I love living in a community where people farm and ranch, where people grow what they eat. We choose to live here because we value a life close to the earth, connected to the natural world.
So there we were, on Friday night, a small group of aging Jewish women, sending blessings and healing prayers into this beleaguered world. Dispersing gratitude, love, and light to our dangerous, poisoned, suffering planet. Counteracting the forces of destruction with our positive energy. Singing our Sabbath songs and dancing our little dance. Lighting our candles against the approaching night. Sharing the harvest from our modest gardens. My belief that our gathering for the Sabbath makes a small difference in the grand scheme of things is my leap of faith.