Sunday, June 6, 2010

Confirmation: Judaism in a Time of Trouble

Last night, in a Havdalah Service, 17 teens from our synagogue completed their formal religious school education by confirming their Jewish identities. The Havdalah service is an innovation from the Shabbat evening or Shabbat morning services where Confirmation is usually celebrated, and our kids decided to do it that way to provide a service that would be more uniquely focused on their reflections of what it means to be confirming their Jewishness.

The Havdalah itself is a beautiful service in which we recognize the separation between the holy and the ordinary; such separations are the identifying characteristic of Judaism, which in turn separates it from other religions that have other focuses. The very word havdalah means separation, and at the end of every Shabbat, we pause to both say good-bye to the sabbath and to hold onto some of its sweetness and peace as we enter into the productive week ahead.
Because of these meanings, the Havdalah is a good gate through which to come to the celebration and confirmation of Jewishness that marks the end of our children's religious school years.

Confirmation as a life-cycle event was borrowed by the early German Reformers in the 19th Century from the Lutherans, and it fulfills a need that didn't exist in the traditional Jewish cultures of Europe before that. Bar Mitzvah, and in modern times Bat Mitzvah, is the traditional ceremony marking an individual's responsibility to the commandments. Confirmation in Christianity varies in its meaning, but in most cases serves as a coming of age lifecycle marker, as well as having the religious meaning of marking a mature statement of faith and conferring adult membership in the church. In Judaism, confirmation is not so much a statement of faith as it is a statement of identity. This is because no form of modern Rabbinic Judaism requires agreement with a specific creed or set of beliefs for membership; rather membership in the Jewish people comes by birth or by adoption as a child or adult into the People of Israel.

In Judaism, Confirmation marks the end of a period in the lives of a group of children; a period in which they studied and grew towards Jewish adulthood together, sharing in experiences that mark them as members of a distinct people, that mark them as Jews. But further, the experience of distinction, of belonging to a unique civilization within the larger culture, when it is shared in a small group of individuals brings them together in relationships that are nearly as close as siblings. And especially in places where there aren't many Jews, being brought up in two cultures and consciously choosing different moral perspectives and practices sets a child apart from the dominant culture shared by most of his schoolmates. As the Rasta-Jew put it in his Confirmation Reflection: "Sometimes I felt like I was the only Jew in the whole State of New Mexico. But when I came to Hebrew School every week, I knew I was not alone." His statement reflects the fact that being Jewish in the diaspora is an excercise in radical individuality; it requires a person to be very aware of why he does what he does. It is a kind of swimming against the stream that Christians in the West have not experienced until very recently, as anti-religious progressivism has begun to rise.

And in these times, when collectivism is once again on the rise, and when economic instability and fear for the future have led much of the world to embrace once again the modern antisemitism of Europe, watching one's child stand to confirm his Jewish identity evokes a certain solemn pride mixed with the joy of a son reaching toward manhood. This week especially, as we have watched the world condemn the State of Israel for having the temerity to defend the lives and property of her citizens, and as the collectivists of the world rush to delegitimize Israel not for her faults but for her virtues, this Confirmation ceremony served both as an oasis of peace and joy in the midst of trouble, and as a moment of realization that by bringing our son into the covenant we have placed him in danger. For as ever, when the state becomes god, the Jew becomes the first demonstration of what happens to those who will not bow down.

"The time is coming," said Dumbledore to Harry Potter, "When we all must choose between what is easy and what is right." Harry Potter, at much the same age as our children who stood to confirm their Jewish identity, grew to manhood in a time when evil was rising in his world. The time is coming for us now in America, when we must choose between the security of slavery to a universal collectivist state, and our Liberty as free men and women to forge our own individual lives. It is clear from the renewed demonization of Jews, that once again we stand as the canaries in the coal mine; the ones whose stubborn refusal to lose our distinctiveness, our right not to assimilate, will be attacked first. But what happens to us is what will happen to anyone who will not bow down.


"First, they came for the Jews . . ."


Activities Coordinator said...

Swimming upstream. Come on in. The water is rough, but it beats the fisherman's net!

Retriever said...

Special prayers for your son and all your family on this solemn and joyous occasion. May our Lord bless, preserve and keep him always close and walking the paths of righteousness. And you must have felt proud, Mama! :)