Unity in spirituality

Last week our nation observed the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah. Most schools were closed and some offices shut down for business. I am not Jewish. I was raised Catholic, but I have a strong connection to the Jewish religion and its traditions.

My mother’s best friend, Dana, was like a second mother to me; to this day my sister and I consider her children, siblings. Dana is from Israel. We often joined her and her family for Jewish holidays and they celebrated Christmas with us.

Growing up I participated in many Jewish traditions, Bat Mitzvahs, Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Milahs, even a traditional Jewish wedding held in Dana’s apartment. They set up a chuppah right in the middle of the living room where her brother and his bride exchanged vows, then danced to Hava Nagila, my #1 favorite celebration song!

I laugh when I think about the time I sat in the hallway of Dana’s apartment eating a bologna sandwich because I couldn’t bring bread into her home during Passover. And, the very first time I attended a temple service with Dana, at the age of seven. I was so mesmerized by the rabbis and the Torah, that I leaned over to get a closer look, accidentally turning off the lights during prayer -  who brought the damn Catholic?

Great Synagogue of Rome

Great Synagogue of Rome

As a child I was intrigued by the Jewish religion, it was so different than Catholicism in its practices. I was also crazy about Dana’s mother, who we all referred to as, Softa. Softa means grandmother in Hebrew; to me, that’s who she was.

Softa lived in Israel but came to the states to visit her family every couple of years. She didn’t speak a word of English, only Hebrew, yet, somehow we connected. Softa was an extremely spiritual person, the energy around her felt sacred. As a child, I would sit with her during Shabbat in the candlelight while she prayed. I had no idea what she was saying, but I was pretty confident God was listening. I would watch her movements, her gestures. She prayed with such intensity and purpose. In her presence I felt completely connected to God; so, I prayed too.

I prayed in the language I learned to speak to God in, reciting prayers like Hail Mary and Our Father, and a few of my own. It didn’t matter that we were speaking through two different religions; we were still speaking to God, side by side.

Today, I still eat an apple with honey on Rosh Hashana in honor of the holiday, and in memory of Dana and Softa, two women I miss dearly. At my son's First Holy Communion, we danced to Have Nagila. If you catch me at a Jewish celebration, you'll see me shove my way to the center of the dance floor, the moment the song comes on.

To me, it doesn’t matter which religious path we choose. The point is, if we're on one for the purpose of what religion is truly intended; a pathway to one's better self, to get in touch with our own spirituality, to make us more open to receive and give love, or connect us to a higher power, then I’m pretty sure I have a strong connection to your religion too.