Donkeys and Divine Experiences

Donkeys and Divine Experiences


Tears of joy: To some, they come at the sight of a beautiful scene in nature. To others, they can be brought on by looking at an old photograph of friends you haven’t seen in forever and a year. To still others, it might be songs around a campfire or Friday night onegs that prompt the waterworks.

Eden Farber
Eden Farber

Me? I cry when a talking donkey gets kicked down by a wayward prophet.

This past summer, I spent a month learning at a seminar for Jewish high school girls, a place that has become my home away from home very quickly. One Shabbat – Shabbat Parshat Balak (the Bible portion with the story of Prophet Bila’am and the donkey) – we were in the city and given the option between two Orthodox synagogues to attend for our morning services.

One of them particularly appealed to me: Darchei Noam, an Orthodox-egalitarian minyan, also known as a partnership service. I was excited, as this seemed like it was my perfect religious fit.

I was even offered to lead a portion of the service, and without blinking an eye, I accepted the offer with a huge smile. After a very comforting practice with one of my biggest role models and most knowledgeable teachers who plays a significant role in that synagogue, I felt fully ready for this monumental religious experience.

Now, I’ve never been a person who really got stage fright or performance anxiety; I never worried about public speaking. However, this experience was to be the build-up of my entire religious life, the turning point in all that I had fought for. To preserve my voice, I did not sing at our tisch, and I went to bed anxiously awaiting the dawn of what was to be the best day ever.

As I walked into the synagogue the next day, I peered around to soak up this new experience: the equal mechitza and the voice of my teacher filling this gym-turned-palace. I took my seat.

Everything astounded me: the respect given as the woman got off the podium and a man got on was all so new, yet so right. Then, when I myself got up to take the Torah from the ark, I felt for the first time that this was my Torah that I was holding.

As I handed the Torah off to the other side, I was blown away. The Torah reading commenced, and when the reader – a woman – uttered the first word I cried. For three portions straight, I sat there and wept, tears of bliss streaming down my face.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go back and read Torah for the congregation. As I began to practice, I thought: Wow, I’m about to be the voice that brought me to tears not six months ago.

Then the moment came; it was such a liberating experience. I felt so attached to Judaism, reading out the words passed down from Moses at Sinai for the whole congregation. That feeling – that spiritual high, so to speak – was extremely powerful as it flowed through my veins that day.

It’s these kinds of religious epiphanies, spiritual excitements and theologically-centered leaps of joy that should be normal for everyone. Every single person in the entire world has the opportunity to find a religion (or an anti-religion), a denomination, a place of worship or a text to follow; and everyone deserves the opportunity to connect to a god, if they choose to believe in one.

We have six shuls on LaVista Road alone – six temples of worship, all sharing the same community, open to anyone. Some say our Jewish community is cursed to have so many different denominations, all strong-willed and present, even in small areas, but I say the opposite; we are blessed to have so many different religious opportunities and available places of worship.

As for myself, I have found one that works for me. Not myself as a part of a group of rabble-rousers, but me, the individual searching for G-d. I’m so grateful that I’ve had that opportunity to not only experience religious fulfillment, but to lead others in it.

I’m also thankful that Jews have communities worldwide and are capable of accepting everyone for their differences. If it were not for tolerance, I – a teen living in this big world – would never have found my “place” in such a way that I have.

Eden Farber, 15, is a sophomore at Yeshiva Atlanta. She was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.

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