21

I turned sixteen a couple of weeks ago and the real world is starting to open up to me. My father is a Christian, but my mother is Jewish which makes myself and my siblings Jewish. We went to synagogue sometimes when I was a lot younger and we stopped about when I turned 12.

At the time, I didn't really think about it. I lived my normal life. I have only celebrated mainly two Jewish holidays: Chanukkah and Passover. I did go to Hebrew school, but only for a little while. I never had a Bar Mitzvah, I do not know the Hebrew language. I cannot read the Torah in Hebrew. I don't know many Jewish traditions and holidays such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot, Shavuot, etc.

I've just had some sudden urge to get closer to G-d, learn Jewish Law, and learn Hebrew, but I only have a little experience. What are some ways that I can fit in with a Jewish Community? What are some ways a person my age can become more religious? I have been thinking that I could maybe even shift over to a little less reform and more Orthodox.

  • 3
    Check out your local shul or Chabad House. – mroll May 29 '18 at 3:13
  • 6
    Check out partnersintorah.org – LN6595 May 29 '18 at 3:39
  • 2
    Simpletoremember.com – LN6595 May 29 '18 at 3:40
  • 4
    Welcome to MiYodeya Connor. Great to have you learn with us! – mbloch May 29 '18 at 3:47
  • 3
    Spend a lot of time on Mi Yodeya. – Alex Jun 1 '18 at 6:52
18

Welcome and congratulations on your search and efforts!

Beyond the suggestions above (first and foremost to approach the rabbi in a local synagogue or Chabad house), there are a number of websites which I have used at different points in time with a focus on beginners. They might be helpful to access Jewish content and start learning regularly.

There is also a wonderful organization called NJOP which developed classes which are delivered in hundreds of synagogues across the US and Canada, specifically they have a Crash Course in Basic Judaism, Hebrew Reading Crash Course and Crash Course in Jewish History.

If you prefer books, this is a very good list from MY user ezra targeted at beginners (which in Judaism is a compliment, not a criticism!) or here from MY user Chanoch for a shorter list.

  • 7
    Those four sites and the NJOP crash course in Hebrew reading all helped me when I decided that Judaism mattered and I didn't know where to go next. – Monica Cellio May 29 '18 at 12:56
  • NJOP is a terrific suggestion! I have met Rabbi Buchwald, personally, several times before he began NJOP. I don't know how involved he is with NJOP, currently. They, themselves, do terrific work. I would caution, however against some shuls that might participate in some of their programs, esp. Shabbat Across America. Some of the participatory shuls don't necessarily promote a "consistent" Shabbat observant ideal. E.g., the majority of the shul's members are non-Shabbat observers. – DanF May 29 '18 at 16:56
  • 2
    @DanF Agree! I also know R Buchwald personally, very well actually. He was my rav when I lived in NY. He has been involved as the leader of NJOP for the past 31 years. But I know what you mean: they make their content available to a variety of institutions - and the delivery depends on the local shul. Still their content is highly relevant to the OP so hopefully he can find an authentic rav to deliver the classes – mbloch May 29 '18 at 16:58
  • 1
    @mbloch Nice to meet a former "Wink 'N Starer" :-) Yes, the materials are terrific and so are their programs. But, unfortunately, much of the learning can be quickly undone by attending the wrong shul. – DanF May 29 '18 at 17:01
6

In addition to the fine answer by mbloch, I'd like to touch on a few points not mentioned there.

Be sure not to grow too fast. You're in a tough situation, living in a family which I assume is not interested in keeping Torah. You also have a non-Jewish father, which complicates things. Remember that there is no shame in growing slowly, tackling each mitzvah one by one until you're heading towards full observance.

If you do pursue a more religious life while continuing to live in your parent's home, I'd advise you to be very careful with your approach to observance. Most likely you will receive some form of opposition. Proceed with caution here! Live as a good example and show your family that your observance of Torah makes you a better person - perhaps you will even influence them to start performing certain mitzvot themselves.

3

Your story sounds very similar to mine. I grew up "Jewish" but was in no way religious. Throughout my teenage years and college I learned more what it meant to be Jewish and to connect with my heritage.

My advice to you is to make it a journey. When I started to make my own decisions and figure out what my religion meant, I had no goal or end in mind. I didn't (for Sure) think it would lead me to living in Eretz Yisrael in a religious Yishuv in the Negev raising a religious family. And still, it is a journey.

For me and my wife, we took it one step at a time. We started keeping kosher, we started keeping Shabbos. Little by little we experimented and learned halacha and incorporated what we could and we're comfortable with. What we couldn't connect with, we didn't. Feel free to check out our blog that has some info on our journey: headingupwards.com

I think the most important thing though is "kol hakavod" to you. It takes strength at your age to have the confidence to even ask that question. Keep that courage and make your own journey and your own path. Surround yourself with people who will support you as you figure it out.

2

@Connor,

Thanks for your brave post. I really hope you will stick around this site. I stuck around, and I have this site's guidance to thank, in significant part, for the meaning I have found in my own life.

Because your mother is Jewish, you were born with automatic access to a treasure-house of literally the best things in the world. I am talking about a history of holiness, a durable commitment to G-d across long time and space that is absolutely unprecedented and unmatched in human history. About a code of law that stitches life and lives together with methodicalness and seriousness, with memory and with light. About tradition, yes -- and also about a present in which Jews flourish in their Land and in the world, building it up and making it holy and imbuing it with righteousness and kindness and genius in a way quite unexpected -- and about a future in which we envision, expect, and pray that these good things will have filled the world to the exclusion of all evil. And you are part of all this. Indeed, you are the whole.

It is an incalculable privilege, and one which our people has paid dearly to safeguard and pass along to you. You are sixteen, which means you have your whole adult life ahead of you. You can choose, now, essentially any path in which to invest the energy of your future, and it is likely that you will live to see the results. Decisions made at age sixteen do not always persist, but if they are of a certain kind, they may.

Sixteen is a very good time to start learning Torah. Learning Torah is the life's work of a Jew, and the earlier you start, the easier it is to do well. I would recommend finding your nearest Chabad House using this link and stopping by, either on Shabbos or during the week, to talk to the rabbi. If the rabbi isn't there, go back later. If you don't like the rabbi, try a different Chabad House. Tell them you are serious about learning and would like to make up for lost time and go further. Bring your siblings if you can convince them -- and your parents, too, if you like. And then, don't stop there: go back as often as you can, and see where it takes you.

As you start keeping Shabbos, you'll find yourself with an amazing thing: time to read. And so read these two books: The Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life and This Is My G-d. Both are far more readable and interesting than what I have just written.

You are very lucky to be thinking of these questions now instead of later, because you have the rare chance to get it right the first time, rather than desperately try to revise things at midlife or, like almost everyone, during your last days on Earth. If you approach Judaism with love and happiness and pleasure and meaning, it can fill your whole life with happiness and pleasure and love and meaning -- and also deep coherence -- in a way that few things can. It is not easy or straightforward. But even the mistakes and wrong turns and failures will be permeated with a subtle but unmistakable light if they were reached through an honest attempt to live for G-d.

The Almighty should always help and be kind to you in your search for good life.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .