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Making Judaism My Home — Linda Kinning

August 30, 2023 Mishkan Chicago
Contact Chai
Making Judaism My Home — Linda Kinning
Show Notes Transcript

Today’s episode is a Shabbat Replay from last Friday’s service on August 25th, our “Back to Shul” Shabbat when we blessed learners of all ages from families sending children off to school to college students leaving to our cohort of Exploring Judaism students, some of whom recently took a momentous dip in the mikvah. As you will hear, we welcomed these new Jews to our community, and were greatly inspired by the moving words of guest drasher Linda Kinning, a Jew by Choice who offered, in her words, an outsider perspective on the beauty of Jewish tradition and the power of the High Holidays.

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Produced by Mishkan Chicago. Music composed, produced, and performed by Kalman Strauss.


So this summer, we welcomed, I believe, 38 New Jews, into the Jewish people.

And there's a variety of different pathways that people find into our community, whether it's getting back in touch with a heritage that they've already known about, or perhaps discovered through 23andme.Or because it's because they're in love with another Jewish person are raising Jewish children. Or it's because they just happened across this amazing tradition, this amazing people. That's amazing history, and they fell in love with that. And so, this is the Shabbat in which we celebrate the completion of that process for our conversion and affirmation students. And before I invite all of those who are up here up here to embarrass them with love and joy.

I want actually one of them to share her story with all of you about how she came the Jewish people. So Linda, why are you coming up? Yo, come

Hello, Shabbat shalom.

This morning, I woke up and I biked a very life affirming 18 miles to Lake Michigan. And I walked out a proud Jew.

Thank you, thank you. This story of how I came to this moment in time can be told a million different ways, with even more characters and plot twists and stories of revelation and reflection. And I hope to tell these stories over time and see how they shine and age.

But this story could have a million different permutations and still and the same way. Because when you found a home for your spirit, and people you want to show up with and work to heal the world with you join them.

And I've spent the past year learning and studying and practicing to join the Jewish people. And in some ways, it feels really vulnerable to get up here and say hi, I knew I didn't go to Jewish summer camp. And this is the first time I have seen one of these candies, which I know is special.

Gonna save this one.

But I think the most Jewish thing I can do to mark this transition in time is to bring voice to the outsider perspective that I carry with me and to honor the journey of learning that brought me here today.

The very first Shabbat service I attended was in San Francisco Shahar is the have a really beautiful congregation. And the Parsha. That week was like, Haha, go forth. And I remember laughing with God because at that time, I was weeks away from putting everything I owned in storage and living out of a suitcase for an undetermined amount of time. I was about to go forth on a journey from California to Tokyo, and maybe South America, and eventually Chicago. Hello, thank you.

So nice. I'm gonna talk with you afterwards.

And I had no idea how long I would be gone.

And I spent the next six months wandering geographically, but coming home spiritually, and Mishkan has been a huge part of that homecoming. I spent years searching for divine practice and community in my travels and my life. And I picked up a few things that felt really good. That felt like enough. I picked up meditation from Buddhism, connection with divinity in the woods, and crafting my own rituals of reflection and song and things that often involved candlelight.

Last month, I was in Bali, watching priests perform beautiful rituals with incense and rice and colors and chants. And while I could appreciate it, what I remember most is the overwhelming sense of home that I felt in Judaism the sense that I'm not searching anymore, and I wasn't looking for spiritual belonging and community in the rice fields of barley because I had already found it

and for peace

beaucoup inherited this home, you're really lucky.

And I understand that there may be some baggage stored in the basement that has been passed down over generations. And you are intimately aware of the cobwebs and the ghosts and the parts of the house that you don't love. And I will admit that there is a benefit to moving into a new house. There's a freshness and a freedom in choosing where to live and put down roots. And for folks who inherited juicy Judaism I'd like to share with this house looks like from the outside to illuminate the features that make it worth learning a new language and working with a spiritual realtor for over a year before being allowed to move in.

In the early days, I asked a lot of questions. And I read a lot of books, which I was delighted to know with a very Jewish approach to learning. And the book surprised by God by Rabbi Danya, Ruttenberg was especially transformative. I was reading page after page of what felt like it was written out of my own experience. I was reading about different expansive conceptions of God that I thought I had just made up in my own head. And reading about these different concepts of God that stemmed from Judaism was like finding out that there are other native speakers of the language that I had just made up in my bedroom, my understanding of divinity as the force that connects all life,

and togetherness, and here, I was reading it from a rabbi, she was saying the same thing with more depth and possibility and textual support. What I deeply appreciated.

Here was a whole community of people who yes defined God in infinitely nuanced and sometimes contradictory ways. And yet, the religion and concept of divinity itself was strong enough to hold all of that complexity and diversity. Here's a tradition that required wrestling with God, and is seldom satisfied with simple answers. It was like describing the ideal party that I wanted to be invited to, and then realizing that my neighbor had been hosting it for the last 5783 years.

In San Francisco, I found a beautiful Jewish community to learn with and to help me make sense of the study call to Judaism that had left me feeling both excited and surprised. I had lived all of my adult life happily and enthusiastically non religious after a childhood of difficult religious experiences.

And adopting a religious practice and identity is not the obvious move for 30 Something urbanite in this day. And I asked myself if I could just be content with a theoretical understanding of divinity that I had found in Judaism. And maybe I could just be content with this newfound understanding of divinity as action and breadth and connection.

But one of the ways that I feel most at home in Judaism is the emphasis on practice and collective action. We pray with a minion because we know that we need each other to heal the world. And we honor that indepent interdependence.

We talk about practice more than faith because we know that how we live out our values is more important than what we profess.

I finally finally found a community of practice to make meaning with and I was just about to leave it. I was about to be a stranger in a strange land, and I was scared, I would lose the tether of Judaism that I was so ready to wrap myself in. I was moving to Tokyo, a country I do not speak the language. But Judaism is exceptionally good at comforting strangers in a strange land. And the tools that we have the Torah, the meats, vote Shabbat, prayers and rituals for marking time and change are exceptionally well suited for making meaning in times of transition. This home is made to be portable, adaptable and resilient. And we honor this home and our ability to make it wherever Jews are with the succah, the Mishkan and the Shabbat table.

So I went forth, and I found home in celebrating Shabbat in Tokyo, every week with candles and a visit to the public baths on Friday night. I called it Shabazz. And I took the long slow walk back home.

I visited the Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and ancient forests, and I felt Hashem dwelling in those quiet holy places to

I celebrated Rosh Hashanah in a hotel room in Shibuya tuning into services.

is streamed out of Australia, feeling out of sync with every Jew I knew. And reflecting on the New Year, and meditatively, counting the seeds of a pomegranate. There were more than 613

I said hummock see on doughnuts and croissants and French baguettes, and every bread that could get me closer to holla.

I said that the shehecheyanu for cherry blossoms, the juiciest strawberries I have ever tasted. And for climbing Mount Fuji for the first time,

Judaism became my home for making meaning and finding joyful rhythms in a new place.

But this past year has also held lots of grief and hardships too. I lived in a country I can't communicate. And I moved back to Chicago, which is a homecoming but it's a city that holds a lot of history for me, and I'm trying to start fresh. I've experienced more loneliness and uncertainty about the future than I'd like. And I feel the weight of the climate crisis every day. And if I read too much of the news, it can feel like the world is ending.

But we know something about how to hold both joy and grief at the same time. And we have a 2500 year old playbook for living what through feels like the end times.

As we prepare for the High Holidays, I'm reminded of the first time I learned that the celebratory Jewish New Year was in such close proximity to the somber Yom Kippur war. I couldn't remember which one came first. But coming from a Christian culture, the redemption sequence of hard time, followed by newness and celebration made sense to me. The narrative that there's a light at the end of the tunnel made me assume that the High Holidays would end with Rosh Hashanah. And when I learned that Rosh HaShana, a day of apples and honey and cheer and delight was followed by nine days of all culminating in a 25 hour fast and a dress code reminiscent of funeral attire. I was surprised.

Why would this dress rehearsal for our deaths follow the celebration of the new year

after a year spent living and learning to view the world with Jewish eyes, the sequence now makes sense to me.

This sequence says Wake up, celebrate the sweetness of life. Hug your loved ones, we know that death is coming and that we aren't perfect. And we may not know how the book of life ends for us. But we have an obligation to choose life and practice every day to make this place on Earth more divine.

I'm choosing a Jewish life because this practice in living is the best way I know how to make meaning and understand divinity

and choosing this Jewish home because I can see my values on the mantel and the doorposts because the kitchen smells like challah and always has extra chairs to welcome and feed the stranger.

Because the walls are covered in history that can be peeled back like wallpaper to reveal generational wisdom.

Because I know that I could spend a lifetime exploring this house and still find new things to learn.

I'm choosing this Jewish home because the neighbors rock and because we have a strong foundation to weather uncertainty and find joy and divinity in everyday home maintenance. Today marks one of the happiest days of my life. Thank you for celebrating with me.

Wow, wow, wow. Wow. Wow. Now you all know why teaching this amazing group of people is one of my favorite things to do. This is also when I get a little teary. I know I'm not crying you're. I'm not crying. You're crying. All crying.


Linda, if you want to stand up there, we're gonna have some we need some helpers. Lizzie if you want to offer your tally. I will offer mine and we need some helpers to help create a canopy for all of our newly converted newly affirmed Jews in the room. So I see Ray. I see Jacob I see Quincy I see. MATT I see Casey I see Zach and Jen and Naomi and Shai sorry and Tad

Max and Karolina and Catia and Avery and Brandon, and kales and Casey. Oh my god, okay

and we tried

Do something here.


I'm gonna I'm gonna try to like can I go this way?

I don't know if I have slack. There we go. Okay, okay. Oh and Hannah. So I'm going to, I'm going to I'm going to address you all by your, by your new names if I can, like try to like find your eyes we have.

We have Levana roots, but Avraham was Sarah and hi Ziva Avraham, Massara and Zahava. But I remember Sarah and ravine been AB rumba, Sarah and Asha Yatta. Corbin Avraham was Sarah and Hamish and Avraham vasara and Shem Ben baru, Carolyn and arias Ben Avraham vasara and Hannah but Avraham fissara and Leila me Bates, Avraham fissara and Jana tan and our MBSR and Daveed and Avraham fissara.

and higher Toba, Mia Bates, Avraham besar and Haviv Ben Avraham, viscera and Shamir as reinvade Avraham pesaran You Who did your safe debates around visaro and may ear been Abra, Massara and Rivkah I remember Sarah

and Abraham bendiocarb And Alvin Bazar and I think I think I got all of you.

It's a miss anybody. Okay, so before we sing, before we sing joyously to welcome you even more into this community just want to say every every year teaches me something new about this tradition, because every group of folks affirming their place in the Jewish community brings something different and something unique and this year in particular, just reminded me of the dynamic nature of Judaism that it is big enough to hold our uniqueness and it is expansive enough to hold our growing edges and it is joyous enough to meet us in our celebration.

It's compassionate enough to know the rupture and the brokenness that we sometimes hold

it is a living breathing thing.

And we as a Jewish people are so much better are so much better because each and every one of you is part of it.

Thank you, thank you for making us a better place to be thank you for reminding us how beautiful this tradition is. Right You're making me cry now.

You are truly a blessing. Each of us truly a blessing