I grew up in a Jewish family. I went to a Jewish nursery school and then went to public school. From 3rd through 7th grade, I went to Hebrew school three days a week. While I excelled in public school, I spent most of the time in the office at Hebrew School for misbehaving. I can still hear the Israeli accent of my Hebrew school teacher saying, “Jill get out of my class!!” I usually tried my hardest to get kicked out of class as religion was not something I was interested in. I did enjoy the cultural aspects of Judaism, such as our family Passover Seders; those times were one of the highlights of my childhood that I remember fondly. We did not keep Kosher or observe the Sabbath/Shabbat although I was somewhat familiar with these practices. At my young age, religion represented outdated rules. There was something about religion that did intrigue me. I had many friends in high school and college who followed the Catholic religion. Spending time with their families I always admired how grace was said before eating and how the whole family went to church each week and prayed.
Coming into my first year of college in 1996, I was so excited to experience the freedom that being on my own offered me. I did my share of enjoying parties, meeting new people, becoming aware of the little bubble that I had lived within the NYC area. As I completed my first year of college, I had the opportunity to stay for the the summer and become an orientation leader for the new incoming freshman students. As that program began to end, our school sought to encourage us orientation leaders to continue leadership roles within the university. The first place that I was recruited to was the Hillel House, the Jewish Life on campus. I was actually very happy to be a part of something Jewish again. Although I did not grow up as an observant Jew, I was involved in Judaism in various pockets of my life such as lighting candles on Chanukah, going to a Shabbaton (a weekend where the Jewish Sabbath is observed with 100’s of other teenagers), or helping to lead a Jewish youth group in my local synagogue during high school. I did feel like I was missing something during my very “Jewishless” first year away from home.
Something started to change for me that second year of college. I read a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, a conservative Rabbi, called “To Life”. For the first time I stopped looking at religion as a bunch of rules and saw how these practices actually created a spiritual connection between me and G-d. As I mentioned earlier, I had always admired how my Catholic friends said grace before meals as it always felt that eating was not just arbitrary, that it served a much deeper purpose. I began saying a jewish blessing before eating, and began recognizing the depth of the experience of a meal. Eating was an opportunity to nourish my body with food that was created by G-d, and by saying a blessing, I was showing gratitude.
After experiencing my own health challenges, and my mother’s illness, the excitement and connection to eating took a down turn. I still said a bracha (hebrew word for blessing) before eating but it was often by rote. After going through a period in my life where I did not care what I was eating, it was hard to genuinely make a blessing, knowing that the food I was placing inside my body was harming me.
As time went by and I began my healing process as discussed in previous blogs, I began experimenting with different aspects of food and began a physical healing process. I learned about clean eating which involves eating food that is nutrient dense, with minimal to no processing, food without chemicals in its simplest form. Now saying a blessing began taking on a whole new meaning. Knowing that food, created by G-d was healing my body and giving me energy, made saying a blessing over food a very spiritual event.
When it comes to clean eating, I’m not saying that we should never have an energy bar, but striving to eat food in its simplest form, not made in a factory, but created by G-d in nature is something to think about. An energy bar is good as emergency food to keep with us as needed to prevent missing a meal when on the go. However, when we eat a fresh salad with different color vegetables, and a protein of choice, we are nourishing our body with vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and proteins in a code that our body recognizes. A piece of Kale is perfectly balanced biochemically just the way it was created with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamins A, C, K, fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and even omega-3 fatty acids. To take an energy bar with some protein and add the previously listed vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids is NOT the same thing as eating a piece of Kale and our intelligent body will always know the difference.
Spirituality can be a very important aspect of physical and emotional healing. A point noted is that the 12 step plan used to treat addiction makes the second step in the recovery process, “to come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. For me, delving into Judaism began a process of self growth, questioning and healing . If you do not have a spiritual practice as of yet, I suggest exploring the religion that you were born into as a starting point. If you already have a spiritual practice, are you doing things by rote? When you eat, do you feel that the food you are placing in your body is nourishing? Do you feel genuine gratitude for the food on your plate?
Our bodies are one of the greatest gifts we are given!
Now Go, Love You, Jill 🙂