Looking for Spiritual Connection Through Ritual: A ‘Wondering Jew’ Shares Her Story at the Bender JCC

Written by Sky Adler on . Posted in Arts & Entertainment

Chatting before an audience of about 100 people, CNN correspondent David Gregory recently spoke with author Abigail Pogrebin about her recently published book “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew” as part of the Lessans Family Literary Series at the Bender JCC in Rockville, Maryland.Beyond detailing Pogrebin’s personal journey of discovery through Jewish ritual observance, the book explores the question of whether American Jews would feel a stronger connection with Judaism as a religion — rather than the primarily ancestral or cultural association identified in the 2013 Pew Research Center study — if they knew more about it. Both Pogrebin and Gregory shared their thoughts on finding the meaning in ritual and exploring one’s heritage at the November 5 event.

Pogrebin is the daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a well-known activist who started Ms. Magazine with Gloria Steinem. Raised as a secular Jew, she said she possessed minimal knowledge of Torah and Jewish customs prior to a reporting assignment about a Jewish community, which piqued her curiosity and inspired her to learn more.

Pogrebin described the realization that she wanted to sense a profound spiritual connection with G-d. To that end, she dedicated an entire year to studying, writing about, and celebrating the 18 Jewish holidays.

One of her takeaways from the experience was that the holiday rituals play an important role in a spiritual connection because “doing leads to feeling.” She also said that she regretted her initial naivete in thinking that participating in the rituals and prayers alone would conjure the feeling she was looking for. As the holidays progressed, she found that reading the texts and learning the stories behind the holidays significantly enhanced her understanding and reinforced her connection to Judaism.

Gregory, author of “How’s Your Faith?”, was raised in an interfaith household by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and touched on parallels between the two religions and his experiences learning more about Judaism as an adult. Gregory attends Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., and he and wife Beth Wilkinson, who is Methodist, have publicly spoken about raising their children in the Jewish faith.

In course of the Q&A portion of the event, it was noted that people in previous generations of American Jewry participated in Jewish life, in many ways, without seeking an intellectual understanding of the principles behind the rituals. Today, by contrast, many younger Jews are more interested in the “why” than the “how” of ritual observance. Gregory and Pogrebin encouraged the audience to explore their own spirituality and be open to following it down whatever path it leads.

 By Sky Adler