The beginning of this story starts with a journey. A somewhat benign one, in fact. Throughout this journey, the question of identity lingered in my mind. Then a new understanding arose.
Imagine yourself on day one of a free 10 day journey through Israel. This is your first time outside of North America and Europe. You might be wondering, “how did I get here,” “who are these people,” “what is this culture,” “how do this culture and I fit together,” or “does the food taste good here?”
Those question were floating around in my head as I began my 10 day journey. But I had left the States with another question lingering in my mind, “what is my Jewish identity?” The answer to this question is often a yes or no — are you Jewish or not. But that didn’t sit right for me. I wasn’t not Jewish nor was I Jewish. (Rest assured, this confused my interviewer during my application process too.)
Now it’s day two of your trip. Things start to speed up. Every day is an endless roll of new impressions from the mellow flow of rowing down the Jordan River, to the community atmosphere of a kibbutz, to the roaring energy of Tel Aviv, to the magnificent unforeseen beauty of the desert.
Somewhere in all of that you find yourself on a long bus ride across Israel, a question in your mind, and your knowledgeable tour guide next to you. You think, ‘there is a lot of time and I do have some questions.’
As I found myself in this situation, I began to talk about how I enjoyed that the information being presented to us during the trip encouraged us to come to our own understanding of what we were seeing — the difference of ‘why is it this way’ vs ‘it is this way.’ I then continued to discuss my background in philosophy and religion and how I’ve always been fascinated by religious texts philosophically but they often seem out of touch with the day to day of reality. How can literature of human experience written thousands of years ago never change? This opened up a meaty conversation which concluded with the notion that everyone deserves the right to demand meaning and answers — to question.
This reciprocal process of questioning and growth with others, brings to life old texts. It makes them real and it has been happening since the creations of the texts themselves, as people throughout history continue to grapple with their meanings.
The trip continues. You find yourself at the last few days of the trip. You volunteer yourself to do a mini bar mitzvah ceremony, since you’ve never had one before. Now you are asked to come up with something to say during the ceremony and to read a passage from the Torah.
In the mix of going through this experience I reconnected with my initial question when I started on the trip, “am I Jewish?” Yes or no. It is then I realized, I deserve the right to question this notion and to answer it in my own way. Here is what came to:
I am in a constant state of becoming.
It is not true to the reality of my experience to say I am or I am not something because I am continuously exploring what is means to be that thing. Sure, for practical reasons, at any given moment in the timeline I may be or may not be the thing. But over the course of the timeline I am in a continuous state of self discovery and growth along a trajectory.
This is true for the whole of my identity, including all parts. I am in a constant state of becoming me. What that means is I am never fully defined. Therefore I am always growing and changing throughout my life. That feels more real to my experience.
There is a peace in the constant state of becoming. It means you have permission to experiment, explore, question, learn, discover, and more. It means you can never truly mess up or be wrong. Everything is fuel toward a greater self understanding and becoming.
[This post also on my Medium.]