There are so many ways to be connected to Judaism. I’ve had different kinds and levels of connection throughout my 40 years on this planet. With the holiday of Shavuot approaching (it begins at sunset on Saturday, June 11 and ends on the evening of Monday, June 13), we celebrate the giving of the Torah, and with it, the possibility for recommitting ourselves to Jewish living and Jewish life.
As a child, I connected to being Jewish through the songs we sang at camp—I was moved by the ways the melodies made me feel. As I became a Jewish adult, my bat mitzvah made me feel connected to thousands of years of Jewish history, and I gratefully accepted the responsibilities placed upon me as I entered Jewish adulthood.
As a teenager, I loved the social world of my Jewish life and I loved the hard questions my rabbi asked us in confirmation class. I liked being a “thinking Jew,” and my parents fostered in me a rebellious, questioning, and amusing self-deprecating spirit in the tradition of some of the greatest non-religious Jews in history: Freud, Marx, Einstein, Jackie Mason…I loved being a part of a tradition of intellect, brilliance, and artistry.
As I entered college and pursued Jewish learning and a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies, the complexity of my Jewish identity reached new heights: I learned how to analyze Jewish text, how to pray, why to pray, and how to have a personal and meaningful relationship with the God of the Jewish people.
I have two children and their dad and I are constantly finding new ways to raise them in this religious tradition while, still immersing them in the rich and vibrant secular culture they live and operate in. When my kids were babies and toddlers, they required almost all of my time and energy, but I made time to learn Jewish topics on the phone once a week with a study partner through Partners in Torah, which was terrific and remains a foundation of my Jewish learning as an adult.
Now that my kids are older and more independent, taking them to synagogue is much easier; they can walk farther and farther to synagogue, and they are more interested in what goes on and they even have started praying alongside of me sometimes.
I also get to learn and participate in Judaism on my own again now that they are more self-sufficient. I’ve tried out different synagogues and gotten involved in events held by organizations, like American Jewish World Service, who seek to redefine our role as Jews in the world.
As a musician from a young age and an artist raised in a house of parents who were documentary film-makers (my father who was a poet, visual artist, and photographer), I have always been drawn to artistic expression. As someone who is constantly seeking new ways to express my creative side (the book “The Artist’s Way” is a must if you’ve never read it!), a project called 54Mosaics, which was started by a close mentor of mine, has sparked my interest.
54Mosaics combines Jewish identity with creative artistic expression in a remarkable and inspiring way. Named for the 54 parshas (stories) that the Torah is divided up into, the emphasis is on how a mosaic is made up of separate tiles and how each one may be meaningful or aesthetically pleasing; however, when you put a lot of mosaics together, a larger story emerges which is much more intricate and potentially much more meaningful and beautiful than any on their own.
Here’s how it works. Each week, a question is posted inspired by the week’s parsha. Sometimes the question is literal, and sometimes it’s asking you to think outside of the (Torah) box, as it were. No matter what the question, you get to choose any way to respond creatively to the question. There’s no right or wrong way to be a part of this, which is really freeing as an artist and as a growing and learning Jew.
You can write a poem or a haiku (remember how to do that? It’s 3 lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and then 5 syllables) or you can make a drawing or a painting. You can share photos or write a song. Some people make videos of them dancing; it’s whatever you can creatively dream up. It’s about your personal take on the stories, characters, and themes that come up in each week’s parsha. Reminder to those of you who may be nervous to dip a toe into the creative world: There is no right or wrong way to do this! It’s supposed to be fun and meaningful and awesome. You can’t do it wrong!
At 54Mosaics, you can also respond to other people who have responded if that moves you. In this way, you’re sharing your artistic expression while learning about someone else’s. This opens you up to learning about art and artistic expression that you may not otherwise know about.
This process of proposing a question where other people respond happens every week for 54 weeks. And there you have it: 54Mosaics. 54Mosaics is special because it’s appropriate and a perfect fit both for people who may regularly study Torah, and also for people who might know nothing about studying Torah, or even those who think that the Torah is all made up, or not divinely inspired. It’s potentially for every Jew at any level of observance or belief. Artistic expression is our birthright, and as Jews, it’s something we value greatly: The plans for the construction of the Bet HaMikdash (temple) featured elaborate details of artistry and creativity. It’s in our tradition to express ourselves creatively.
My mentor who started this project and who poses the questions every week says that when we listen to each other and learn from each other, we show a level of trust in each other that allows us to potentially tackle bigger and more pressing problems in our world that in some cases lead to arguments, particularly among Jewish communities with differing opinions. Understanding each other and challenging each other helps us take on arguments for the sake of something greater than ourselves and also for the sake of Heaven, as it says.
Please join the community of 54Mosaics and find a new way to express your creativity and deepen your connection with a Judaism that is ever-evolving, ever-changing, and ever more beautiful the more pieces we put together. And we can only do it one way: together.