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A Mother-Daughter Journey Back To Judaism

A Mother-Daughter Journey Back To Judaism

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Ellen & Jenna
Ellen & Jenna

Ellen

“Spiritual journey”—it's a cliché, but I don't know a better way to describe my quest over the past two years. There are three things that spurred me to embark on this trip, and two of them have to do with my daughter Jenna.

The first reason I decided to plunge into learning about Judaism stemmed from feelings that emerged while doing yoga. I found that practicing yoga touched a place deep within me and made me more aware of myself in relationship to the world. I walked out of each yoga class feeling more connected to myself and others, and with a more positive outlook. I wanted to attain more of that feeling in my life off the mat, and turned to my own religion for inspiration.

Jenna acquired a thirst for Jewish knowledge in college

The second reason is that Jenna acquired a thirst for Jewish knowledge in college and has become spiritually connected in a way I never expected. I watched her incorporate Judaism into her life more and more, and while at first I was skeptical, over time I was drawn in, wanting to understand and be a part of something that had become so important to her. In fact, joining her Jewish journey on a parallel path has turned out to be one of the most beautiful and special parts of our relationship. We eagerly share Jewish books and class content, talk about different rituals we’ve experienced and joyfully spend Jewish holidays together.

The third reason I embarked on my spiritual journey had to do with an emotional outburst that Jenna had in the car coming back from a weekend yoga retreat two years ago. It was an incident that I will never forget, because it hurt so deeply and, ultimately, became a catalyst for a self-development program that I have followed with a great deal of passion. While I don’t feel comfortable sharing the details, during that car ride, Jenna expressed some criticisms of my parenting and character. After recovering from the hurt, I came to the conclusion that I could do nothing to change the past, but I could become a better person in the future—someone who Jenna would admire and want to emulate.

My New Year’s resolutions that year consisted of a list of self-development intentions, and my strategy was to use spiritual work and religion as the pathway to behavior change. It has been a spectacular journey so far: I attend a weekly Torah class at a local Chabad House, light candles every Shabbat, incorporate prayer in my morning ritual, give to others in my community, and have become a voracious reader of Kabbalistic books. I have learned and experienced so much so far and have made some marked improvements in the way I view the world and interact with those I love. Importantly, I am committed to staying on this journey for the long haul, as I know Jenna is too.

Jenna

As a child, I never really contemplated the idea of spirituality. My mom raised me to be logical; she is very bright and is the first to admit that her brain naturally functions in a rational, skeptical way – if something is true, show her the proof. This definitely rubbed off on me as a kid, and I think I developed a similar mentality. But once I left the house and became exposed to different ways of living and thinking, I began to have questions.

While on a trip to Israel in college, I realized that while I knew the Jewish cultural and holiday traditions, I had never learned the “why’s” behind them. After learning more about Jewish history, rituals and customs on that trip, I came home intrigued and have been reading books and going to lectures ever since. At first, I remember my mom’s apprehension when I began to form my own beliefs; she was surprised by my newfound interest in Judaism and quick to defend her opinions about religion. But over time, she began exploring Judaism for herself and has become equally interested in learning more about the spiritual world and meaning behind our traditions.

I came home intrigued

It’s been fascinating to watch both my mom and myself explore these concepts over time, especially since many Jewish concepts were so foreign to us just a few years ago. As I continued learning with a study partner in Washington, D.C. and my mom attended local Chabad Torah classes in New Jersey, we often shared things we were learning and swapped Jewish books.

On my latest trip to Israel this summer, more and more of my questions were answered and I became committed to living an observant Jewish life. I could sense my mom’s uneasiness once again, but she was also intrigued and constantly asked me to share what I was learning. I will never forget when I received an e-mail from her asking me if I was interested in joining her Chabad group on a trip to the Ohel, the Rebbe’s grave. My first thought was “Who is the Rebbe?!” and then I declined. But after thinking a bit more, I realized that was a huge mistake! It was the perfect opportunity to share a meaningful Jewish experience with my mom and show her how much I support her involvement with Chabad. In the end, I went on the trip, and it was a really meaningful and moving day. I realized that the more I share Judaism with my mom, the more inspired I become myself to keep growing.

We have taken our separate paths, and yet we connected in the end with very similar Jewish practices. We still struggle with our individual beliefs about G‑d and prefer different kinds of prayer services, but at the end of the day, we both agree that learning about Judaism has helped us develop into better women and lead more meaningful lives. Our relationship was not always as good as it is today. We have spent a lot of time looking deeply within ourselves, using Judaism as a way to become better mothers, daughters, friends and community members. Looking back, I think we were able to work through many past issues by harnessing lessons we learned through our spiritual endeavors.

Ellen Resnick and Jenna Gebel are co-authors of a blog called My Mother, My Daughter, My Friend where they examine different aspects of their mother-daughter relationship and celebrate their love for each other.
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