Hello and welcome to the JCVT community blog! I’m Zack, the JCVT intern this spring. I’ll be writing this blog to express my perspective on Judaism in Vermont and what it means to me to create a vibrant community here!
More about me: I’m a senior at UVM studying Community Entrepreneurship and Community Development. I joined JCVT this past fall and will be carrying out my internship through the spring semester to explore non-profit management, communications, and more. I’m a passionate athlete and have been practicing Judo since I was a freshman at UVM. I’ve also spent a lot time in the Czech Republic and Israel this past year studying, working, and traveling.
I’d like to take all the experiences and views from my education, travels, and even sports to explore what does it mean for us to create a connected community like ours here in Vermont. In our modern age we often find ourselves more isolated than ever before. This blog series exists to help us understand what it means to be a conscious and an engaged community member, why it matters, and the timeless importance of having community in our lives.
Making the deliberate choice to belong to a synagogue says something about our values. This post will explore the importance of knowing our own values and how our Jewish communities can support our journey of discovering our truth.
This past week I was prompted by a friend to search for my values. More specifically, my task was to write down 5 truths which I believe in. This sounded easy at first, “of course I can list five things I believe in!”, I thought, “how can someone not know their own beliefs?”. Yet, as the reality of the question sunk in, I realized I don’t entirely know what it is I believe in. I may live each day with direction as I make conscious decisions in how I live, but it dawned on me that I am not aware of the deeper mechanisms driving me and which set my course. I don’t think my situation is unique either for many young adults. An unfortunate reality is that many aren’t pressured to investigate their own values in contrast to our society, and in some regards we may even be discouraged from doing so. It’s no secret that our lives have become increasingly encroached upon by distractions and we’re left to filter out the noise in order to pursue meaning past the superficial. The nature of investigating oneself is that its challenging. It can be easier to go on living as business as usual without having taken a glance within. Truth…the truth can be both elusive and uncomfortable. Recognizing truth can make us feel vulnerable and as Al Gore would eloquently put it, the truth can be “inconvenient”. However, as easy as it is for us to put it aside, we cannot escape our truths. Whether we like it or not, we have values which direct us and our actions even if we aren’t aware of them. Taking the time to look inward and ask what it is we believe in is a powerful step towards knowing oneself and living with purpose.
When approaching the task of finding out what my beliefs are, I was compelled to look at my actions first. The logic being that even if I’m not aware of my beliefs, I recognize that I have beliefs which drive my actions. By examining our actions, which are objective and measurable, we can infer a pattern of underlying values behind them. In essence, the question is “what do your actions say about you?”. It’s not the easiest question to ask if you’re like me and often act and make decisions without much conscious thought. I’ll use myself as an example here in dissecting two actions of mine and asking how they are driven by values and beliefs. First, I’m a student at UVM studying Community Entrepreneurship. Now, in this sentence alone there’s a lot to work with for my values. As a student, I value learning and my education, I believe in improving myself, and I’m open to new experiences. Studying Community Entrepreneurship means I value the social development of society and I value the freedom of individuals to pursue their dreams. My second action is that I’m an athlete and I aspire to compete and teach my sport to others one day (the sport being Judo). Again, this says a lot about who I am in just a few words. I value challenge in my life and I value having goals to aspire towards. By looking at just two sections of my life I’ve found numerous beliefs behind those actions. This can imply that there’s an underlying intelligence to who we are; behind our actions is a deeper guidance that comes from the depths within, beyond the frontiers of our awareness. Someone may not yet know of a purpose they’re to fulfill, but they can trust that their actions are not aimless. If anything, they can deduce that they have everything they need within them, here and now to live their life to their fullest purpose. This comes down to that we are already enough and always have been, which can be a radical idea in our day and age. By acknowledging our intuition which guides us, we can learn to recognize our core beliefs and celebrate who we are deep down. However, in learning about ourselves it will more than likely occur to us that all too often we don’t act in accordance to our root values. We often know it when we feel it too; the feeling of guilt when we said something hurtful we didn’t mean to say, or the feeling of regret after spending the evening watching TV when we meant to go to the gym. Accepting this can be painful and we will likely find it easier to continue avoiding changing our behaviors. Our feelings serve to guide us though, those feelings of guilt and regret can be powerful tools to help us find out our values. We may not always know what it is we should do, but we can definitely sense what it is we shouldn’t do! Again, we return to the idea that we are already enough as we are and have all the tools we need within ourselves.
As we uncover what we believe in and what it is we stand for, we should find there are obligations and commitments we live our life by. To have a belief is to have an obligation, which of course can be traced back to our actions. For example, if I were to diligently recycle (which truthfully, I need to work on), I could say that I believe in sustaining the environment for future generations. From this belief is then an obligation I have to protecting the environment. When you have an obligation to a belief, there is no choice in how you act. Even if I were to “not feel like it” one day when it came to recycling, I would know and feel within me that I should do it anyways. When we have a commitment to a cause bigger than ourselves, we find purpose. Even being committed to oneself can have broader implications. If I believe I value myself and am committed to taking care of myself and being healthy (something I definitely need to work on!), I should eventually conclude that everyone has value and that I have an obligation to take care of others who need help. In this way, our values can be universal. Through believing in caring for ourselves we can recognize the value in caring for others. The journey of finding what I believe in has brought me to recognize what it is I’m committed to, which purpose then emerges.
So, perhaps at this point you’ve asked yourself “what does this have to do with Judaism or the Jewish Communities of Vermont?!”. However, I would ask “what doesn’t this have to do with those?”. We talk a lot about Jewish values. Through examining how we express these values we can find what they mean to us. Throughout Vermont, Jewish communities gather together each week to celebrate Shabbat. This act, having been carried out for millennia throughout the world, symbolizes the belief that community is a cornerstone to our lives. To come together to celebrate and separate from the week shows a belief in taking care of ourselves, that there is value in rest. I have heard it be said before that as much as Jews sustain the tradition of Shabbat, the tradition of Shabbat sustains the Jews. Our Jewish lives may often be compartmentalized, reserved for Friday nights or Saturday mornings. This doesn’t need to be the case however. If we believe in taking care of ourselves is important during Shabbat, surely that same principle can apply throughout the week as well. In Judaism we also have mitzvot, the obligations given in the Torah. For some Jews, these serve as a system of guidance which encompasses their entire lives, while for many others they can still serve to inspire their own beliefs and values. The degree of observance to mitzvot isn’t important, rather what is important is knowing your own beliefs and obligations. Finding what it is you believe in is a powerful step in building community, as there is no community without a foundation of beliefs and values. By participating in our Jewish community, we are standing up for our values that drive us and shape our lives. I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to find what it is that drives them, what it is they believe in, and celebrate those values in their community. By living with purpose and intention first, we can create communities which reflect those.
Belonging to a synagogue is an act with purpose. If you belong to a synagogue, I encourage you to explore why you are a member. Ask yourself “what is the purpose that I’m there?”. The purpose may not be clear, it hardly ever is, but asking ourselves these questions is a first step towards becoming more engaged and intentional community members. A community is only as strong as its members, and it can only serve a purpose if its members live with purpose.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Oh, and if you were wondering what my five truths were, here they are:
- I believe that I love myself
- I believe it’s important for people to improve themselves
- I believe that one should never give up on their dreams
- I believe that we are already enough to live a good life
- I believe a life without challenges would be a boring one