The journey back from Berlin to Bozeman meant going back to being Jewish in America. This raised questions for me of whether I am more of a German Jew or an American Jew. I’d never found a congregation in the U.S. where I felt fully comfortable, but taking part in Jewish life in Berlin gave me a stronger connection to Judaism. My return to the States put the brakes on my Jewish identity journey for the time being.
Stepping back into Bozeman also meant a difficult decision about whether to rejoin our local congregation where we felt only partially at home. One of the first discussions I had with our rabbi after returning to Bozeman was about my daughter’s bat mitzvah. Olivia had been struggling for quite some time to decide if her coming of age ritual would be a bat mitzvah or something outside the Jewish faith. As I listened to the rabbi recite the long list of official guidelines, I was stunned to hear that she would be required to keep a punch card to mark her attendance at shabbat services. She would need to have ten punches on the card during the year leading up to her bat mitzvah, with no free coffee or hot chocolate to reward her at the end! Since this discussion took place, I can’t seem to erase from my mind the image of my daughter holding up her punch card to the rabbi after Friday night services.
Would my daughter really be more Jewish when the card was full? If she learned her Torah portion and the requisite prayers, why couldn’t she carve her own path to her bat mitzvah and Jewish adulthood? Wouldn’t a single profound experience at services be worth more than half a dozen boring ones? Judaism in America feels formulaic to me at times and the punch card rule symbolized a structure within which I often feel more constrained than inspired.
For now, Olivia has decided to postpone her bat mitzvah and that’s fine with me. She and I each have to find our own individual paths to a meaningful Jewish life, whether we live in Bozeman or Berlin.