Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: The Story Behind the Book
I am the author of Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Life-Affirming Secular and Spiritual Observances.
Many people have asked me what inspired me to write this book. Here's a brief synopsis of that journey...
I was raised in a secular Jewish household. This means that my family identified as being culturally Jewish but was not religious. My family did not attend synagogue services but did enjoy family celebrations of several of the more prominent Jewish holidays, such as Passover, Rosh Ha-Shanah, and Hanukkah. I attended a secular Jewish "Sunday School" for several years as a pre-teen.
Fast-forward a bunch of years. As a new mom, I became increasingly interested in connecting more meaningfully to my heritage and incorporating Jewish rituals into family traditions. I wanted my children to identify with their Jewish ancestry in a way that felt natural and joyful. It had to be an authentic experience that reflected both Judaism and my own worldview. It would not be sufficient to simply re-enact rituals that did not ring true in my heart; nor would it be appropriate to make up rituals that weren't legitimate observances of the holidays.
I investigated books about the Jewish holidays. While there was no shortage of books and I did find some useful information, it didn't feel as if the books were written with me in mind, meaning that agnostic and spiritual perspectives were not adequately represented. The books tended to be written for a religious audience, explaining the holidays and describing how to celebrate them from more traditional perspectives. By reading these books I was able to gain some new insights, but I also felt frustrated and "left out" as one who didn't quite belong.
Learning More about the Jewish Holidays
My research continued online, where I found more academic, deconstructionist, reconstructionist, spiritual, and secular interpretations of the holidays. This information, which was scattered far and wide across numerous websites, was very helpful as I tried to sort out what was important to me with regard to Jewish holidays and their rituals. I felt at this point that I had a sufficient base of knowledge to actively choose how to observe the holidays.
Within a couple of years I had successfully incorporated a number of Jewish rituals - some modern, some more traditional - into my family's holiday celebrations. I felt much more centered, confident, and joyful as we observed the Jewish holidays in ways that made sense to us, reflecting both our Jewish heritage and our family's values.
Inspiration and Even More Research
At some point it occurred to me that I was not alone in my experience of searching for meaningful celebrations of Jewish holidays. I figured there must be others who could benefit from my research and be inspired to conscientiously choose how they celebrate the holidays.
Certainly, there are others who are looking for secular ways to feel connected to their Jewish heritage. And there are also plenty of people who were raised in religious households and may feel a desire to reconnect with their roots in new ways - perhaps in conjunction with synagogue services. There are also people of Jewish heritage who think of themselves as "spiritual" rather than "religious," and they, too, could find new, personally fulfilling ways of celebrating the Jewish holidays.
And so I began a new round of research, one that was more intense and complete. This research, combined with my life experience, ultimately led to my book, Celebrating the Jewish Holidays: Life-Affirming Secular and Spiritual Observances.
This work is a solid guide for people to understand the Jewish holidays in their historical and religious context. But more than that, it is a tool to help individuals discover and develop rituals that ring true in their hearts as they celebrate the holidays. By understanding the meanings of the holidays and reflecting on their own worldviews, individuals and families can observe in ways that feel good to them while honoring their Jewish heritage and culture.
The experience of writing this book has been incredible, and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to explore and share this aspect of the Jewish holidays.