Despite the centrality of God in Jewish literature and liturgy, some Jews struggle to talk about their relationship with God. In the introduction to Because My Soul Longs for You, the editors liken this paradox to the experience of eating; “We can talk a lot about food, but only when we taste it do we understand its texture, flavor, and the enjoyment it gives us. The same is true about God. Only when we experience God in our own lives — when we experience that same mystery, beauty, and challenge the ancients experienced as well — do we begin to think and talk about God and our own theology.” Exploring how we might experience God, and how it might “develop, deepen, and change over the course of our lives,” is the editors’ motivation for this anthology. Through a collection of twenty independent essays, we travel the theological journeys of others so that it may inspire us to integrate sacredness into our own lives.
In the essay “Experiencing God in the Midst of Conflict,” Miriam Heller Stern asks us to feel comfortable in the uncertainty of our own convictions, allowing us to be more compassionate and empathetic to others. This shift leads to heightened self-awareness and the capacity to “become smarter, more resilient, and prepared to confront and overcome our weaknesses.” Embracing this complexity, Stern shares, is embedded throughout the Jewish tradition and is at the core of developing a robust Jewish theology.
Honoring the culinary side to Judaism also provides a gateway to Jewish theology, Melanie Cole Goldberg suggests in her essay “Experiencing God While Making Jewish Food.” Through baking challah, passing recipes to the next generation, and using shared meals to create community, Cole sees food as a conduit “to a Jewish life of spiritual exploration.”
“The work we do, day in and day out, to bring justice to our world cannot be compartmentalized into the category of ‘justice work,’ separate from ‘spiritual work.’ It is holy work,” writes Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz in her essay “Experiencing God in Service to Others.” Sensing God’s presence comes from “making the words on the Torah’s page come alive through our actions,” writes Pomerantz. She encourages us to be God’s hands in a world in need of repair and to find God in uplifting others.
Each thought-provoking essay shares a personal reflection on how we may connect to God “most often in the midst of ordinary life,” perhaps through powerful experiences, but more often through unexpected moments or seemingly mundane encounters. Even so, editors Goldberg and Zecher remind us that nurturing a deeper theology will take work. To support our spiritual journey, they conclude by offering readers questions to consider as they start their search for God.
Jonathan Fass is the Managing Director of Educational Technology and Strategy at The Jewish Education Project of New York.