Am I Pagan?

Seriously — I ask myself this question all the time. When people ask me what religion I am, I say I’m Jewish, because that’s what I am. It never occurs to me to say, “Pagan.” I’ve been a part of the Pagan community for about seven years now and always felt very welcome. Actually, the Pagan community has made me feel a whole lot more welcome than every Jewish congregation I’ve ever tried to become involved with. Pagans just seem to be more understanding about the rules of hospitality. At the Jewish congregations I could go month after month and no one would ever reach out to me and say, “oh — are you new?” As a matter-of-fact, no one ever spoke to me at all. Even if I tried to talk to people, I never felt like they wanted to talk to me. But lately, I don’t really feel like I belong in the Pagan community either.

I’m Jewish by most definitions (Jewish mother, bat miztvah, choice, etc.)  But, by almost every definition of Pagan , I’m not.  I guess it depends on who’s doing the defining. If you simply define it as any of these people do, then I might be Pagan:

But those are only a few of the definitions. Most people link Paganism to polytheism, which doesn’t really apply to me. I realize to many “aspected monotheism ” might seem like polytheism, but I assure you to me the line is quite clear. Many people define Pagan as simply not being Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Well, I’m certainly one of the three.

So why does this even matter to me, since I’m Jewish? Well, I spend a lot of time supporting the Pagan community in DC. I was even on the board of Pagan community center intiative for a while and continue to do work for them. What I don’t do is spend a lot of time and energy supporting the Jewish community in DC. I’ve made some attempts to reach out to communities that I feel some affinity for, but basically all I’ve had is un-returned phone calls. The Jewish community I do support is the one hidden in the Pagan community. There’s a lot more Jews who have moved into the Pagan community than many people realize, and these people often are still searching for a way to resolve their understanding of the earth-based practices with Judaism.

Thankfully, we now have a lot more resources to work with. Not only are there people like me who are willing to talk about our personal experiences, but amazing rabbis like Jill Hammer and Gershon Winkler have provided us with amazing roadmaps of what authentic Earth-based Judaism can look like. By authentic, I mean pulling from our traditional texts and teachings and not just importing practices from others.

But that still leaves me with my real dilemma. Do I continue to support the community that has supported me, but I feel less and less a part of and can’t actually claim as my own? Or do I start to remove my energies from them and focus just on the smaller group that really needs and wants my attentions? Or do I work harder to reach out to the wider Jewish community? Or do I just get over my damn self and just keep putting one foot in front of the other?!?

Ugh. What’s a girl to do?

[tags]paganism, pagan, judaism, earth based judaism, magickal judaism, dilemma[/tags]

20 Comments

  1. {{hug}} i understand… i wish i had an answer. i stand more and more at the fringes of both my local jewish (and pagan and other) communities. i don't quite feel at home (or welcome) at either. know you aren't alone. know others care. know that i will be setting up a site and proper email address soon.

  2. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    Leah,

    Thanks for the kind words and support! Thanks so much for taking the time to say something!

  3. I understand your dilemna all too well, but from a different perspective. I am *definately* a Pagan (*and* a polytheist)….but I have identified as a Jew my entire life, and underwent conversion years ago. So I do understand your feelings, just from the other side of the fence. ; )

    The answer is as simple (or as complicated) as you wish it to be…be true to yourself. Do you feel like a Jew? Then you are a Jew. Do you feel like a Pgan (don't pay attention to other's definitions)…then you're a Pagan. Can you be a Pagan Jew? Of course!

    Why limit yourself with labels. You are You. You is a good person. Go be You and be happy. : )

  4. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    I definitely feel like a Jew. But my main dilemma is where to put my energy. I know this is a question only I can answer, but sometimes asking it "out loud" helps bring perspective!

  5. Why limit yourself (as I said earlier).
    Put your energy where it needs to be *at the time*. There is no need for all of this secod guessing yourself, you're only bringing dis-ease upon your Spirit.

    Good for you for thinking out loud, and I hope I could help with my own insight. I've been a Pagan since 74, and a Jew officially since 1980. I walk the fence, trying to keep balance within the two, just as you do. I wish you well, and I hope you find the answer you're seeking (and you are absolutely right…only YOU can answer it!!)

    Take care and be well,

    Xena : )

  6. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    Appreciate the thoughts Xena! I'm not really second guessing myself, more trying to figure out what to do next and be aware that I can't spread myself too thin. That's a bad habit of mine!

    But, you're right. I think right now it's time for "one foot in front of the other" and just do what brings me the most spiritual/personal return.

  7. Aron Gamman /

    I relate directly with this, Carly.

    I pretty much thought of myself a "Jewish Pagan" (a Pagan interested in Judaism) until the last 3 years where I felt more and more drawn towards Jewish liturgy and practice, but my philosophy continues to be a alot more Pagan which is a lot more grounded in what I'd called Jewish mythology. So I see myself more as an earth-based Jew, now.

    I also left the Pagan Circle I was a member for almost 10 years, because honestly we were moving in different directions. I also just recently got involved in a Minyan whose core is based on people who were dissatisfied with a Reform synogogue.

    With experiencing that I agree with leah, too. I feel like I exist on the fringes. I like this new group, but I still feel like i have to hold my "Pagan "-style freedom back because a lot of people want to stay within a certain framework.

    I'm not so concerned about what community supports me so much as wanting a community I can work with and grow with, really.

    I'm contributing a Erev Shabbat service this Friday and trying to introduce drumming into the service, already having some resistence. I hope it goes well.

    Does that rant help any? 🙂

  8. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    Aaron,

    It does help! Actually, I'm having a "misery loves company" moment! I'm finding that hearing that others struggle with this type of thing too, is making me relax about it!

    BTW — the best Shabbat service I've ever been to was at my training retreat at Elat Chayyim. Loads of drumming and singing! Good luck with your experiment!

  9. Aron Gamman /

    Yah, I attended Rabbi Jill's and Jay Michaelson's Elul retreat in 2005 and that's the sort of service I'd like to have every weekend. I'm trying to introduce some of what they (and others who also did that service) did into this service, really.

  10. Luna Aileen /

    I am very sorry to hear that you don't feel welcome anymore in your Pagan Community, and very sorry to hear of how you feel less welcome in your Jewish community. As a leader in the Pagan community we have several Jewish members that give the rest of us lessons on a regular basis. Learning about other relgions helps in the spiritual growing process. Good luck to you as you redefine your beliefs.

  11. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    I'm not sure it's that I don't feel welcome in the local Pagan community. I just don't feel as much a part of it any more. They certainly haven't done anything to make me feel unwelcome. It's really about my internal process than anything external.

    I'm sure if you asked most of the local leaders of the Pagan community they'd be shocked at my saying this. Especially, as I still participate rather fully in the Pagan community, including teaching a workshop at the 2006 Pagan Pride Day.

    It's actually my involvement with Pagan Pride Day this year that started all this internal dialogue that I'm sharing with you all!

  12. Luna Aileen /

    I have found that sometimes I will need a parting of the ways so to speak, a temporary respite for myself. This is a regualar happening with me and most people have come to understand that I need this.

    Sometimes I give so much to others I forget that the most important person, myself, is left wanting, "I am parched for a drink with the divine" is what I tell my friends when I want down time.

    Perhaps this could be that time you need for your self. I know from experience that I feel better, and feel more welcomed within the community after my respite.

    So tell me what do you think was the catalyst at PPD?

  13. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    I think it's my work with Kohenet that's making the difference. I really want to focus on earth-based magickal Judaism right now, and that's such a small minority in the Pagan community — that I feel like I spend half my time at rituals that I don't really care about. I go to them because my friends are doing them and I care about them. But I don't celebrate the "big 8," and I'm more interested in exploring my holidays, ancestors, and stories than going to a Beltane, Lammas, or Yule ritual.

    Problem is, I like to have communities!

    It's also that I didn't teach anything about Jewitchery at PPD. I intentionally chose a topic with broader appeal. Not that some Jewish topics aren't of interest to Pagans.

  14. Luna Aileen /

    I can relate to what you are feeling in some ways. I practice Stregheria, Italian Witchcraft, which has a very small community, there are only 6 of us, I too find that the rituals I attend with friends have less meaning to me.

    Recently we have been having what we call seeker moons so that those interested can join us. It has helped dispell some of the myths that all we do as Stregas is cast curses.

    I don't know your community, but if it is anything like mine you might want to think about putting on a ritual for everyone to come to and see what you are all about. Sometimes it is not a lack of interest people have in you, it is a lack of knowledge.

    Could you please explain to me what Kohenet is?

  15. l.a.reed /

    carly, you said, Actually, the Pagan community has made me feel a whole lot more welcome than every Jewish congregation I’ve ever tried to become involved with. Pagans just seem to be more understanding about the rules of hospitality. At the Jewish congregations I could go month after month and no one would ever reach out to me and say, “oh — are you new?” As a matter-of-fact, no one ever spoke to me at all." that has been my experience. yet i don't have safety to be with "pagan" gentiles where i live. not enough understanding of my culture and difference. i am looking for both; people who understand where i am and coming from and a place to explore/explain what i do with nature and the connections i have with it. profoundly

  16. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    I.a.reed

    well put. That's exactly what I'm looking for, which is why I struggle. The Pagans don't often understand the Judaism and the Jews don't understand "nature and the connections I have with it."

    I'm glad that the Internet has given the earth-based Judaism community a chance to actually become a community.

    Be sure to check out <a href="http://www.telshemesh.com” target=”_blank”>www.telshemesh.com and the Isabella Freedman Center. Both are nurseries of earth-based Judaism.

  17. l.a.reed /

    thanks carly. i know some of your work and posts from asherah, and know about jill hammer and telshemesh.org (i did a search and that's the present website). problem getting out there is disability and poverty, unfortuntately. i know this is a long shot, but i'm looking for people up where i live. i would welcome a private email to discuss this through asherah. this feels about as vulnerable as i can get posting on a blog : )

  18. Avital /

    Dear jewitch,
    Did you ever look at Kabbalah teachings? It is the soul of Judaism and it seems to me is what you are looking for. Where every grass has it’s own angel helping it to grow. Where every cell in the universe has conscience and memory. Where 32 energies created the universes and continue to do so. In the first sentence of the bible, as kabbalah teaches, it said: beginningness created Gods, the letters, the heavens and the earth.
    Gods where created as intermediates between the creator, Ain sof and us human, The word ET refer to the letters from Aleph to Taf the last letter of the Alfa beta, each letter is a sign and a name that was given to a unique energy. Those energies are every where, we breath them in with the air and they sustain and nourish our energy our organs Etc… Etc. I hope I opened a door for you. Be Blessed

  19. Carly (Chava Chai - /

    Avital,

    Of course I read kabbalistic teachings from time to time. I think if you explore this site you'll find it's highly influenced by many kabbalistic teachers, both historical and modern. I don't speak much on it directly because it's more a foundational piece for me and not one I'm directly comfortable teaching or discussing as a general thing.

  20. Aron Gamman /

    Avital: I agree with Carly on this. I appreciate Kabbalah as a rich tradition of metaphors and language for the divine within the our tradition. However, I don't approach it as a system that I swallow whole. There's a lot of medieval assumptions about the world that go along with much of it that I frankly reject. I tend to find much of the reimagining going on by many people more appealing, though I don't necessarily accept all of that, either.