By Zoey Ilouz, resident of Moishe House Encinitas
I have fallen in love with Judaism. This love story started in 2018. I felt like a new pathway had opened up for me. I found this beautiful, intentional, open, caring religion. Here the thing though: Until I was 22, I was a religious Jew.
When I broke free of the religious hold on my life, I spent the next few years hating Judaism. I would never again be a part of this religion, I vowed to myself. Because in the spaces I inhabited, Judaism fit into a box. A very specific, sturdy box. There was no room for any changes, and deviation from the ‘norm’, no opportunity to grow. Judaism was to be experienced one way, and one way only. That was the right way. anything else was wrong, and bad. I ran away from it. I spent years aggressively doing all the things I had been taught to not do. I swore that Judaism had no place in my new life. I didn’t need it. I would not be placed into another box. I would yet again be molded into a shape that didn’t fit me.
Somehow I wound up working for a Jewish institution that promoted the box mentality. They welcomed all young adults, as long as you experienced Judaism in one particular way. If you did not; there simply was no place for you there. As a leader in this organization, I was supposed to help other young Jews feel as though they could find a home at this institution, but even I felt alienated by the very organization that I worked for. I was supposed to create Jewish community, and show people why Judaism mattered, but I struggled to answer those questions for myself. In that space, in that place, I wanted nothing more than to run away from Judaism again.
And I did.
And somehow I ran straight into the arms of Moishe House. I am still unsure how it happened. Me; who was so wary of Jewish organizations; who was slowly becoming convinced that maybe Judaism was not my path. I moved across the country to live in a Moishe House. This was it; the beginning of my newfound love affair with Judaism.
Moishe House has proven to be a different sort of experience altogether. Moishe House has given me the ability to really truly explore Judaism, and find the places where it fits seamlessly into my life. There are no limits to how I interpret or where I choose to fall in love. I do not have to practice Judaism in one way. I can embrace it in whatever ways call to me, and Moishe House supports my explorations wholeheartedly. I have learned that the morals and values that I live my life with have jewish counterparts. They are not separate as I had once thought. They twist and intertwine, and create a Judaism that nourishes my soul. I don’t have to make myself fit into a box; it has been shattered and replaced with opportunity.
When I want to explore Judaism and meditation, my organization supports me.
When I want to discuss feminism and environmentalism in a jewish context, I get articles emailed to me by staff who are excited about my idea, and take it upon themselves to offer me tidbits of knowledge.
When I have my own life struggles, my manager makes sure to support me. She gently reminds me that my house and my organization will love and support me through whatever I am working through.
When I quote Buddhist principles in my community spaces, nobody bats an eye; instead, I am met with excitement and agreement. When I want to lead yoga classes with a jewish zen twist, I am cheered on.
When I discussed my feelings of ‘otherness’ in Jewish Ashkenazi singing spaces as a Sephardic jew, I was met with that same evening with a Havdallah service led in the Sephardic tunes that I grew up with. That small gesture meant the world to me. It meant someone was listening. I was being heard.
I am heard at Moishe House, and in turn I make it a point to show my community members that they too are heard. That however they want to explore Judaism, I will be there to make space for them, and walk with them in their explorations.
Without realizing it, I have slowly fallen back in love with Judaism. Moishe House has allowed me to rekindle a love I truly thought I had lost. It has allowed me to see that being a Jew is what you make of it. Connection occurs where you find meaning. It is a space of openness and invitation, no more boxes, no more molding. It cannot be contained, because love cannot be contained. Love will welcome you back, no matter how you choose to show up; just as long as you show up. And showing up is a part of my practice now.
Thank you Moishe House.