On the night of my conversion to Judaism, I addressed the congregation gathered at my synagogue, Congregation Micah, in Brentwood, Tennessee, for Shabbat. It during Chanukah, so that holiday always always has an extra-special glow for me. This is what I said on that night...
When I first encountered Judaism, I was immediately fascinated by the Hebrew language. Its sound was so ancient, and mysterious, and poetic.
One of my favorite Hebrew words is orenu. It means “our light.” It is the literal light that streams into this sanctuary on a Saturday morning as a young person accepts the responsibilities of Torah, and the scroll is passed symbolically from generation to generation. It is the glow of the Shabbat candles we kindle as we invite holiness into each week. Orenu. It is the “ner tamid,” the eternal flame that burns over our heads.
Orenu is the figurative but very real light of our Torah, that illumines our lives and defines our path. As Jews, we commanded to be a “light unto the nations,” to live in relationship to our Creator, to follow the mitzvot. We are commanded to care for the needy, to comfort the bereaved, to keep the Sabbath, to be grateful, to work for peace, to repair the world. In short, to live as we have been chosen—and as we continually choose—to do.
As I look out at this congregation, I see dozens of individual lights, and each of them has brightened my path to Judaism—either by example, or by direct teaching, or by acceptance and unconditional love. This Yom Kippur, the light was intense—the collective glow of hundreds of separate Jewish lights in this space, humbled in prayer, added to the millions of other Jewish lights around the world. Orenu.
At this season of Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle of light and the survival of Judaism in spite of sometimes daunting adversity. We celebrate orenu—our light, the light we receive from Judaism and our light that we give to it by choosing to live in the way that we do.
People have asked me why I “chose” Judaism. I don’t think I chose it so much as I simply stepped into its light—our light, orenu.
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It is my honor to be a Jewish artist and to create works that help people connect to and share their Judaism. At this season of light, I am thankful for the person who done the most to spark my interest and imagination in Judaism, my teacher, my rabbi, Alexis Berk, now at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans. Kol hakavod.
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