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Turkey Soup and Religion

Hi everyone!

Sorry I have not posted since the prehistoric era. I had a wonderful trip to Budapest and Germany. I will post pictures very soon, I promise. It was magical.


I also got into Grad school for Molecular Biology and started a few weeks ago. So, I was hectically moving to Washington D.C. (I now go to Georgetown) and getting into classes and had no time to write. I will tell you the engaging story of how all this came about very soon. I pinky promise.



However, until then, I still did not want you to think I had totally forgotten you. I signed up for an Intro to Judaism class at a nearby temple, and I have to write a weekly journal. It was the first time in weeks that someone has forced me to write, so I thought I would share it with you. Mostly I just ramble about food, and then try to pull out some meaningful life analogy from it (in similar form to a disturbing number of my posts). Anyway, I hope you enjoy. I just made myself really hungry and now I am going to go eat some of the turkey soup I made last weekend.

Journal topic: What is your experience with religion? In
what religious tradition were you raised? Why are you taking this class? What do you hope to learn in this class? What are some of the questions for which you hope to find answers in this class?

My father is a closet religious scholar. The shelves of my childhood home are bloated and bursting with books, covering every obscurely academic religious topic imaginable: from the neuroscience of prayer to the philosophical development of the tribes of the Indus valley in pre-biblical times. Talk of religion as a concept so thoroughly saturated dinnertime conversations that it flavored the very food we ate. Yet, I have never witnessed my family pray. Though religious figures took up residence in every corner of our house, religious practice was checked at the door.

I served in the Army from the time I turned 19 to my 22nd birthday. In those three years, I was subjected to some experiences that were very difficult to digest. Many of my closest friends were deeply religious (offering a smorgasbord of practices—Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist, and even one Sikh). Regardless of the differences in their practice, holding on to their individual faith and their traditions gave them a source of strength I could not tap. It gave them handholds on the cliff-face of life and I deeply wished to share.

So, I began to slowly inch toward religion. I held long conversations with friends about their beliefs, and even got up the nerve to go to a respectable number of Christian-variety services. I found them unfulfilling. I found most Christian churches very welcoming and accessible; they had belief, but they were totally devoid of faith and only held a tertiary relationship with God. They were missing deep practice. I am of the belief that religious practice is for the practitioners, not the deity being honored. People imbue things with meaning through dedication and sacrifice. That which is free means nothing, while that which costs us in blood, sweat, and time are cherished in the human heart. If I adopt a religion, I want to cherish it. I want my belief to cost me, so that I come to treasure the relationship with God that grows from a practice.

I think of religion like turkey soup. There are few activities that nourish the soul like making turkey soup. When we make turkey soup, my sister and I somewhat fanatically go to the market and talk to the farmers who raise the turkeys. From there we select our bird, lug it home, and immediately dump it in salt to brine overnight. The next day, we slow roast the turkey and share it over a big family meal. This meal is simply a checkpoint however. The end game is more than a day away.

We strip the turkey and set the meat aside. Then we roast the bones and the skin for a few hours. After roasting, we crack the bones to let out the marrow and boil the bones and scraps for roughly 12 hours. We strain out the solids, and are left with this dark, rich broth that holds the essence of this turkey’s entire existence a condensed gelatinous mold. We take this broth and mix it with the “leftover” turkey meat, herbs, and fresh vegetables (which we have normally grown in our garden). At the end of three of four days we get this bowl of soup. Semantically it contains the same ingredients as a bowl of turkey soup I could get from a can in the grocery store, and yet the two experiences are completely different. My soup is a distillation of love and a whole season of effort. It presents everything that the turkey and the cook together have to offer. More than that though, it is made essentially the same way that prehistoric tribes made turkey soup over the fire outside their tents. Techniques and flavors that have endured for centuries, unchanged, manifest and the whole package is presented to you in one small bowl. With homemade soup, you are eating a shared human experience of nurturing and love that resonates through all of human history. While with canned soup, you are eating a sodium-enriched necessity. I am looking for the religious equivalent of homemade turkey soup. I am cautiously suspicious that Judaism might be able to offer that.

turkey soup

I am also incredibly intimidated. Judaism is appreciably less accessible than canned soup. It is filled with foreign words and alien practices, and its practitioners hold such a cohesive community that it feels in many ways like an impossible door to open. Yet, despite all of these factors creating inertia, there is this implacable push in the back of my consciousness patiently, and unrelentingly, moving me in this direction. So, by pure chance I ran across this class online (two days before it began), and with the courage that is only born from making significant life commitments at 3a.m., I find myself as a member of the Intro to Judaism class. My list of reservations is longer than my list of questions, yet that force in the back of my mind—whose origins I cannot begin to understand—is finally stronger than my inertia. I feel like a rover on Mars. I want to unobtrusively take samples of the soil and maybe snap some pictures, in order to figure out if this is a path that I truly want to pursue.

About beccatheblogger

I am Rebecca Holliman, the author and editor of the blog Becca the Blogger. To learn more about me, click on the "Meet Becca" page of this site.

One response »

  1. Hi Rebecca.

    Some comments about the Judiasm thing, from a Jew. Here’s seven factors that I think might be helpful for you to know, in no special order:

    A. Judiasm, unlike Christianity and Islam, is not an evangelical religion. Most Jews do not proselytize, have no particular interest in converting outsiders (though it is not forbidden). The last time the Jews tried to convert a nation at swordpoint, the Idemeans back in the second century B.C., things didn’t go so well for either nation. The Idemeans became second class citizens; they in turn gave the Jews Herod, an insane and degenerate king, who slaughtered their intelligencia. Ever since, Jews have had a strong distaste for proselyzation, not that they had much opportunity to do so the past two thousand years.

    Unfortunately, this live-&-let-live attitude is not reciprocated. Baptists won’t hesitate to try to convert a Jew, with their “Jews for Jesus” campaigns and other forms of subtrefuge. In “The Merchant of Venice” Shylock is rewarded at play’s end by being forced (presumably against his will) to convert to Catholicism.

    B. There is the Jewish religion, the Jewish culture and the Jewish people, and they are all different. I don’t practice the religion but I still consider myself to be a Jew. Some aspects of the culture I like, and others repell me, but there’s a strong academic tradition in Judiasm—it comes directly from the Talmudic tradition—a love of books and scholarship. In general Jews make good businessmen and scholars, not because they’re smarter than other people but rather because for two thousand years those professions were the only major options for them to survive.

    C. As with Christianity and Islam, there is a very wide spectrum of religious commitment in Judiasm, ranging from secualr Jews like me (I’d include most Israelis in this category) to completely wigged-out Hassids that live in their own universe and dress like they stepped out of a medieval ghetto. Many religious Jews would not consider me to be Jewish because I don’t practice the religion and I am guilty of the sin of sins, intermarriage.

    D. Millions of people hate the Jews and wish them dead. To be Jewish is to be a target, not just from Nazis and their allies of the past, but from Muslim fanatics today. There are one billion Muslims out there who in principle hate and fear all Jews, believing they’re part of some vast conspiracy. It’s all tied up with the Arab/Israeli struggle and this attitude is self perpetuating. A lot of Europeans are closet antisemites, including a goodly number of French and English intellectuals. The Brits especially—-just read some of the lefty letters written to the UK Guardian. “Zionist” is a code word for “Jew,” that’s fairly clear.

    E. It’s well known that the Nazis and currently certain elements in the Muslim community such as Hamas consider the Jews to be a seperate—and presumably degenerate—“race,” not just an ethnic group. The Jews have the ghastly distinction of being the only ethnic group in history to be the target of a large scale industrialized extermination program, formatted in advance by engineers and traffic flow experts. The objective of the program was the global extermination of all Jews regardless of their circumstances, a Jew being “anyone with one Jewish grandparent.” This program achieved 33% of its objective before the military destruction of the Third Reich put it to a halt.

    Adding insult to injury, many antisemites, including, I believe, most Muslims deny the actuality of the Holocaust, maintaining against all evidence that it was a “Zionist” fabrication designed to elict undeserving sympathy for the Jews and justify the seizure of Palestine. (They may deny the Holocaust happened, but privately they wouldn’t mind, given the opportunity, to try it themselves.)

    F. Should a nuclear war ever break out in the Middle East, particularly if it involves the Israelis, the Jews will once again be blamed for a world catastrophe, probably sparking another two thousand years of persecution. We’re still trying to live the last one down, the execution of Jesus.

    G. So if you think that paranoia and having a persecution complex is part and parcel of being Jewish, you’re right. And although not every Jew is as sensitive to these issues as I am, it’s not far from the consciousness of any Jew.

    Just wanted to give you some idea of what you’d be getting yourself into, should you choose this particular religion.



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