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Transformation Going Back to Roots - Dipping into the waters of Judaism

Written by Rita Kennen

Part II: Dipping into the waters of Judaism

I used to think being Jewish was like carrying around an old piece of baggage. Now I think of it like a prism. You hold Judaism up to the light and it reflects back wonderful things.--Lisa Schiffman-

Once married, Lisa Schiffman continued to seek out what Judaism meant to her. She participated in a variety of religious services, sometimes bringing her atheist parents along. She formed a relationship with a rabbi.

Rebelling against the dietary restrictions imposed on religious Jews, she consciously ate non-kosher food for an entire week. Later she immersed herself in the waters of a mikvah, the ritual bath associated with menstruation and purification.

Little by little, Schiffman stripped away the confusion surrounding her Jewish identity. "I don't think there is a right way to be Jewish," she says. "For me, it's like any relationship. Every day is a little different. One day it's heart based, another it's brain based, such as when I'm reading a Jewish based text and trying to figure it out."

Rather than a religious revelation, Schiffman's Jewish transformation is subtle and continues to evolve. For her, being Jewish is an identity based on heritage and a sense of community. She's concluded you can still be Jewish even if you don't observe the holidays or go to synagogue.

Schiffman now feels Jewish by choice as well as by birth.

With a master's degree in social anthropology from Oxford University and experience as associate editor for the San Francisco Review of Books, Schiffman is a highly educated professional who lacked a spiritual dimension. Her personal growth blossomed when she found her place among other Jews.

"Anytime you are uncomfortable with a core piece of who you are, you can't be whole," says Schiffman. "Confronting and reconciling with the Jewish part of myself has made me much stronger and not as restless. I'm not searching for who I am, but I am still learning about my relationship to Judaism."

Schiffman and her husband, who live in Oakland, Calif., are expecting their first child. "We want our child to have a Jewish identity. We have to figure out how to do that, so even though the book ends, the journey continues."

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