WHEN I was growing up my family didn’t observe many Jewish rituals. We didn’t light candles on Friday night and my dad’s idea of keeping kosher was not putting bacon on a cheeseburger. None of us knew which prayers were said for eating, drinking, or celebrating the holidays, unless they were printed on the pages of the Maxwell House Haggadah.
As a child it didn’t matter much, but as I grew up it became a problem. I sheepishly muddled my way through services and holidays feeling more like an outsider than a good Jewish girl.
Then, when I was in college, I read about Rabbi Akiva, one of the most renowned Jewish sages, who began his Jewish studies at the age of 40. This gave me hope and the belief that it is never too late to learn how to be Jewish.
SOCIOLOGISTS and anthropologists have long known that rituals function as powerful tools to define family roles and to pass on cultural norms and family values from one generation to the next.
Rituals create a sense of identity and belonging; they tie the individual to a group or community.
They mark important lifecycle events, commemorate life transitions and permit us to express important emotions such as love, fear, joy and grief.
Perhaps most important, rituals provide us with a sense of stability, order and regularity: They constitute an anchor in a tumultuous world and act as a compass by which to navigate.