Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Michael Fineberg

Michael FinebergIf anyone had said to me in 2001 that within three years I would be living in New York I would have been surprised. I had been living in Paris for over thirty years and had hardly even thought of visiting the United States. The key word of my travels had always been “Go anywhere but West, young man”. But it’s true that I was no longer quite so young.

If anyone had said to me that not only would I be living in New York, but also that I would be dabbling in Torah studies and even daring to put into public circulation my own fledgling thoughts on some of the great themes that had exercised generation after generation of Jewish thinkers, I would, at first, have been even more surprised, but then, I think I would have been very curious. It made sense, after all; it does add up.

When I was 15, acutely dissatisfied in a typically 15-year-old way with the halfhearted Judaism in which I had been raised, and at the same time deeply distrustful of “believers” and pious ways, I did for a few sleepless nights toying with the idea of making my own commentary on the Torah. The choice was either that – and a serious grappling with my own Jewishness – or turning away, finding another direction for my questionings. And then along came what were to become enduring flirtations with jazz and poetry and Buddhism and I almost forgot what I had hardly ever known, which was what it really meant that I was a Jew.

Now, many years later, I find myself here, at a Reform temple markedly different from the shul I attended as a child in London, in this community which fosters within itself, under the inspiring leadership of Rabbi Sirkman, the great Jewish virtues of mitzvot and tzedakah, but also a vibrant dialogue of which I am delighted to form a part. When I am not feeding the Torah bug, I am ferrying two teenagers who are part of the blessing I share with Virginia, continuing still to work as I have always done, as a translator and wordsmith for publishers, UNESCO and the United Nations.

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