By Nicki Pollock, Executive Administrator

What does it mean to “belong” to a Jewish community? Do you feel that you belong? Have you ever felt otherwise?fullsizerender-1

The sense of belonging or to be a part of something is to most a basic human wish or desire that transcends the generations. I spent a good portion of my adolescence and early twenties trying to refute that; simply insisting that being viewed as an independent or an individual was of higher importance. At that time, I felt as many teens do, as if no one understood me or the person who I wanted to become. I felt that the religion I was raised in did not speak to me, answer my questions, or welcome me at all. The place of worship was one I recall as being a cold, unfriendly place that I would dread visiting, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even as a young adult attempting to attend a service or two, I felt as if I was being spoken to and looked down upon. I felt as though I was being lectured to, and that the messages delivered had no bearing on my existence or life experience whatsoever – that I was of no real value to the congregation or this particular religious community. This was truly an area and time of my life in which I felt as though I did not belong.

As a result, I temporarily turned away from religion and didn’t see a place for it in my daily life. It wasn’t until I had children that I began to feel the need to be part of something greater than myself. I had preoccupied my time with searching for a quality home life for my family, but had neglected to invest any time or thought in providing a quality religious and spiritual home for myself or my children. I had one basic ground rule, and that was to insure that my children did not have to experience the same negative taste of religion that I did when I was young. So, I set out on my quest to discover a religious and spiritual place that would mirror and support my belief system and provide the guidance that I needed now as a parent.

I wanted to learn more about a religion where questions were not only welcome, but invited, where differences are accepted and celebrated, and where learning was embraced at every stage of one’s life. I realized I needed help raising my children to be respectful, resourceful members of the community. I found those resources right under my nose, in the form of the local Philadelphia area Jewish community. I wanted to find a place where I could share my questions, concerns, pursuit of learning about Judaism, and neighborly advice in a judgment-free environment. I wanted to find out how to incorporate the Jewish values of mitzvot, tzedekah, chesed and tikkun olam into not only my daily life, but the life of my children. I wanted to find a place where I felt welcome despite not having the same level of practice and knowledge base as other practicing members of the community. I have found that home in the Jewish community of Greater Philadelphia thanks to the support and guidance of the remarkable clergy, synagogue members, and staff that I am surrounded by every day. I feel for the first time in my life, without reservation, that I do belong and that I feel proud and honored to be a part of such a vibrant, passionate, caring and welcoming community. I also hope that this experience will be emulated by my children and for generations to come.