Having grown up in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, I have a complex relationship with judaism as a religion and as a culture. As a young child I enjoyed studying the stories of the bible at school and would even read through the bible on my own occasionally. In later years, around middle-school or high-school, we took a more critical and analytic view of the bible, looking at it as an important text but not taking it for granted. This approach fit very well with my rational mind and I found the different layers it revealed to be interesting. Looking at the bible as a constructed artifact as opposed to a God-given text served to solidify my secular stance in regards to judaism and religion in general.

Later in life, some sociopolitical shifts in Israel pushed me even farther away from religion. I watched the ultra-orthodox parties grow in power and then use that power in order to gain unfair advantages to benefit small segments of the population and to promote a way of living that I did not agree with. This became the beginning of a new split in Israeli society and in this split I chose to be squarely and without a doubt on the secular or modern side.

In later years I’ve come to find a way to relate to spiritual matters that was not as dogmatic and seemed to allow more room for me to be the way that I am. It may have taken moving to California and discovering Buddhist practice but through this practice I was able to come to terms with a part of myself that had very little opportunity for expression until this point. A large part of my practice over the last year has been to integrate the rational and spiritual aspects of myself. Decades of conflict between these two forces just about convinced me that this kind of integration is not possible but I’m finding that to be false.

Today, I am more interested in looking back at my own roots as represented by jewish religion and israeli culture. Through my spiritual and psychological practice and probably as a result of growing older, I find that I’m more easily able to come into relationship with those aspects of myself that I’ve left behind. I could see that in my recent visit to Israel and I see that in a new-found interest in the jewish view of the mystical experience.

I first learned about Kabbalah through the story of the four sages who entered the Pardes: one died, one went insane, one became an apostate and only one – Rabbi Akiva – exited in peace. This story serves as a warning that it not enough to be wise and studious before studying the Kabbalah, one must also be psychologically grounded, pure and able to withstand the subtlest temptations. At the time, I doubted the message of the story but, still, did not explore further. Today, I know that there is at least some truth to this story as I’ve experienced some of the difficulties of the spiritual path. Having done so, and finding my self ready to come back into relationship with my jewish roots, I think this is a good time to venture in.