The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

God Cafe Source Sheet

1. To me it took me a while to just give myself permission that this special feeling I have of being with people who I care about and love, and saying the prayers together for shabbat; that communal connection I feel during that could be spirituality itself. You can even create that. It doesn’t have to be that abstract. Equating human connection with spirituality feels comfortable to me, giving myself permission to do that, felt like this doesn’t have to be entirely abstract.

2. Last year my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was gonna be treatable if she got a double mastectomy. I remember that during the day of her surgery, I was in the waiting room of the hospital and what was really striking to me was talking with my dad. He was crying. I never see him cry. I was thinking I don’t know what’s gonna happen but I hope she’s ok, my mom asked that we imagine a blue blanket being wrapped around her and that’s all the people who care about her. My dad is typically very rational but I saw him diving into this image of the blanket around her. I wasn’t thinking about G-d, I was just thinking she has to be ok, she has to be ok. After surgery she’s so out of it. She keeps saying our names and I’m so happy to see you. She keeps saying that over and over again. My dad and I are each holding one of her hands and crying. That moment felt like G-d to me because we were just so real, we were so loving. Nothing was hidden. We were there with each other, we were sharing so much and she was ok. Nothing did that but the pure circumstances of this happening. I think about those moments when people are very raw with each other and vulnerable. That was such a gift that my mom gave to us, that we were able to have that release and feel connected to the full humanity of each other.

3. I think a supernatural God is the wrong framing for me. I think God is something you’re supposed to spend your whole life trying to figure out. Before I felt like it was something I was supposed to have an understanding of. Belief in God felt like “understanding” but now it feels like more of a process.

4. When I first started experimenting with testing G-d, I thought of this Torah G-d. Am I gonna be struck by lightning by breaking this commandment? “You’re watching, watch this” If God isn’t the Torah character then maybe it’s not really that? But the presence of God doesn’t really have a response anyway. There’s no punishment from a benevolent divine presence. I would like to know if I’m getting a reaction, good or bad. At the Orthodox synagogue I went to, they would have talks about divine presence and it was like “I dropped my key but I found it” I just wasn’t sure if I could believe in a God that was both magnificent but also so minorly petty. Is that God? Maybe if I don’t eat non-heckshered meat, my car won’t start but I don’t really believe that.

5. I always had a strong connection to nature. After I came back from the hospital after surgery after being diagnosed [with cancer], I was healing at home and felt very vulnerable emotionally. I believe I was open to something that I probably wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t had cancer. I was walking the dog, as I did daily, I felt emotionally raw. To this day I remember the picture of the sky and the trees and the birds were so vivid color wise. The bluest I had ever seen in the sky, the sky felt more expensive than it was. This feeling stayed with me for a few weeks but then it went away. I felt a very deep connection with something supernatural, something divine. I didn’t label it at the time but I felt I had a sense of a universal force I had never experienced before.

6. Every single day I am both cursing G-d and praying for G-d. Until like 4 or 5 months ago, I was praying for G-d to not kill me and make it through the day. And at the same moment cursing G-d. Crying in my bathroom, praying for G-d not to kill me. The things coming out will contradict each other every ten minutes. But there’s no other person that can be part of the conversation. Who do you pray to not kill you when you’re being killed by something? Who am I supposed to tell to not kill me? Fluctuates between asking God to kill me and not to kill me. I hadn’t thought about some things before this conversation. I hadn’t thought about the fact I used to write suicide notes to G-d.

7. My justice work is my greatest expression of my values and my religion. Praying with my feet, that totally resonates and that’s what keeps me connected to Judaism and what I have now. I seldom have a holiday I celebrate where I’m not weaving in justice. Matzah ball soup but also justice. Isn’t that what it means to be Godly? To live out the values that supposedly God taught us. Justice work to me is about the relationship we’re building on the ground. Spirituality though is not a word I use. I use words like tradition, like values, like ethics, like practice and praxis but spirituality I don’t like.

8. When I was 14 my mom died of leukemia. That’s kinda how I connect with my mom, through G-d. When I’m praying, I’m talking to my mom.  Services are a familiar place for me since they’ve always had a presence in my life. I feel comfortable and can revert to the routness of it to feel connected to her. Being Jewish, G-d and death are all intertwined for me. G-d and death are synonymous for me. When someone’s not in your life anymore and religion is a presence those two things are going to dance.

The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

3601 Park Center Blvd., Apt 307
Minneapolis, MN 55416
Email: eric@kaplancenter.org