Many Nonobservant Jews Are Finding Religion

September 29, 2008

Author: Ana Veciana-Suarez

Source: The News & Observer

Edgardo de la Vera rediscovered his Jewish roots and religion as a student at the University of Miami. He now observes the Sabbath, attends a weekly class with an Orthodox rabbi and vows to marry within his faith. Phyllis Levy grew up in a secular home and never learned the prayers of her ancestors. But when their only son was born, she and her husband, Phil, decided "we wanted to raise him in a way that he would understand what it was like to be Jewish."

When Mitch Joseph was a child, his family displayed a Hanukkah bush and went caroling with friends at Christmas. But after years of studying Torah, he now keeps a kosher home, sends his children to Jewish day school and will walk, not drive, to Chabad of Plantation, Fla., for High Holy Day services.

During the 10-day period bookmarked by Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which began Monday at sundown, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins at sundown Oct. 8, many Jews will observe the High Holy Days in more traditional ways than their parents ever did. It's a trend, some say, that highlights a growing hunger for spiritual guidance, especially among the young.

"Before, when I used to go (to synagogue) for Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, I thought of it as my one time to be Jewish and after that I was done for the year," recalls de la Vera, 22. "It was an obligation, but now it has a very special meaning for me. I feel excited, I feel renewed. This is exactly where I want to be, with God and with the Jewish people."

No one is quite sure how extensive this trend toward religiosity is. Quantifying it is difficult because levels of observance vary widely even within denominations.