For a long time, I shied away from sharing aspects of my faith, traditions of my religion, and spirituality topics on my blog and with people I didn’t know well.
This is natural. The longing to belong is a basic human need; in evolutionary terms, belonging means protection and safety.
The Conditioning That It’s Not Safe to Be Who You Are
The belief that others will reject you because of your religion, that it’s not safe to be visible in your faith, is embedded into Jewish identity. The stories we read — in the Torah, in the history books, in the newspaper — are stories of Jews being persecuted because they were Jewish.
We receive a clear message: it is not safe to share the truth of who you are.
This may feel like an abstract concept to some, but it is not for me.
This lesson is not only in my cultural DNA. It’s also in my personal DNA.
My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. My grandfather left Poland before the war, but his mother and sisters were murdered by the Nazis.
They and millions of others, for no reason other than who they were.
Their beliefs. Their values. Their identity.
How We Foster Belonging
This pattern of keeping parts of myself under wraps — based on the belief that it wasn’t safe to reveal my full self — was not restricted to matters of religion. It showed up in many contexts.
It wasn’t about pretending to be something I’m not, or deliberately hiding aspects of myself. Rather, it was about spotlighting the commonalities I shared with that group. Showing how we are similar.
This is intrinsic to the human condition. We seek ways to belong to the tribe so that we will feel safe. To foster belonging, we spotlight our similarities.
This assimilation feels safe, but it can stifle us. Because as much as we want to feel belonging, we also want to stand out. To be different.
The desire to be seen lives in tension with the longing to belong.
I want to be seen …and I want to be safe.
When We Assimilate, We Separate
To foster belonging, we shine a light on our similarities with others.
But when we shine a light on one aspect of ourselves, we put the other parts of ourselves into darkness. When we do this for too long, we separate from ourselves. And we separate from others.
The consequences of this was that I would often feel alone even when with others. I often felt like I didn’t fit in, even when I was with my closest friends.
When you show people only the parts of you that are safe to reveal in that situation, then every relationship is built on a lie. Eventually you don’t even know what’s real.
My Chanukah Miracle
I first had a shift around this eight years ago, when I attended Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny seminar. The seminar itself — including an intervention with Tony — brought many issues into the light for me for the first time. But one of the most powerful lessons came outside of the main room. (This, of course, is almost always the case at any event.)
Date With Destiny that year coincided with Chanukah, and I brought my menorah and candles with me to light candles in the hotel room. I was sharing the room with another real estate agent who I had met only a few weeks before. I didn’t really know her much, but I knew that she wasn’t Jewish.
I felt apprehensive about lighting the Chanukah candles in front of her, or in the room at all. I heard those voices conditioned by years of stories about how my people have been killed for their religion, about how we are judged harshly and not understood.
Don’t impose on other people. Don’t make a scene. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
Those voices always show up to remind me that it’s not safe to show people who you are. That’s the fear. And we always have a choice to summon a deeper resource: faith.
I explained to my roommate about Chanukah and that I would be lighting the candles during the week. She responded with curiosity and encouragement, expressing an eagerness to witness my ritual.
By the end of the week, she was no longer merely a witness; I enrolled her as a participant, offing her the opportunity to take the shamash and light a candle.
Connection Through Separation
A few years later, she shared with me that witnessing and participating in the Chanukah ritual had been very meaningful for her. She is also a member of a cultural minority, and my willingness to share my light with her — in the most literal sense — allowed her to see and heal wounds in herself that she had previously not seen.
By taking a stand against assimilation and being willing to be visible in my rituals, I created deeper connection with my new friend.
Ironically, by showing my differences, I created commonality.
It is what we hide in the shadows that separates us — from ourselves and from others. What we bring into the light and allow to be seen fosters belonging.
That experience taught me why the public display of the menorah is such a crucial component of Chanukah. It’s not just to publicize the miracle of the lights; it’s also to publicize the ritual of lighting the candles.
By being visible in our rituals and our values, we allow our inner light to radiate outward, where it can serve as a guiding light for others.