What Harry Potter Taught Me About Being Jewish


“Yeh don’ know… yeh don’ know…”  Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair, fixing Harry with a bewildered stare.  “Yeh don’ know what yeh are?” — JK Rowling

What are we?

The Harry Potter series has captured many hearts and minds.  I hadn’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies until a recent trip to London where my children insisted we do everything and anything having to do with Harry Potter.  So, I figured there was no better place or time to start, and I picked up the first book.

I have only made it through 6 chapters, but I already get why there are so many “Potterheads”.

Everyone feels a little bit like Harry Potter.  We all feel a little stifled, misunderstood, like we don’t fit in.  We all, no matter how palatial our homes, sometimes feel like we are squeezing our lives into a little cupboard under the stairs.  Perhaps it is that our careers have become monotonous or that we aren’t seeing eye to eye with our families.  Perhaps we are lonely or unwell.  Maybe we just feel like there’s something else out there waiting for us (cue music from West Side Story).  Maybe we are seemingly the most beautiful, most interesting people in the world, and yet no one on the outside knows the insecurities and pains we hide on the inside.

No matter what our personal stories are, we all have a bit of a fantasy that an enigmatic stranger might knock on our doors and whisk us away to discover who we really are, don’t we?  We all dream of lives with more creativity, camaraderie, color, excitement, and adventure.  We all wonder if we are really wizards.

Well, we probably aren’t.  But, what are we waiting for?  Let’s find the lives we’ve always wanted ourselves!

The Jewish calendar is chock full of opportunities to refresh and renew our lives, but there is no time more focused on these themes than the Jewish Holy Days (which are sneaking up on us pretty quickly!).  During the Holy Days we ask, who and what are we?  We reflect on all we have done or not done this year.  We acknowledge that we have hurt others intentionally or unintentionally.  We ask what we could have done better for the earth, for others, for our families, and for ourselves.  We cry out, “I’m sorry!” to each other and to the Universe with full hearts and pure intentions.  We deprive ourselves of the usual comforts in order to empty out our daily expectations and be a clean slate for the promise of the year to come.  We stand at the starting line of the first day of the rest of our lives and think long and hard about which direction our feet should go.  Finally, we boldly take a step toward our true selves, together.

It’s an enormously powerful process, but it ain’t easy.  And we have to do all of this transformational work ourselves.  No wizards.  No Hagrid.  No platform 9 and 3/4.  Just self examination, realization, admittance, and prayer.

Rabbi Sharon Brous said in her guide for the High Holy Days, “Each of us has a choice… will we allow the holidays to push us, through great discomfort, even excruciating pain, to say NO MORE!  I must change!  I want to reclaim the part of me that believes that I can be anything, that everything is possible.”

Everyone loves Harry Potter because each of us knows there is a little bit of “wizard” hiding inside.  Maybe that’s the stuff of childhood dreams, but in some ways, embracing the flow of the Holy Days is also very “childlike.”  Then, too, we choose (as Rabbi Brous so beautifully points out) to believe in believing again.  And that is real magic.

Shabbat Shalom, Potterheads. 🙂

Cool Shul is evolving from a blog to a spiritual family.  If you don’t already have a spiritual home and might be interested in being with us for these High Holy Days, make sure you click here to sign up for this blog so I can let you know more in the days to come.

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