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Non-practicing to practicing – looking for advice

Tldr: raised Jewish, agnostic from a young age, want to get back into Judaism, how do I do this?

Hi everyone, I thought this would be a good place to reach out to others about their experience and any practical advice. Here’s my story:

I grew up (and live in) a suburb of a large US city. I grew up celebrating Shabbat most Fridays, going to Sunday school for a few years, and not eating pork. However I felt no connection to it, didn’t believe in God, and saw Judaism as a hinderance. It always just felt like a bunch of prayers in a language I couldn’t read with super cringe English translations. My family hung out a little bit with the (Israeli) Jewish community but not often so I never really had Jews in my life. All my friends saw each other in church while I was in Sunday School, I couldn’t do anything with my Friday night because of Shabbat dinner, etc. So, I told my mom I was agnostic, and my bar mitzvah was the last thing I did with my Judaism.

Fast forward about 10 years, I start to become more curious from a traditions perspective. My dad is from a kibbutz in Israel, his entire side of the family lives there, and I don’t know them at all. I started thinking about the fact that ancestors of mine all the way back did the same things and said prayers that I know from my childhood and it was a really powerful thought. These thoughts have been growing for a couple years and I started appreciating the “Jewish” label even if I wasn’t practicing. I started joining my family for high holiday services again.

This year with 10/7 (and with me having visited Israel for my first time this year) I feel a yearning, and moral obligation, for getting more in touch with the religious Jewish aspects. I’m not sure how much I can buy in to everything but I really want to dip my toes in and give it a fair shake, but I don’t really know where to start. So I respectfully have a few questions for suggestions:

  1. Synagogue shopping: my experience with Reform Judaism have been… kind of hollow. Feels a bit kumbaya for me. I tried a conservative synagogue this Yom Kippur and while it felt less summer campy, it was a lot of Hebrew. Does anyone have experience with more traditional feeling Reform synagogue, or is my best bet to just try to learn the prayer meanings for conservative services?

  2. From what I can tell one of the main tenants is we have to carry out the mitzvot. There are some things I’m not willing to do as of now (kippah, keeping with the full Shabbat rules, keeping kosher) but I want to start take affirmative actions. What are some mitzvot I can start today? The main two I can tell are saying the shema day & night and following the weekly Torah portions.

  3. This is kind of an extension from number 2. Wtf is the “entire” shema? Is it just the shema and the v’ahavta? Or is there a third part? And should I be saying the full part morning and night?

  4. As noted above I have barely started synagogue shopping and don’t have much of a religiously Jewish community. Is self-study of the torah an acceptable way to start until I can have a mentor/group? And what are some suggested resources for this if so?

  5. A lot of the stories would be very hard for me to believe (the world being 6,000 years old, Moses literally parting the sea, etc.) From what I understand the only thing I NEED to believe is the imperative to practice the mitzvot, is my general understanding correct? Are these fundamental questions worth worrying about?

This was a lot longer than I thought it would be, so if you made it here כל הכבוד. Thanks!

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