Looking for G-d in All the Wrong Places

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Eileen Levinson is a designer and artist based in Los Angeles. Her work reimagines, celebrates, and at times critiques Jewish ritual for contemporary audiences. In 2011, she created Haggadot.com, a website for Jews to exchange and personalize content for the Passover Haggadah. This year, she is launching Custom & Craft, a similar collaborative website for Shabbat, weddings, and other Jewish lifecycle events.

Last winter, I attended Limmud NY with a Go Network Micro Grant from ROI. As expected, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet inspiring Jews from the Northeast and around the world. I hosted a booth where I promoted both Haggadot.com and Custom & Craft, connecting with many potential users and collaborators for the site.

I used the booth as not only promotion, but also as an opportunity to continue asking the questions that make me so curious about Judaism.

Next to my very professional display for the website and my design studio, I posted a hand-written sign that stated, “Looking for G-d. Can you draw me a map?” I then offered paper and colored pencils to anyone who dropped by and wanted to create something.

In response, I received many curious glances and plenty of commentary - some silly, some sarcastic, some philosophical. I received maps of Israel, the Kotel, a human heart, and even representations of communities in practice.

My favorite response came from an 11-year-old girl, named Ruthie. At first, she drew a detailed picture of a plane flying to Israel. Then, dissatisfied, she decided to replace that idea with a simple instruction:

“1. Wanting A Connection”

She then explained that God doesn’t “live” anywhere. If we first want to have a connection, we’ll find it.

When I was a kid, I imagined God as a bearded man living in the clouds, just like the images in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. God was a “he” and lived in heaven. Now, my definition of God feels like a series of negations, at best. I know the types of God that I don’t believe in, though I’m at a loss for describing what “is.” To me, trying to explain God feels like one of those optical illusion drawings, in which you can either see two faces or a vase, depending on how you look at it. God is the thing in the negative space, only able to be defined by the things we see around it.

Ruthie's approach sounds so simple, but I think it’s pretty sophisticated. The process of seeking and asking questions is, to me, more valuable than any answer. I don’t ever expect to know whether or not G-d exists, or in what form, and it doesn’t matter. Wanting a connection is enough. Maybe curiosity can be prayer in itself?

Stay tuned for more maps…