by Miriam Chilton
Every week I look for the “That Should Be a Word” column in The One-Page Magazine in the Sunday New York Times. The column, if you can call it that, has an amazing knack for coining a good neologism – a new word or phrase. The humor, smarts, and creativity of the words inspired me to create my own neologism – “congfirmation” (pronounced cong-fir-may-shun).
Let me explain.
I recently had the honor and pleasure to witness my youngest child affirm his faith as part of the confirmation process at our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid of Bloomfield, N.J. After a year of study with our rabbi, each of the 14 students shared why Judaism was important to them and then publicly affirmed their faith in front of the entire congregation. I started to wonder: “Why, if they are affirming their faith, do we not call the process ‘affirmation’ instead of ‘confirmation’?” Then I asked myself the differences between the two.
According to Merriam Webster, “affirm” means “to validate or state positively, to assert as valid and to express someone’s dedication,” whereas “confirm” means “to ratify, to strengthen, and to give assurance.” Once I had the definitions, I felt less sure which of the two words best described my son’s journey. I was also not fully convinced either fully captured the importance of the process.
The students have begun to understand and recognize that Judaism, at its core and embodied in its customs and rituals, is a communal religion. Many of the confirmands, who are 15 or 16 years old, spoke about the communal nature of Judaism as a vital part of why they value being Jewish. My son noted how, working together, we can truly make a meaningful difference in the world. Some spoke of being connected and supported by community, while others spoke about honoring the past as they looked to the future. My son and his classmates aspire to change the world for the better and are embracing their quest to find meaning and purpose.
What was so powerful about the confirmation experience is that they recognized the value our sacred communities play as social, intellectual, and spiritual centers. I’m confident that even if we do not see them often at Shabbat services, they now understand, on some fundamental level, that to achieve their purpose, they will seek the communal nature that is linked to the understanding of themselves as the people bound by the Covenant.
“Congfirmation,” then, the act of affirming and confirming one’s Jewish faith amongst a congregation that nurtures and supports them, could be a more accurate and comprehensive word. It’s a word that not only defines what happens but also celebrates that which is unique and so powerful about our religion. Although this was my youngest son’s confirmation, I know that in the years to come, I will be there for others in our community who will be confirmed. I’m confident and optimistic that by the very nature of Judaism, our sacred communities will always be there to sustain our children.
I have the privilege of working for the Union for Reform Judaism, where I help lead youth engagement. After my son’s confirmation weekend, my commitment to our Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE) is both confirmed and affirmed because of the 14 young women and men who articulated how important Judaism is to their own lives and where the cycle of giving and learning renewed and enriched all who witnessed and participated.
So when you next see “congfirmation” in the New York Times Magazine, remember: You read it here first!