Tuesday, June 07, 2005

My Siddur

It is a tiny thing, about four inches tall, with a cheap blue plastic cover.

It was purchased - where?

Let's open it and look inside

Inside the back cover, Hebrew script, handwritten blue ink now barely legible, the acronym: "Peh - Eyin - Yud - Heh - Kuf"

Po Ir HaKodesh (Here in the Holy City) Yerushalayim (Jerusalem)

And when?

"Tashlah" - tof, shin, lamed, heh - the Hebrew year that corresponds to 1975.

On the front cover flap I wrote Bet-Samech-Dalet which stands for Besiyata Deshmaya - With the Help of Heaven - and my name. Below that, I wrote, LaHashem HaAretz Umlo'o - To G-d belongs earth and all.

I wonder now, truly with wonder, at the fifteen-year-old girl who wrote those words. I imagine she purchased the prayer book and held it in her hands. She opened it and, sensibly, wrote in her name. But then, standing outside the bookstore in Jerusalem, looking up at the deep blue sky intersected with white stone walls 2,000 years old, she added "Here in the Holy City, Jerusalem." She put the book away in her purse and walked a few steps. She saw the hills surrounding the city, the olive trees, the distant mountains. She took out the book and wrote in the front: "To G-d belongs earth and all."

You nod, you who have visited Jerusalem as teenagers. This is a familiar song. We all go through it, right? That great high you get when you are with your peers (NCSY, NFTY, USY), traveling through the land, touching the ancient walls, blinded by the Mediterranean light and the blue blue sky.

Eight months later, you're at a disco in New York City and some guy from Barcelona is groping your breast. OK, not you, me. But you know what I mean. The high does not last, for most of us.

Still, I held on to the siddur. It is Siddur Tefilah HaShalem, nusach Ashkenaz. The binding is cracked and opens to certain pages: Birkat Hamazon (though surely I knew that by heart); Kriyat Shma al Hamitah (when did I finally stop saying that childhood prayer?); Kabbalat Shabbat; Havdalah (a wine stain on this page). There is a lipstick mark on the edge of the pages, because of course I would kiss it when I closed it.

That was many years ago. Then the siddur went dormant, as did my Jewish life. The little book rested in a box somewhere, perhaps in a cabinet. I don't remember the exact day I unearthed it again. Perhaps it was the same day I went back to shul for the first time in over twenty years. The day I faced my mortality head on. (I wrote about that here.)

Now I am reading my siddur again. I wouldn't say that I am using it, davening with it. Not yet. I have become a "not yet" Jew. A friend of mine from college (Natan, where are you?), used to say he was a "not yet" Jew. He was Jewish, certainly (a rabbi's son, in fact), but in his observance he was not yet ready for some things. He kept kosher but did not wear tefillin. Not Yet.

When I was Orthodox, I could not understand this approach to Judaism. If halacha demanded that men wear tefillin, then do it. Right? Now, I'm okay with this view of Jewishness as a journey. Maybe for you, now, the words "l'ot al yadecha" mean that G-d's words will be as a sign on your arm, an oath; not necessarily a literal black box containing a scroll of scripture. Maybe now you observe Passover but will not stay up all night on Shavu'ot.

My Judaism has gone from particle to wave; from an assumption to a set of choices. I make these choices each day: To be involved in the Jewish community; to set an example for my children; to behave ethically; to refrain from lashon harah. When I was young, growing up Orthodox, I found it hard to picture any other manner of living. Now that I know the other ways of living, I choose, deliberately, to be Jewish each and every day. My siddur - and my heart - still fall open to The Shma.


torontopearl said...

Mirty, that last line is all-powerful. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

PsychoToddler said...

I have that same siddur.

Anshel's Wife said...

I also have the same siddur!

And I'm also on the same journey, although, I think I started some place else.

Your last line was very powerful.

Doctor Bean said...

what torotntopearl said.

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