Tuesday, October 25, 2005

In My Pocket

On my way out the door today, this second cold day of fall, I grabbed my heavy leather jacket to wear. In its pockets were my gray gloves. It was nice to find them there. I didn’t remember where I had left them last February or March. Texas is the kind of place you can get through a winter season without gloves, though your fingers will be cold at times. It was reassuring to reach into my pockets and pull out my gloves. I put them on.

I’ve gone through one full cycle of the Jewish year. A year back in the fold. I’ve been reaching into my memory and pulling out many things, some I recognize with fondness, some with regret. Despite a lapse of two decades, the words to the prayers have never left me. I know them by heart. From Modeh Ani to Anim Zemirot, in synagogue or at home, the words are as familiar as if I had never stopped singing them. That’s frumkeit for you. Once trained, ingrained, you never forget.

Other things come back too. I remember now why it is hard to be a Jew. Not because of the many customs and laws, but because of the pain. It’s hard to read about young Israelis gunned down alongside a road outside Jerusalem, to see the photos of their beautiful, shining faces. It’s hard to face the hatred that inflates our enemies. The news from Israel is so often bad. Beyond bad; heartbreaking. James Joyce wrote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.” But we know there is no escape. Our history is indeed a nightmare, a revelation of the darkest pits of human evil. It’s hard to carry that weight. It’s hard to watch my husband clean his plate at every meal, and wonder if he does that because his father was starved in Auschwitz. That is a lot of pain to carry. It is hard to be a Jew. It’s hard to care and feel so much.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming. I’m not sure I want to be back in the fold. I have my own neuroses and odd characteristics, and at times my rough edges knock hard against Judaism. I’m a shy person in a social community; a loner in an energetically engaged, socially-directive religion. I try to be neutral in politics, but it’s impossible to do that and also be on the board, or even a member, of a synagogue.

But I don’t want to divorce myself from Judaism again. Not like before. I carry a siddur now in my purse (along with iPod and cell phone). It’s good to be in contact with God again. I’m moved by the Friday night services and enjoy learning and listening to Torah. I feel like my day is worthwhile if it includes a little bit of learning. Far from seeing Torah as arcane knowledge, I’m continually amazed at how unchanged human nature is and how relevant and true Torah remains. We are the same people that crossed the desert with Moshe, except now we have laptop computers.

Belief, then, is not hard for me. But involvement, engagement – that is tough. Sometimes, when I talk to God, I ask him if he doesn’t think I would have made a better Buddhist than Jew. I have a natural tendency to try to step back and be the observer, to see all sides and choose none. But being Jewish means choosing sides, and quite emphatically. And we don’t always agree. In my own congregation, we all support Israel, yet I was one of only a handful that opposed – or even questioned the wisdom of -- the disengagement from Gaza.

In the end, it may all come back to learning Torah and to prayer. Because these are the tools we have to help us know ourselves. I was brought up as a religious Jew, and I have a solid ethical and moral foundation for my life. I value that. Though I still make poor decisions and many mistakes, I have a compass that brings me back around to where I should be. That sense of direction also gives me the strength to hold firm when I need to, to disagree with others, and be true to myself.

It’s been a full, busy and rich year. It’s a good start and we will see how Judaism grows within me, and what is next. This story is not finished yet.

cross-posted at Mirty's Place

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