Monday, August 30, 2010

Why convert?

Some background: I was raised in a Christian family but ever since High School I’ve had a problem with the idea of Christ as the Messiah. Over the years that has crystallized in an understanding that I don’t believe in the immaculate conception, the resurrection, the divinity of Christ or the Trinity. I do believe in God though, and I did want a religion, but my beliefs precluded Christianity from ever being an acceptable choice. I tried Unitarian Universalism for a few years, but while I enjoyed the environmental/social/human rights stuff I missed the spirituality. I needed a religion. So I started to read, and in Judaism I found everything I was looking for.

What attracted me to Reform Judaism?

God: The Jewish concept of one infinite, unknowable God perfectly meshes with mine
Torah: ‘The people of the book’, Judaism revolves around Torah, the Tanakh, Midrash and other methods of study. Hey, I’m a librarian, I love books! And I love the idea of having a pattern, a way of life and of worship spelled out for me.
Ritual: Keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, having a Passover Seder, building a sukkah, hanging a mezuzah. I love that I have these ways of bringing God into daily life and making ordinary activities, like eating dinner or walking through a doorway spiritual reminders of God’s presence in my life.
Action: Jews live in this world, here, today. They do not live for some possible future in heaven. They work to make the world a better place daily. Justice, human rights, social action, volunteerism and charity are ingrained into Jewish life.
Worship: I love attending Kabbalat Shabbat services. The pure joy in worship that I experience at each service brings me to tears nearly every week. I have never known such a joyous group of people before.
Sabbath: The concept of taking a day of rest, of allowing oneself to rejuvenate and to celebrate and embrace life instead of just rushing through it is incredibly healing.
Welcome: Everyone I have met and interacted with at my synagogue has been so kind, welcoming and helpful. I have never felt more ‘wanted’ in my life!
High Holidays: Atonement, returning to God, asking forgiveness. What beautiful concepts, what a necessity to live in loving kindness. That these concepts are ritualized during the Days of Awe and Yom Kippur is to me more evidence that this is the right religion for me.

What have I found at Temple?

Really it can be summed up in one word. Home.

Tomorrow morning I enter the mikvah and take my Hebrew name, Chana, along with my youngest daughter. Tomorrow afternoon we will be Jews. Shalom.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Adolesence revisited

Saskia and I went to the bookstore yesterday to pick up a birthday present for a friend, and of course while we were there we got her and her sister a book. It was so much fun for me to see her oohing and ahhing over all the books; she found at least 10 in the first few minutes that she wanted, and as time went on the list just kept getting longer. At the top are 3 of her current favorite authors, Beverly Cleary, Andrew Clements, and Judy Blume. How I remember pouring over these exact same authors as an adolescent and pre-teen! Books like 'Dear Mr. Henshaw', 'Blubber', 'The Report Card', and 'Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing' spoke to me about exactly what I was feeling at that age. The characters could have been me. The fear, the anger, the confusion, the sadness, the changes! How did those authors, those adults, speak to me and other kids so well? How did they remember with such compassion how truly awful it is to go through puberty and to be a pre-teen or teen? I didn't ask those questions then, but I do now, because if I am going to be the best parent I can be, I need to remember too. So with this in mind at the bookstore I picked up the epitome of adolescent literature, 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.' Saskia, seeing it was a book by one of her favorite authors, thought it was for her. I explained that it is for her, but not quite yet. That this book is required reading for a girl, that it is part of the right of passage into becoming a woman, and that she will read it some day soon. Her interest was piqued, to say the least. But she respected that she needs to wait a year or so before she is ready for the book.

Last night I picked up the book and didn't put it down again until I had read it all the way through. Oh, the memories! I honestly had no idea that the book was as relevant to our current religious quest as it is. All I remembered was the sneaking of the anatomy book and Playboy, the 'We must increase our bust' exercises (as an aside, what girl DIDN'T try those exercises in secret at some point?!), the first menstruation, the bra shopping (the horror!). And while as an adult now I recognize the importance of the religious questions pursued by the character Margaret, it is still the issues of puberty which I think the book deals best with (and the reason it is one of the top 100 banned books of the 20th century).

While reading, I was transported back to the time of those firsts for me. I remember I was given the book by a friend in secret because our mothers didn't want us reading such things. Our mothers didn't want to tell us much of anything! The feeling that I remember the most is one of being so alone! Going through these changes in secret, not knowing or understanding what was going on. NEVER talking to my mother, because what did she know (or care!)? As an adult I'm horrified that I, and so many other girls of my generation (and every generation I suspect) went through that time alone. After all, our mothers and grandmothers had been through it before us. Why didn't they talk to us?! Why didn't they prepare us?! Didn't they remember what it was like? The raging hormones, the growth (or not) of our bodies, the feelings, both physical and emotional. What a horrible time of life it can be when you are all alone.

Rereading this book, I vowed to remember what it felt like to go through those changes. I vowed to be there for my daughters, to prepare them, to listen to them, to have sympathy for them when they are raging, or crying, or shutting me out. I hope I do better than my mother did. I hope, for the sake of all the girls about to become women out there that we all do better than our mothers did!