It is said that we should live, love and dance like there is no tommorow......Therefore, I have made a decision in my life that will result in me having one less regret, if God forbid, tomorrow doesn't come. I have decided to become a B'Nai Mitzvah. Back in the 70's, even in reform Judaism, my rabbi did not believe in girls becoming Bat Mitzvah - my first introduction to male chauvinism. I was confirmed, but did not learn Hebrew and therefore was not able to lead my congregation in prayer. Therefore, I have always felt that there was a part of me that was missing, because as Jewish as I felt, I was still at a loss when in temple. Over the years, through osmosis and repitition, I have learned some of the prayers, but most often, I don't feel confident. Most of the time, even when I am reading the transliteration, I might as well be reading "pig latin"!.....but will I feel different?When I was young, I was passionate about God and Judaism. I wrote poetry, I was active in the temple youth group, I proudly wore my Jewish star around my neck, I had a definite relationship with God and in essence, I had faith. When I was a 14, my best friend who was one of God's angels on earth, had a tragic accident, was in a coma, had a major medical setback and became a "vegetable" (horrible term isn't it?) for the next four years until she died. I was angry, oh so angry, and right then and there I gave up my faith, preferring to believe in the power of people, versus God.
What a tragic loss.....
I am nine years old. It is Sunday, and I am at religious school. I leave my classroom to go find the Rabbi. He sees me, I am crying, and he kneels down to talk to me. I tell him that I love God so much, that I want to become Orthodox. He tells me he will give me a list of books he wants me to read about being Orthodox, that I should take the list home to my mother, read the books, then decide if that is what I want to do. There is no further memory, except to say, that I'm not even sure if I read the books. The point being, there I was, this passionate young child, so at one with God, with my religion, so proud, so unaware of the test of faith that was yet to come.
That I failed.....
It astounds me to this day to realize that I had a choice to make. That I didn't need to completely shut God out and give up everything I had felt for so long. It was as if someone told me that I was no longer to speak English, and I had to start speaking Spanish. I just did it, and never looked back. I was angry, and there was no one there to explain to me that this was a test of faith, and that faith means hanging in there even when you don't understand why something so horrible could happen, when you feel betrayed and let down, when you feel you've had your world stolen from you, when you're angry. It never seemed to be an option, to keep believing, to keep my faith in tact, and to not blame God. Years later, I read Rabbi Kushner's books, I was in therapy, I was able to let go of most of my anger, and I came to realize that God was not the reason I loss my friend. I came to see God not as the cause and preventor of all things. More as the source of comfort when things do happen.
It has been a long journey back....
When we had our children, as is typical of so many mixed marriages, all of the sudden my religion, my relationship with God came to the forefront of my life again. It mattered. I wanted my children to be raised Jewish, and so when my oldest was six, we decided to make our home a Jewish one. The issues and struggles I have around my children and religion are matter for another posting. So let me go back to the B'Nai Mitzvah. Here I am, about to embark on a two year experience, of learning a great deal about Judaica, history, Torah and more. I am excited to learn all of that, even if it means getting out of bed early on most Sunday mornings from now until June of '08! I am petrified, and I really mean petrified, about my ability to learn Hebrew, to read it and to make sense of it! The good news is, I will read and speak "with my class" at our B'Nai Mitzvah service, so my errors won't be that glarinly obvious! Also, I have to remember that at the age of 32, I learned to speak Japanese, so I must have some ability to learn other languages!
....but will I feel different?
There is a large part of me that wonders if I will ever be able to recover the passionate feelings I had when I was young. In speaking with my rabbi recently, I told him of my test of faith, and how sad I am that I don't feel that way any more. He offered that perhaps I had never really mourned the loss of the innocent, naieve passion of a young person, because I was so busy trying to deal with the loss of my friend. Focusing on the smaller picture versus the larger picture. There seems to be some sense to that. He also reminded me that there are all kinds of Jews, those who believe in God, those who feel more connected to Judaism by heritage and culture, and many combinations in between.
how it feels today....
These days, I do have a relationship with God. I do talk to him (a sort of asexual "him"), an edgy, testy, are you listening, do you know I'm here - remember the book: "Are you there God, it's me, Margaret" kind of dialogue. I feel God mostly when I am out in nature, and I do experience miracles, of which I always express gratitude for. But I long for that 100% faith, that total passion, that feeling that someone or something (other than my parents back then and my husband and children now) was watching out for me and taking care of me. It seems that since that time, I have never been able to summon up the same kind of passion for anything in life, and that leaves me feeling sad.
...but will I feel different?
My brain (which is in a protective, defensive mode right now) tells me that even though I am becoming a B'Nai Mitzvah, that my relationship with God will not change. My heart is telling me to stay open, let whatever happens, happen, and not to have expectations.
Just to enjoy the dance, like there is no tomorrow!