a garden in riotous bloom
Beautiful. Damn hard. Increasingly useful.
earlier sprouts 
12 September 2017 02:53 - "Jew-ish"
rosefox: A bearded man in a yarmulke shouting L'CHAIM! (Judaism)
Since becoming a parent I have started saying things like "thank God" and "what a blessing" a lot more than I used to. I don't know any other way to express the vehemence of my joy in Kit and our love for each other, my relief and gladness when they're well and happy, my utter astonishment that I have ended up with the life I have. I still don't mean "God" in the sense of an entity with a personality or a hand that tips the scales of fate, but in the sense of "this thing that is immeasurably bigger than me, this thing I can see scraps and moments of but cannot possibly comprehend".

I used to think I had any idea what my life was going to be like, and I was humbled so thoroughly that it has really transformed my sense of what is possible, my sense of scale. This life is so far from the life I thought I was going to have that I can't see there from here, and I couldn't have seen here from there. I am now just starting to grasp the magnitude of what I don't know, what I can't predict. This turns some people into philosophers and drives some people insane, and apparently in my case it's made me very quietly and personally and sincerely spiritual.

Okay then, that is another thing I could not have predicted—though not as unlikely as parenthood was. I've always flirted with religion and spirituality. When I was a teenager I made up a religion because I thought it would be nice, and for many years I successfully held both sincere faith and self-amused recognition of artificiality in my head at once. (It was a moon-goddess religion, and to this day I still blow kisses to the moon.) I had a bunch of seasonal pagan rituals for a while, involving candles of thematically appropriate colors. I passionately adore classical Christian sacred music. My first three boyfriends were all Italian Catholics (of varying degrees of fervor, from "fairly" to "really not") and I briefly considered converting to Catholicism; I liked the drama of it. But I couldn't recite the Nicene creed in sincerity, and it was awkward being the only one in the church who would sit or stand but not kneel. "Jews don't kneel," my mother told me firmly before the first time I went to Mass, and I added that to my understanding of Jewishness, which had everything to do with history and culture and how one approaches being an ethical person in a complicated world, and almost nothing to do with religion.

I grew up in the sort of vaguely Reform Jewish household where sometimes we'd light Shabbat candles and sometimes we'd remember on Sunday afternoon that we'd forgotten to light Shabbat candles. Holidays were about family and food and history and politics and ethics, and everyone seemed a bit embarrassed about the bits that mentioned God. (We make our own Passover Haggadot and it's been a challenge over the past few years to figure out how much God to put in there.) As a child I read books about Greek and Hawaiian myths but didn't even know there were Jewish ones. When my grandfather remarried and the men were putting on kippot for the ceremony, my uncle suggested that a bra might provide a pair of spares. I have some notion that my mother's parents grew up more observant—I'm pretty sure my great-grandmother threw out bloody eggs, my grandfather had a silver kiddush cup that clearly had a long history, and I inherited a beautiful tiny Hebrew prayerbook from my grandmother that looked like a gift she'd gotten in childhood and barely used—but by the time I knew them they were pretty done with that, much more focused on integrating spaces where Jews were or had recently been persona non grata than on inhabiting Jewish spaces. My mother taught me and my brother the basic Shabbat and holiday prayers in both Hebrew and English (and deliberately changed her English translation from "O Lord our God, King of the Universe" to "O God, Ruler of the Universe" at some point) because she felt we should understand what we were saying; eventually we felt awkward professing belief and stopped saying them at all. I had never even heard of the Shehecheyanu until I heard it at the wedding of friends several years ago. I never went to synagogue or Hebrew school or even Jewish summer camps. I speak about three words of Yiddish and they're probably all common enough to be in the Scrabble dictionary.

But at the same time, Jewishness mattered tremendously to my family, and still matters a lot to me. I've always felt very fortunate to come from such a great tradition of learning and questioning and arguing, to have been raised to value my own opinions and those of others. My understanding of ethics and responsibility, my commitment to activism, and my love of family togetherness are all inextricably linked with Jewishness. And food and cooking, of course, and observing the seasons, and appreciation of nuanced symbolism... all essential to the way I see the world.

I didn't realize when I changed my name that I was losing my Anglo camouflage, because part of not growing up with a lot of Jewish community was not learning which names are thought of as obviously Jewish. It took a while for me to get used to being "read" as Jewish much more quickly (especially by other Jews), but now I rather love it. I used to feel like I had to make a point of averring my Jewishness, and now my name does it for me. When I get into online discussions of Judaism or send a note of support to a synagogue that's been graffiti'd, it's like a little secret handshake.

Jewishness has been on my mind a great deal recently—not only since the election, but increasingly over the past several years. A lot of it is moving to Crown Heights and learning that my great-grandparents once lived not far from here. My mother has some slight recollection of there being Eastern Parkway cousins; for all I know I have relatives a few blocks away in the Orthodox Jewish part of the neighborhood. (That would definitely bolster the "great-grandparents were more observant" notion.) Having so many Jews nearby has made me realize that of all the communities I've had, Jewish community has never been on the list, and I think I would like to find some. But as a very odd-duck Jew, a fairly pagan panentheist who managed to grow up Jewish in New York without any of the New York Jew cultural things, a queer trans polyamorous person married to an ex-Mormon and a Jewish atheist, I have had a hard time figuring out how to go about it.

Finally a conversation with [twitter.com profile] schanoes kicked me into gear, and I went searching. I found Kolot Chaiyenu. Their website explicitly mentions queer and trans people, agnostics, and atheists and advertises their anti-racist and social justice work. Their High Holy Days services are unticketed and pay-what-you-can; they do request the usual multi-hundred-dollar donation, but it's a request, not a barrier. Their dues structure is sliding scale and they also make it clear that any amount you feel is a "stretch gift", something just a little more than what you might initially think of giving, is accepted as payment of dues. And their upcoming calendar includes an afternoon of singing protest songs in their sukkah.

It's possible that their services will be too God-focused for me, but given my increased appreciation of the ineffable, it seems from their site like we might be able to meet halfway. I actually really hope they recite prayers in Hebrew, even though I'd have a bit of an uphill climb to learn the ones I don't know (which is most of them). Praying in English doesn't give me as much of a sense of connection with history and ancestry and tradition. And praying in Hebrew, because it's not my native language or a language I'm fluent in, because my understanding of it must be transformative, feels like it gives me more permission to interpret. I can more easily translate אַדָנָי as "the word we use for the divine in the universe" than translate "Lord" or "God" that way, even though it's equally (in)accurate. "God" just has so much baggage, especially in this Christianity-infused nation. אַדָנָי feels... less appropriated. More ours. I'd have trouble saying "Blessed are you" to a deity I don't believe in, but I can comfortably say "Baruch atah" to That Which Is, a concept that feels specifically Jewish and part of a tradition with more questions than answers.

(Do I love that many Jewish names of God are plural? Why yes I do. Say what you like about plurals of majesty, but my headcanon has God being an early adopter of they/them pronouns.)

So I think I'm going to go to Kolot's Solichot service on Saturday night, the 16th. (Any NYC folks want to come with me? It's in Park Slope, from 9:30 p.m. to 12:15 a.m.) If that goes well, X and I will see about taking Kit to their Yom Kippur toddler-friendly family service. Unfortunately I have work commitments on Rosh Hashanah that will make it really challenging to take the day off; it's awkward to say "I care so much about this religious holiday that I can't work, but not enough to have remembered what day it falls on", especially when it's less than two weeks away, and I specifically requested that a team meeting be scheduled for that day because it's a Thursday and I'm in the office on Thursdays. I wonder whether I could suck up the awkwardness and ask to have the day off anyway. I'll think about it.

I have no idea where this will go. Somewhere good, I hope.
 
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