I thought I went to Kallah in order to deepen my practice- or, rather, to connect to Judaism again.
I wanted to find again the joy I used to have in it, before my heart was shocked, frozen, contracted, tight and small in terrible pain. The innocence was gone; I could engage with my mind but simply could not silence the angry-teenager-me who fought and pushed against everything that resembled structure or control in Judaism.
It makes sense now; I did not want to be controlled. I was pushing against Judaism because I wanted to trust myself again. I had failed to push & stand up for myself against a relationship that controlled me in a way I find horrifying to remember – so Judaism had to stand in for him, and I had to prove to myself that I valued myself enough to fight.
As much as I fought with it, I never thought to leave. I stuck with it. Somewhere under the layers of grief, loss, fear and harm, there was a hard solid core of utter loyalty to Judaism. I’m a little surprised that I did not simply walk away, considering that my first introduction to this religion began with abuse and betrayal- but I couldn’t.
Ultimately, even though my choice to become Jewish has come with some sacrifices, it was a choice that was made from a very deep soul place, a knowing that it was where I belonged.
People often ask me why? Why would I choose this? Why would I do this to myself voluntarily?
I was asked the other night if I would walk away– deny Judaism for a relationship, for a marriage. No, I said – without question, no: I do not know who I would be if I were not Jewish. Judaism is my heart. When I became Jewish, it was like I was given an extra piece of my soul. Though there has been a lot of pain, I live more fully now. I am more awake.
So. I went to Kallah in order to find that again – beyond my first rabbi’s version of Judaism, beyond what he taught me and later betrayed, as though he had held every teaching over the years in one hand and set a match to it with a sly grin –
I wanted to find again the purity, clarity and magnificence of my own heart in Judaism.
And I did find that —
but I found so much more than that.
It wasn’t in the classes, though the classes were wonderful –
When we read the torah scroll, we focus intensely on the black letters. Especially those of us who are slower in our Hebrew – those curving letters used to bring me to tears – how beautiful they were to me, and how closed! I would focus on them fiercely–
but sometimes, we have to remember to pull our focus back, and to see the white spaces around the black letters as well.
In the white spaces – that is where our most unexpected lessons can live.
It was in these “white spaces” at Kallah, outside of the services or classrooms, that the lessons of the heart, not the mind, came to me.
My growth was not from the teachers, though they were incredible and gave much that fascinated me – it was from the other people.
Again I am struck by the thought that one could know Torah even if one never studied it, simply by connecting to, learning from, studying other people with an open heart.
Not just the beautiful moments – the difficult ones, too. That person who frowns, looks you up and down, doesn’t respond to your smile and “good morning,” but rather, looks away with a scowl on their face — very unpleasant feeling, isn’t it ? — the impulse is to flinch away from that, laugh it off or fend off the feelings that come up — but what if, instead, one says “hmm, interesting,” and observes the feelings and thoughts that occur?
That scowling other person has just become a mini-meditation.
Now on to something more pleasant: the beautiful moments.
The man, Jack- his surname is the name of an angel, and he is an angel to me- walks up to me in the cafeteria. “I want to say something to you, I don’t know if you can take it in right now?”
he waits while I bring my scattered brain back from cafeteria-crowd-mode, and focus my eyes and attention on him.
“Sitting next to you last night at the concert – was a wonderful experience. You are so beautiful, loving, and kind. It was a gift to me.”
“what a loving thing to say,” I tell him quietly, smiling into his sweet eyes and laying my hand on his arm.
“It is what you are to me.”
The woman in my chanting class who walks up to me before class begins.
“I want to tell you that you are beautiful, and that I love you,” she says, putting her arms around me gently.
My “spirit buddy,” Matthew, who listens to my hurt one morning and then quietly gives me this gift:
“You were not at the cabaret the other day?”
“There was a woman who said: ‘Why am I always early? Is it because maybe on some level I don’t think I am worth waiting for?”
When someone looks into your eyes and gently hands you a piece of your own puzzle, not because they want something from you, but because they have the desire to give –
that is pretty much the deepest healing.
And so, yes, I did connect to Judaism again. It wasn’t what I was looking for: I will never go back to that initial infatuation, that Maxfield Parrish painting of innocence and magic;
It is better than that. I hung by my fingernails through the barren time, and now I am rewarded – this has deepened into a journey of love. Love that I can trust now, absolutely – love that has given me something I never yet possessed – the ability to look into someone’s eyes and take in the kindness that they are giving. I always feared that, fended it off.
In fact, I believe that was the one lesson that I could not learn from my former rabbi:
“Can you hear me?” he would say , “I love you. Can you really try to hear that?” he must have said this a hundred times – a thousand. “I never said ‘I love you’ so much in my life.” maybe that was what I was for him – he learned to love.
I could not hear him. I could love, with all that I was; I could love with every scrap of my being – but I could not be loved.
And so, the deepest lessons from Kallah were not taught to me in a classroom — they were taught in a cafeteria, at the lakeside, and in a “spirit buddy” meeting, or talking to someone else during a service. They were given lightly and easily, with no embarrassment or stories around them, with no need for response or measuring up.
I wonder if these people have any idea that they were soul-teachers to me. Sometimes, i guess, we are blessed to give someone a piece of their own puzzle–but maybe we never even get to know what we gave & how we transformed their lives. And that is okay… because the healing has been seeded, and it’s going to spread like a mint plant…may I one day have the opportunity to give this kind of healing to someone else.