Sunday, September 26, 2010

Any Woman’s Holiday by Cyma Shapiro

I am Jewish. I will tell you a little story about our switching Jewish ‘houses,’ recently, all centered around our Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  However, I don’t think the religion or holiday even matters, here. I think it’s all about perception, reality, and the personal business of finding a home for one’s religion and spirituality.

We are Reform Jews. As such, we are ‘granted’ a relaxation of Jewish social norms and customs, religious practices and requirements.  In short, nearly anyone who is a Reform Jew can find some synagogue, somewhere, and some rabbi, who allows the practice of ___________.  Fill in the blank yourself.  If it is not harmful to someone, blasphemous, detrimental to one’s health or against the law, I think you can find someone in the Reform movement who might ok the behavior.

We belonged to a Reform synagogue.  It was comfortable, secure, and offered ease of dress, thought and worship practices.  We could attend services, have our children attend Sunday school, and then return back home and call it a day.  (In our case, we embraced additional practices during the week).
We were, however, alone.  When we stepped back, we realized that nearly no one associated with anyone else in the synagogue; there was little commonality among members; and almost no religious groups to join.  It was safe, comfortable and required little commitment .  But, it was not enough for us.
We began the arduous search for a new ‘home’ – one that offered safety, security, ease of dress, and community.  It was the community part that had been missing. Studying the many choices in our area, we decided to opt for a Conservative temple – more religious, more spiritual some might argue; and with many, many more requirements, both for ourselves and our children.  How could we do this? Land somewhere on one day, and land somewhere else with heightened rules, and much greater expectations and practices, the next?

We were truly scared. The practice of moving houses of worship was more traumatic than we expected; no longer were we simply finding a new house to hang our hats, or in our case, our yarmulkes.  We were seeking something that would help us reformulate our family and prioritize our religious needs. Already struggling with my Jewishness, I came with what they call “baggage” – years of indoctrinations, expectations and mismatches which I hadn’t fully reconciled. My husband had his own tsuris (Yiddish, meaning troubles) and my kids just didn’t want to attend Sunday School.  What would we do with all of those issues?

On the first day of attendance, we looked around us quickly, and began the (much longer) worship service. We spent the whole time looking around at what others were doing; others were wearing; and others were reciting. Only in this case, no one was looking at us which was a good thing. Everyone was immersed in their own practice(s), their own thoughts, their own prayers. We left, heartened that we seemed not to stick out like a sore thumb, and weren’t the worse for the experience, either.

Within two weeks, we were invited to a family-related party;  introduced to many other members; and within the shortest period of time, were made to feel ‘at home.’  When the holidays came and I surveyed the scene of women with their families, my long-held biases regarding dress, look and philosophies dropped swiftly away as I realized that we were all just women/mothers doing our job. Our children were trying to learn their religion; our families just trying to be good, perhaps righteous, religious and whole.

This experience has been ground-breaking.  It mimics my experience with new mothers. Slowly, the ‘new older mother’ moniker has slipped away in favor of just ‘motherhood,’ and I see that my desires reflect the desires of so many other women to just promulgate families and family unification, step into our own womanhood, and love and be love. It’s really that simple.

And so, at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, I welcome all of you to reflect on your current situation in life, and find some kernel of truth in my story which could also be yours.  For me,  it’s the story of coming of age. I hope you find new growth, with me.

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