Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Before and After

I ran into a neighbor yesterday, someone I haven't seen in awhile. She's what I think of as a post-modern Jew - devoted to her faith, yet as a mother of young children, trying to figure out how to celebrate the holidays without making her kids feel punished. To celebrate the Sabbath in a traditional way, for instance, would make her kids want to know why they aren't allowed to go to soccer practice, something they love. In her family they've adapted Shabbat to include soccer practice but they try to unplug a little bit not only from technology but from the frenzy of activity that is a part of life lived at this moment in history, in this place. They light the candles on Friday nights, do the prayers, enjoy their family time. It was interesting to hear about.

She, too, spent many years in San Francisco, hence her reaction to my tattoo wasn't the recoiling-in-horror type reaction that many Jews feel, viscerally, when they see a tattoo. She was curious, wanted to hear the story, which is how we got to talking about the Sabbath as an alteration of time. It was a fascinating conversation that would never have happened if I hadn't gotten the tattoo. Hmmm.

The moment one of my dear friends saw my tattoo (he is definitely anything but post-modern), he blurted out, "Now you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery!" It was such a sharp reaction, a reflex more than a thoughtful response. After the minor outburst, he acted cool, but oh my.

Like I care about that!

I've always referred to myself as a pre-Judaism Jew. I love the unknowable God that is pure potential, and I like the focus on living well now, not focusing so much on the next life or the afterlife. I love holidays that begin and end at sundown, with ceremony and feasting. It feels so right to me. But the recorded history of Judaism is something I don't get along with, and the Torah? Well - I already wrote about how poorly I connect with the Torah. Whoa.

Following the conversation with my neighbor yesterday, I wonder if I'm not also a post-modern Jew. Pre-Judaism/post-modern. I think I embrace some of each, especially with this tattoo, an ancient word in modern Hewbrew. Is it a paradox or an oxymoron, is it "right" or "wrong," that I embrace what came before the Word, but not so much the Word itself? Is a tattoo of the word Shalom, in modern Hebrew, placed where the people in the camps were tattooed, an abomination or holy - or neutral? You tell me.

The sidewalk conversation with my neighbor yesterday was far more intimate in nature than any we've had in the past. The scar on my arm opened a space between us where we could acknowledge that we are kin. How fascinating!



Pam said...

Reya I so strongly feel you do what's right for you.
I tried Catholicism, I tried Budhism, the aspects that the nuns and lay women always did the mundane hard work, catering and cleaning while the men basked in the glory of the ceremonial roles got to me eventually.
Take beautiful teachings to your heart - the rest is just rules. Adapt to fit your circumstance with love and caring at the centre. The world can never have too much of that.

Reya Mellicker said...

I wish you could see how I smile and nod "yes, YES" when I read your comments, Pam. Seriously we are across the planet from each other, but we are on a wavelength.

I like following rules. As a "J" in the Meyers-Briggs measure, if there are rules, I understand what I'm dealing with. I can follow the rules or not as I choose, I know that intellectually.

Here's what happens. I make a choice to buy, for instance, green bath towels. When I need more, I get more green towels. Now it is a habit. Over time it becomes a rule and if I do it long enough, it becomes very hard to remember that I can buy any god damn color towel I please. The habit has become a law of physics! So weird.

Perhaps it's best that I never studied Hebrew because I know the stories at the surface of the Torah are guardians meant to keep out the likes of me right after my initiation into witchcraft. The mysteries that are embedded in the old Aramaic we will likely never discover, but there is still very deep stuff in there. I look at pics of the Orthodox men (as you say - always the men) with their Tefillem strapped to their foreheads and I know they are on a wavelength with something profound and ancient.

We're not allowed into the inner sanctums of these traditions, as you say. It really sucks.

Angela said...

It is always so interesting for me to follow your thoughts, Reya, and also your commenter`s. Me, the after-war German who was asked first thing when I met people from foreign countries (also in America), "Are you a Nazi?" But as soon as I said, "Of course not", I was accepted, which also surprised me. But who was I? I could not hold on to traditions, so I had to invent myself on my own, and that involved thinking a lot. Luckily, I was raised as a Protestant in Church, and I think I deeply embraced that. In my Religion report-card my teacher always wrote (the rule was to just state: attended or not attended) "attended critically", haha. My poor teachers.
What I want to say is, when rules - which certainly can give you peace and security - make you forget that you can decide things for yourself, then they are not helpful. When I teach my children, I always make them ask me and challenge my opinions, and it is amazing what thoughts they suddenly can develop.

Reya Mellicker said...

That is so smart, Angela!

Angela said...

I deeply believe that people, ALL people, have the "knowledge" in them. If only they can overcome their fear and the restrictions others have tied them with!
But too many people never dare to let go.