Monthly Archives: August 2013

Tziporah Ruth

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Tziporah Ruth

Finally! It’s been an amazing and exhausting day. I will be forever grateful that Rabbi Kempler, Rabbi Greengrass, and Cantor Nelson saw so much beauty and dedication in myself and in my journey. They’re such an incredible group of women, what a blessing, what a blessed day. Rabbi Kempler has been and will continue to be an outstanding guide on my spiritual journey.  Thank you to my mother for trying to embrace something that is not easy for her to understand.  Thank you to my conversion twin for her kind words.  Thank you to my bashert for being unafraid to grow with me.

Shabbat Shalom

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My Jewish Soul[Mate]

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My friend Adam loves to drop the term bashert as often as possible.  I knew it translated to the concept of soulmate, but I honestly did not bother to dwell on it until last night.  My bashert was curious about the term so I looked it up on Wiki (the term as a Jewish concept has it’s own subsection under the term ‘Soulmate‘).  I was so fascinated by the idea I have spent some time researching.

According to the Talmud 40 days before a child is born G-d announces whose daughter he will marry (don’t hold me to that I read the passage and kind of understood it, it’s buried in a section that seems to deal with adultery, I think): “Forty days before the creation of a child, a Bath Kol issues forth and proclaims, The daughter of A is for B…” Sotah 2a.   Initially this seemed a little strange, but it’s an interesting explanation for the very popular idea of a soulmate. It’s even a little mythological in it’s explanatory nature of something people have clearly been feeling and questioning since the beginning of time.  It would also make sense in my specific case since when my bashert was born I was already crawling (awkward).  Obviously G-d saw a wide-eyed cubanita leading a completely different warm-weathered life and saw a shiddach.  In furtherance of the soulmate idea according to Kabbalah God divides a soul in half, half male and half female (a little Jungian perhaps?).  Although I don’t like the heterosexual exclusivity of the concept and I don’t really know much about Kabbalah (aside from Madonna’s brief (I am not sure, she may still be a Kabbalist) stint) I began to wonder if the division of a soul can result in a Jewish and a Gentile half? Can the bashert of a Jew be a non-Jew?

Obviously this question depends on who you ask.  The Orthodox would answer ‘no’ unequivocally.  But I don’t live in a black and white world.   Today I read that “the Kabbalah teaches that a true convert actually always had a latent Jewish soul, which for some cosmic reason had to go through a long spiritual journey in order to find its way back.” Similarly, Rabbi Allen S. Maller noted that “there are many Gentiles who are attracted to Jews because they are seeking a spiritual connection. These Gentiles become Jewish because their souls are already Jewish. Love for a Jew provides a pathway into Judaism and the Jewish people.”  Both of these articles were exceedingly thought provoking for me because of my complex relationship with Judaism.

I have always felt an inexplicable attraction towards Judaism.  I say inexplicable because I grew up in an island that albeit once upon a time very heavily influenced and populated by Jews all traces of that history were purposefully destroyed.  I didn’t grow up around Jews and when I moved to the US in 1995 I didn’t find myself around any Jews.  I learned about the Jewish people through books, Woody Allen, and documentaries and always felt very connected.  I also discovered I had what some jokingly call a “Jewdar” because I was always very attracted to Jewish men, without knowing they were Jewish men.  The moment I discovered the existence of Judaism it never left my heart or mind and I was always trying to learn more.  It made no sense to feel so connected to something so foreign, to understand it and share its values without ever being taught anything about it.  Still today it generally is the case that I will learn something new about Judaism and I will either already unknowingly practice it in my daily life or I will find a connection to and value in bringing it into my own life.  This leads me to believe in the inevitable: I have Jewish soul; it was part of me from the beginning, not concerned with my atheist, communist, Caribbean heritage.  That light inside me with boundless faith that my parents could never understand where it came from was a very Jewish soul trying to find its way.

At this point in my life I feel like it has found its way and then some.  Almost at the same time my soul found its way back to Judaism it found its other half, like some sort of serendipitous event.  As an adult I had no faith in soul mates, I had no romantic delusions or expectations, but after almost three years (probably after three minutes) with my bashert I am left no choice but to believe.  He and I just click in that same inexplicable but inevitable way Judaism and I click.  It’s not because we are perfect beings, or because we are still in that phase where everything feels perfectly surreal, it is actually because we make the daily choice to love each other, to communicate, to grow, to improve ourselves.

Rabbi David Aaron says that love is a choice: “You can get to know only so much about the other person before you have to take the leap and make the commitment. Sooner or later, you have to say, I know enough to go forward and choose to love.”  I have learned that this is largely true.  There are endless unknowns and the vulnerability required of being in a relationship can be paralyzing, even when you know deep down that it is right.  The path my bashert and I took to find each other makes me believe we were destined for one another, furthermore the daily choices we make in our relationship support my conclusion.

At every turn I seem to get divine support for my choice to love this great man.  I’ve seen him grow from a sweet, brilliant, hopeful boy to a strong, kind, patient man.  This week, after I’d begun to write this post, my grandfather was hospitalized.  I considered not finishing until next week so I could focus on just him (and work), but the support I’ve received is in direct relation to this specific blog post.   This week has made me realize something pivotal, he has integrated into my family with ease, he has lively conversations with my father and incessant banter with my mother.  My bashert has been by my side when I visit my grandfather in the hospital, has been checking in and making sure I am okay, and my mishpucha has been incredible.  His mother and father (both doctors) have watched over my grandfather like he is their own family, because now he is.  His mother has comforted me and harassed every medical professional possible to get information and updates, she kindly offered “we will help if we can, you are family,”  and I teared up.  His father called my grandfather last night to see how he was doing, to hear his voice.  That’s the thing about my soulmate, our families are just as important, they’re undoubtedly part of the package.  I wouldn’t be happy any other way.  I love to look forward to Rosh with his family, to Nochebuena with mine.  I love that I can shop alongside his mother while we chat and get to know each other more every time.  I love that he can have cafecito with my mom and share so much of himself as she excitedly asks a million questions.  My bashert and I and our whole mishpucha are very lucky to have finally found each other.

Shabbat Shalom

Making up Is Hard to Do

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Welcome to the month of Elul, a very special month of introspection.  The sixth month in the Hebrew calendar has been devised to be a wake-up call of sorts (insert shofar sound here) to prepare for the New [Jewish] Year.  Much like the New Year we celebrate at the end of the Gregorian Calendar year this one requires awareness and concrete resolutions.  However, unlike that New Year the month of Elul requires teshuva (repentance).

This week in my Ladies who Learn Torah meet up (I must devote a post to this delightful weekly event, but basically my fabulous Rabbi and several young women gather to discuss conversion, life, torah, mitzvot, etc.) we talked about the Jewish concept of sin and teshuva.  Although I was not brought up in a religious household I attended a private Presbyterian school for middle and high school.  There I learned a lot about the Christian concept of sin and transgressions against God, but I learned very little about atonement (perhaps I just didn’t pay attention).  As far as I understand Catholics have Confession for the occasions (stealing, cheating, arguing with a sibling, disobeying parents and the like) and I suppose Christians have a similar discussions with their pastors.  Still, to me that always seemed like an unnecessarily disconnected and insufficient way of acknowledging and apologizing (both to G-d and to whomever has been hurt).  I was always a believer of directly addressing the matter with G-d, at the very least.  I guess I can add it to the list of the Jewish way of doing things I understand.

Wednesday night in our discussion the Rabbi set out the task for the month in a novel way.  I knew I was supposed to go to those I had wronged and apologize and then on Yom Kippur I was supposed to address my mistakes with G-d.  However, last night I understood it in a much more harmonious way.  Although there are transgressions that I would have to address with both a person and G-d (like stealing, since it hurts someone but also violates a commandment), it is required that I address my transgressions with those I have wronged not a third party or even just G-d.

Here is why I think that is awesome, it forces me to examine what I did, acknowledge what I did, and try to make up for what I did.  Like everything else in Judaism it is about the here and now, I have to be a good person here and now, that is what matters, the thereafter is a direct result of the here and now. I love that.  I never felt that emphasis elsewhere.  Here is the hard part, it is not easy or pleasant to acknowledge that on several occasions I was not a good person.

I am amidst that process now, trying to figure out who I have hurt and in what ways I can improve.  I wrote my first apology to a friend, someone I was close with and then I wasn’t.  I struggled with doing so because I didn’t think I was the only one to blame, part of me felt like I wasn’t at all to blame.  However in the spirit of the month I examined the situation and felt I should take the opportunity to apologize just in case I hurt him and because I had not made amends sooner.

Wednesday night we also talked about taking this time to do a little self-improvement.  Yesterday morning I got a great message from my conversion twin, it was a very thoughtful breakdown on how she was going to improve herself from the inside out.  I have also been on a path of self-improvement, albeit a lot more focused on a single issue: my perception of unpleasant situations (and as a result my temper).  I can be volatile at times, I blame my Cuban temper, and I can very quickly jump to hurtful conclusions as to why someone acted in a way I didn’t like (they don’t care about me, they’re inconsiderate, etc.).  I have been trying to change that and communicate instead (this was hurtful, why did you act this way*)  and I think I have improved.

There are other areas of my character I’d like to improve and certain aspects of relationships in my life I should take the time to address.  I want to start the new year with as clean a slate as I can possibly make it, it’s in my power to do so.  This has been a year of change and growth and sometimes in the process issues are overlooked and people are hurt.  There are topics I should probably address with my parents, with my friends and with myself.  I want to be a better woman, I strive to be better to others and to myself,  I want to be a better attorney,  I try to educate myself and grow in my profession, I want to be more spiritually connected, I want to feel Jewish every day, I want to be a better daughter, sister, granddaughter, partner and friend and that requires time and communication.   This weekend I will draft a concrete list of ways to accomplish that and I will think about those I may have hurt intentionally or otherwise.  I will start to make amends with others and myself.

Although this will be my third time observing Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, it will be my very first Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur as a Jew.  That adds a little extra incentive to do it right.  On Yom Kippur I want to feel as pristine as the white dress I will wear, completely ready to atone, immerse myself in introspection and prayer, and start anew.

Shabbat Shalom

*okay, that’s how I want to react I haven’t actually gotten that eloquent.

Embracing the “F” Word

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The fourth “F” word in the subtitle (or explanatory title) of this blog should unquestionably be feminism.  I am fairly certain I was born a feminist, and I take no credit for that fact.  Much like my parents raised me with the idea that there were no other options after high school except a college education, I was brought up with the idea that there were no major differences between my gender and the other, except for biology.  There were never any limits imposed upon me simply because I was a girl.  Sure, I grew up with dolls and a predilection for the color pink, but neither of my parents ever told me anything was off limits because I was a girl.  I am sure my parents didn’t become so open-minded on their own.  Both of their mothers were very different women, but both were also ahead of their times (perhaps largely due to circumstance).  My paternal grandmother studied accounting and my maternal grandmother put herself through law school and eventually became a judge.  As a result both of my parents had strong women in their lives at a time when women were not allowed to be strong.

As I grew older my innate sense of womanhood grew stronger, but I never thought to call it anything.  I honestly did not know boundaries based on gender.  I think I was in high school when I began to read about feminism, when I began to read Steinem, Friedan and de Beauvior.  By then I had seen that my experiences were perhaps not the norm, that the way I had grown up and the women I had grown up around wasn’t the norm.  Even more puzzling I realized that the women I had grown up around had struggled to get to where they were, had experienced difficulties because they weren’t the norm, because they had opinions and voices.

Soon their struggles were my own, both because of some sort of sisterhood sensation and because I began to feel the sting of generally accepted sexism.  Initially I was generally baffled by the gender-based concepts so many people carried so nonchalantly, but that feeling often led to frustration and anger.  The worst sexism I experienced was during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.  I was forced to listen to generally accepted sexist statements from strangers, pundits, and politicians.  I can honestly say that after 2008 I became an unapologetic and unequivocal feminist.

I don’t understand the young girls who allege they believe in gender equality, but refuse to identify themselves by the seemingly unspeakable like “F” word.  We are by no means in a place where we can disregard all of the work our foremothers have done.  We are still struggling every day for our positions, our voices, and our choices, even in a first world nation.

But I digress.  As a feminist I was forced to consider the relationship between feminism and Judaism.  From my proximity to Jewish women I gathered they were much like me (or like what I aim to be), strong, opinionated, intelligent.  The Jewish women I had encountered in my life were strong, opinionated, independent, professionals.  I thought I fit right in.  I wanted to be those women.

But when I began to encounter women of the Orthodox community I was puzzled.  I knew that I didn’t know much about the Orthodox community, but from the outside it seemed like rampant inequality between the sexes.  I went to my rabbi for some enlightenment and she lent me a book “On Women and Judaism” by Blu Greenberg.  Initially it was not an easy read, I didn’t understand how she could live obediently so much of her life without any questions.  Then she read The Feminine Mystique and Blu and I had a lot in common.  Things just weren’t the same for her and a million questions arose.  I still haven’t finished the book, but it is a very informative, well-written read and it reminds me that I have much to learn.  I have already ordered my own copy on Amazon that I will cherish.

I share a lot with these more observant women.  I look forward to the day when I have my own family and I can provide spiritual guidance for them.  I hope to devote a lot of my time to raise my children and spend time with my husband.  I look forward to spending hours in the kitchen and wearing an apron.  Still, a huge part of my life is undoubtedly outside of the home.  I have spent most of my life in school and finally I am beginning to see my career path emerge.  Successes in the courtroom are elating and the ability to help people is fulfilling.  I want it all, even if it is impossible to have it all.  I won’t stop trying and settle for one or the other simply because religion or reason dictates.  Surely  I will have to make some sacrifices and I will have to make choices, but I believe my partner, my career and my family (both present and future) are worth the effort.

Shabbat Shalom