Sunday, September 20, 2009

Zichronot (Remembrance): You Shall Go Out in Joy

Rosh Hashanah 5770 began Friday at sundown.

This year the High Holy Days seemed to sneak up on me, and yet, as I have come to expect, they are still a roller coaster ride of events and emotions.

This year the New Year was bittersweet, our first without the Chemistry Geek Princess. I have not written of it, or of her upcoming wedding, because mixed in with my joy at seeing her coming up in the world is also the personal heartbreak of watching her choose to leave Judaism behind her. For me, being a Jew has a light side and a dark side and binds my personal universe together. Like all loves, it is exciting, frustrating, challenging, comforting, fulfilling. It is so inextricably part of who I am that I would be unrecognizeable to myself were I to wake up tomorrow not a Jew.

And yet somehow, in our topsy-turvy lives, I did not convey this to my daughter. She did not find it compelling. It is, we say, hard to be a Jew. And in this day and age, each person must choose Judaism for herself.

Perhaps there is a moment in the life of every mother when her eyes are opened and she wonders: How did this one grow beneath my heart, how did this child come forth from my body, and yet become so inexplicably foreign to me? How is my own child more unrecognizable to me than the child of a stranger, the young woman who stood to chant B'reshit (Creation), on this the second day of Rosh Hashanah, at the service in the mountains?

As Jews, we share the mythos that all of us stood at Sinai amidst the fire, the smoke, the awe and the blasts of the Shofar. Everyone who has the soul a Jew, whether she comes to it early or late; whether he comes to it through struggle, or by slipping into it as one slips into the world between one moment and the next at birth; everyone who is a Jew stood at Sinai, and in that moment out of time, accepted the covenant as an individual. This is our shared Ur-story, our shared myth and shared remembrance.

And today, as I sat under the Ponderosa Pines listening to our rabbi sing of remembering Sinai, and as I felt the heat and tasted the smoke, I understood that the Chemistry Geek Princess did not stand there with us in that time outside of time. In that mythic time she was elsewhere, partaking of a different story, choosing another way. For it is hard to be a Jew.

Since learning, during the week of Pesach, that the Chemistry Geek Princess was no longer crossing over the boundaries with us, I have not gone to a single Shabbat service until Erev Rosh Hashannah, Friday. For reasons that are complicated and inchoate, even now, I kept myself apart from the synagogue.

At the Erev Rosh Hashanah service I had an almost unmanagable desire to stand for Kaddish with those mourning a recent death. But the Chem Greek Princess is, thank goodness, very much alive. Every moment of life is a moment in which to rejoice.

Yesterday Rosh Hashanah morning services were good. Together we remembered the birth of the world, of life. We remembered Abraham's moment of insanity when he almost murdered Isaac, the child of laughter, and we remembered the urgent call to reason at the last moment. We stood for the wild wailing of the Shofar, calling us to majesty, to remembrance and to redemption. But the sermon, of which I will write more later, jarred that momentary sense of remembering, and by Kaddish, I was no longer there in that place.

This morning was different.

Joy greeting the light of day--Or Zaruach l'tzaddik . . . light is sown for the righteous.

Women dancing to the sound of drum and cymbals . . . kol han'shamah . . . the voice of everything that breathes . . . echoed the blue of the sky, the deep green of the pines.

A primal moment of Jewish soul.

The second Aliyah--the going up to make the blessing for the reading of Torah--called those who stood in need of healing; of the body, or of a breech, or of some great internal struggle in need of a tikkun, a repair, a return to shalem, to wholeness. I went up with others whose bodies or minds or spirits called them to go up. And, beside myself, I said the blessing. And as I stood there listening to a young woman chanting Torah, I saw the mirror of my daughter. What might have been, in a different universe. And I stood, tears running silently down my face as I listened to her proclaim in her sweet and confident voice of the goodness of the earth and those that dwell on it.

And so through the second blessing: . . . Blessed . . . for implanting life within us . . .

And so through the Mishebeyrach: . . . May the one who blessed our mothers and fathers bless these ones also with life and great wholeness and completeness.

And so through the reading of the Haftarah (Prophets): " . . . you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and hills shall burst out in song before you . . . They stand as an everlasting sign that all shall not perish."

A wedding. A simcha--a time of rejoicing. A commitment. A new family. A chance at more life. It should be, it is a time of joy.

And yet, here a breech, a loss. A daughter's choice, a mother's grief.

How to find the balance? The sense of shalem--of wholeness, of completeness, of peace?

"I remember you,

As we stood at the foot

of that mountain,

covered with soot

from all the fire and the smoky cloud . . ."*

And I remember watching you,

through the ashes and the flame,

I remember you . . . turning and walking away.

Was the sound and the heat too intense?

Did I not teach you your name?

Or was it all just too much,

And you turned away?**

A mother's work is to guide each child, to teach and to uphold her. But a child's work is to grow and becoming someone new and different. And the child will go where the parent wishes she would not. And that is the way of life.

And so I grieve. My crown is broken. A precious jewel is gone. There is a loss, a tear in the garment, a breech in the circle. I cannot know how this will become. And there is distance made by her, and made by me. Perhaps only the coming of the messiah can span it.

And still, she should go out in joy.

*Rabbi Joe Black, "I Remember You", from the album Sabbatical.

** Elisheva Levin, You, Walking Away.


Retriever said...

Oh, Elisheva, my heart aches for you. The worst, for a loving mother (short of a child dying). Perhaps especially when it is a wonderful child you are so proud of. When a kid is really screwing up, one can see the straying from the fold as just a symptom of other difficulties, and hope and pray that they will get their act together and return then. But when an accomplished and amazing kid turns away, it can hurt more as it seems more considered a rejection...I hope and pray that it is temporary. Such a cliche, but people often return when they have children. At least in my tradition...

I am sorry for her too, that she does not feel (right now) the pull of the faith and community that sustain and inspire you. Of course, I cannot understand your situation or hers completely, but I can imagine.

I pray that you will be able to draw strength from and experience joy in your own continuing worship and observance.

I could relate to your writing about staying away for a while (when my own girls rejected church fairly recently, I could hardly bear to go back to mine as I felt so stricken, not wanting to burst into tears when people would ask why they weren't there)

gadaboutblogalot said...

Dear Elisheva,

Your daughter's mother has not failed and neither has your daughter failed her mother.

Perhaps trite and a little silly,but this too shall pass. I believe.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Elisheva, I also ache for you. Thus far my children have all chosen to remain in our faith, but until the last one is married and/or under his or her own roof rather than ours, my heart is in my mouth as I hope and pray this is true for all of them, and we have many years before we will see that (the youngest being but 11).

My youngest brother did choose to reject the faith of his youth, and I have watched my mother grieve for him for years.

I, too was a wanderer, but only for a couple of years, and then, as Retriever said, when our first child was on the way I realized I could not raise her outside of the faith I knew, and I returned.

Incidentally, and this may seem silly, while I love the movie Fiddler on the Roof, it has always to me been a tragedy as well as a lovely musical. My heart aches for Tevye with the choices the second and third daughters make that pulls them away from their faith.