Friday, May 28, 2010

An Unending Love on Facebook

This was my first Facebook birthday party, and I loved it!

Emails poured in with words of blessings and good wishes. I received loving kindness through the Internet airwaves from co-workers, relatives and friends from all over the world. (I am still counting my blessings and my Facebook posts!)

I was not into my birthday this year. Years come and go; the important thing is to pass into them gracefully. My day was a kaleidoscope of my life which included breakfast with my mutual birthday girlfriends (Susan and Judy), taking care of my granddaughter while my son-in-law had knee surgery, dinner with my son, and a work project completed.

The icing on the virtual cake was the unexpected birthday wishes on my Facebook wall connecting me to the universe of friendship and love.

I recalled the poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro that is found in the Reconstructionist Prayerbook: My gift to you!

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled
ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Mikveh Delayed

Last night I saw the play "Mikveh" at Theatre J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. I recommend you see it. It inspired me to write this piece.

Soon after I got engaged, I decided to honor the tradition of immersing in the mikveh before my wedding day. I was twenty-one years old.

I signed up for "kallah" (bride) classes at a local orthodox synagogue. This six-week course taught young women about the practice of mikveh in their married lives.

Throughout Jewish history, unmarried women have immersed in the mikveh prior to their weddings. And married women immerse after seven days from the end of each monthly menstrual cycle in preparation for the resumption of family relations in their most fertile days.

Submerging in a pool of water expressly to symbolize a change-of-soul was a deeply spiritual and immensely compelling reason for me to mark this new station in my life from bride to wife.

Even though our home was of orthodox observance, I went to public school. This was not true of the other women in the class. They were all products of the neighborhood girls yeshiva (the Jewish parochial school).

I had been dating since I was thirteen. Many of the women in the class vaguely knew their husbands to be, but I had dated my fiance for two years. They were virgins. I was not.

It never occurred to me that this single fact would interfere with my desire to perform this mitzvah before my wedding night. My mother had questioned my motivation in even signing up for the class, so I couldn't ask for her counsel.

Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps I was in denial.

I lived an orthodox lifestyle. I never spoke about sex to my girlfriends. I assumed that they, too, were not virgins. As each of them became engaged, and the topic of the mikveh came up, I realized that they were the real virgins. I was a virgin wannabe.

Week after week, the level of my guilt heightened after every lecture about the laws of family purity. Discipline and pure intention was required.

I still remember the small, classic, hard-covered red book entitled "The Hedge of Roses" by Rabbi Norman Lamm. It was an ideal size for carrying in a pocketbook for reference. The message elevated the monthly mikveh visit to an act of spiritual holiness.

I believed in the power of this mitzvah (commandment).

The lectures were practical and based on the law. My fellow classmates giggled with every sexual suggestion. I knew something they didn't know and felt unworthy to be in the same room with them -- or in the same mikveh.

I was not giggling. I was squirming inside. What if they were right to have held on to their "virgin" status? If they were right, then I had been wrong.

I never completed the "kallah" course or the mikveh experience I so longed for. I never consummated my marriage through immersion in the mikveh.

Twenty-two years later, after six years in seminary and a detailed course of biblical study on the laws of family purity, I went with two of my fellow female rabbinic students to an orthodox mikveh on the West Side of Manhattan a few days before our ordination.

The mikveh lady asked nothing from us except the minimum eighteen-dollar charge.

She showed us the accomodations and quickly left to administer to the other monthly visitors to the mikveh.

We became each other's mikveh ladies. We said the blessings and witnessed each other's immersions.

The regret of not having immersed as a young bride returned to me.

The mikveh is a status changer.

I am no longer a bride, yet I am ready to walk down the aisle that God has placed before me.

My name begins with Rabbi.

Friday, May 7, 2010


My eldest daughter Naama needed me to chaperone my granddaughter on her first grade field trip to Great Falls National Park. l accepted with great enthusiasm. What are grandmothers for if they can't fill in at important life events like a field trip?

A little yellow school bus greeted me in the parking lot. The kids jumped out like jelly beans on their way to the factory packaging plant. They left their static classroom desks and white teaching boards to delve into the verdant forest and rushing waters of pure nature. The children's spirits were released. I was so grateful to experience their vitality.

We hiked to watch the waterfalls. We skipped along the canal's towpath. The children picked up rocks and played with the insects that crawled beneath them. We made three bathroom stops in the space of an hour. And then, lunch!

Everyone went to sit next to their lunch boxes including my granddaughter, Noa Rebecca. There on the table was a lunch with my name on it: "Savta" (Hebrew for grandmother).

My daughter prepared a picnic lunch just for me: humus, red peppers, a whole wheat wrap with carrots, an apple, and trail mix.

The lunches I had made over the years for my four school age children were as numerous as the stars in the sky. No exaggeration!

Now, decades later, my own daughter made me lunch. One individually packed, homemade lunch stared back at me. I succumbed to its gift and ate it voraciously.