Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reflections on Becoming a Savta

Reflections on Becoming a Savta

So, our oldest daughter, Yoella, and her wonderful husband, Jeremy are now parents of adorable and very beloved (so quickly they come into your lives, these new souls entered this world a mere 13 days ago on September 15, 2010) identical twin girls. We had the privilege of being part of the very special naming ceremony (Simchat HaBanot or Zeved HaBanot – to cover both Ashkenazic and Sephardic ground being the pluralists and Klal Yisraelniks we are!) this past Sunday, Chol HaMoed Sukkot for Neima Hadar and Neli Shimona. Beautiful names, a beautiful ceremony shared with family and friends, and so well thought out by my daughter and son-in-law. In these almost two weeks we already see that they are going to be fun parents with a fun family that will embrace, value and nurture these two girls, truly presents from G-d (the translation, rough though it may be, of the Sephardic name for the ceremony).

As I was sitting there for yet another special occasion (as if Tishrei does not throw enough special days and events our way generally), I noticed the wonder of the moment. The birth of these beautiful girls, the joy in my daughter’s and son-in-law’s faces, the presence of about 120 family and friends, skyping in (thank you, technology!) our daughter Talie from Be’er Sheva where she is in Medical School, and Mira, Jeremy’s sister who is presently in Australia, and so much else.

One profound highlight of the service, aside from the naming itself and the subsequent ceremony and explanation of the names, was an unusual and deeply moving Hoshanot procession with Torahs, Lulavim and Etrogim and babies in tow! Everyone was near tears! We brought together my daughter and son-in-law’s Modern Orthodox congregation from Center City Philadelphia (M’Kor HaBracha), a sizable number of their fellow Akiba Hebrew Academy alumni and classmates, members of our own Young Israel shul, a representative grouping of Germantown Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue in the area, active Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish practitioners, and people who are part of the larger Jewish community, those who are part of other faith communities, and so many other wonderful human beings.

During the explanation of the names of the newest members of the Jewish community (though we did wait 11 days for this, so there are no doubt newer ones by this point), it was clear the amazing thought and consideration that Yoella and Jeremy put into these choices. The souls that are recalled in these names were all people of great faith and character and their legacies will be carried on in these new lives and in this newly configured family. What honor (and responsibility) these girls carry with them as they begin their own exciting journeys!

I am watching all of this with tears in my eyes and a swelling of gratitude in my heart that was difficult to contain. How dare any parent be as happy and fulfilled as I am – how can it be possible to be so blessed?! G-d has truly given us so much. I am looking at my children – Yoella and Jeremy, Talie (on the computer screen), Rachie who came back from New Orleans and her work in repairing the world, and our fourteen year old Brian who is already the proud and care giving uncle, and of course, my wonderful husband Ken and it is hard to put into words the depth of feelings I have. The greatest blessing of all for a parent is to feel that your children are exactly what you had dared to hope they would be – wonderful human beings, caring individuals, committed Jews (in our case), and grateful for all that they have.

I know that Neima Hadar and Neli Shimona are truly blessed to be their parents’ children, the niece of their uncles and aunts, grandchildren to seven grandparents, and the member of this wonderful family with four great-grandparents, cousins, friends and community, and oh yes, among all of this a new Zaide (Ken) and as for me….. we don’t use the G word or the B word, just call me Savta!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Learning to Appreciate and Acknowledge all of G-d’s Children

It’s truly funny how our learning experiences are so cumulative and connected if we are truly paying attention. I think its one of those coincidences of life …. You know, G-d’s way of remaining anonymous.

So, my son Brian and I have finally returned to our regimen of learning Gemara after his various camp experiences this summer. Lo and behold, here we are on 8b of Berachot and we read the most amazing information. Loosely translated, here goes:

It was taught in a Baraita by Rabbi Akiba: There are three things I like about the people of Medes. When they cut their meat they cut it on a table (as opposed to using their hand for a base, which could lead to injury and spilling of blood); when they kiss, they kiss only on the hand (as opposed to the face or mouth, thus spreading germs); and when they hold counsel, they hold counsel only in the field (and not in public leading to possible embarrassment).

A bit later, we continue with another group of admirable practices of a grouping other than the Jews:

It was taught in a Baraita by Rabbi Gamliel: There are three things I like about the Persians. They are modest in eating, they are modest in using the privy, and they are modest in their marital relations.

These Baraitot occur within the discussion of practices that the Jewish people should or should not engage in, specifically not to cut meat or food using one’s hand as a base and not walking by a synagogue while there is a minyan and not going in. It is within this discussion of appropriate practices that these Baraitot appear, indicating that important teachers amongst our Jewish scholars found these practices of other peoples admirable, perhaps so much so they should be emulated within our Jewish ranks.

Who says that only WE know what G-d wants? Who says that the most devout amongst any group, even the Jews cannot learn about refinement and proper behavior from others? After all as we learn in Pirke Avot, “The Mitzvot are given to us to refine us.”

There is an important lesson here, especially in our day of fractionalization and so much enmity between different groups of faith communities, both within and amongst them.

Merely a few weeks earlier this summer at the Sholom Hartman Institute, we learned a chapter of Isaiah, specifically 19. The end of this chapter goes as follows (verses 23 – 25):

In that day there will be a highway out of Egypt stretching to Assyria and the Assyrians shall come into Egypt and the Egyptians shall come into Assyria; the Egyptians and the Assyrians shall serve and work together. In that day Israel will be third with Egypt and Assyria; even a blessing in the midst of the land. The Lord of hosts shall bless them saying, “Blessed by Egypt my people and Assyria the work of my hands; and Israel my inheritance.”

This text was presented with the challenge that it was probable that the 130+ Rabbis and scholars in the room had rarely, if ever, taught it. As we learned it together we discerned why. This text as well as the texts above from Berachot goes against the grain of the particularism that so many Jews hold dear. Here we learn that Egypt and Assyria will also be blessed if they can “pass the test” of cooperation and we come in third. How humbling!

To be sure, we are NOT G-d’s only children and G-d does not ONLY have expectations of us and no others. Clearly there are practices of other people such as those of Medes and Persia that are noteworthy and valuable to consider and there is potential redemption for all peoples, even Egypt and Assyria if they (that is WE) learn to work together.

Clearly something to consider as we approach the Days of Awe and listen to the call to ALL of the Shofar these days of Elul!

Creator of the Universe! Let us learn to work together and travel to and fro from each other’s land and ways of understanding. Let us acknowledge what is praiseworthy in each other. Let us learn to live and work together while maintaining the important aspects of our individual identities!