Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Chronicles of a Jew-Talian: Part Uno

Tonight I made my annual pilgrimage to Temple with Grandpa to observe Yom Kippur. When I write annual, I mean annual. It is literally the one day a year that I make it a point to go to Synagogue. Many times, when I walk into Synagogue I feel like I'm walking into foreign territory without a passport, like I'm not "Jewish enough" to be there or that someone will look at me and be able to see that most of the time, the idea of organized religion makes my skin crawl. Maybe the ceiling will open up and I will be ejected from my seat and catapulted out onto the street so I won't taint the other members of the congregation with my non-Jewishness.

Or maybe someone will realize how little I actually know about the religion. Like this past Wednesday when I was sitting on a curb in my white T-shirt and jeans over at Roberston and Pico (aka the Hasidic heaquarters of L.A.). I was waiting for my brake pads to get replaced by my lovely mechanic. An older Russian Jewish lady approached me and asked me why I was wearing pants. I was a little stunned. My instinct was to say, "Duh lady, so I won't be sitting naked on a curb in the middle of L.A." But, being the smart woman that I am, I kept that response to myself. Then she informed me that the Torah says that women should only wear skirts, not pants.
Wow!!! I was shocked! I have never read the Torah in it's entirety (nor the Bible, nor the Bhagavad Gita - which yes, I did start). And I had most definitely never realized that there was a fashion portion in the Torah which tells women not to wear pants. If I had known there was fashion advice in the Holy Book, I would probably have paid more attention because God knows (and my friends have told me) that I definitely need help in the style department. Little did I know that Adonai was there for me all along.

But tonight, on Yom Kippur, something very different happened. I was sitting there during the service (held at the glamourous Westwood Horizons Senior Living Center) with Gramps, Cousin Judy and Grandpa's girlfriend Bernice (yes, at the age of 92 he's still workin' it), and something clicked. It was like being home, or for the first time, looking around the room and recognizing everyone's faces even though I had never met any of them before. I felt a part of it as opposed to apart from it. I realized that this room full of people over 80 was my reason for being there. These are the people that had to struggle to practice what they believe in, the ones that had to sacrifice and suffer and take risks so that they and their children and their children's children could be here in beautiful L.A. to celebrate together.

And it no longer was about a test that I could never pass.

I missed my grandma a lot tonight. We lost her almost exactly 7 years ago. It is very serendipitous that today, when I was cleaning out my old closet at my parent's house (something that my mom has been asking me to do for about 3 years now - you're welcome mom), I found several old pictures of my grandmother - Mina. One particular picture that struck me (that I now have propped next to me while sitting here at the computer) is of Grandma at about 16 years old. She's wearing a white sleeveless shirt and long flowy pants (guess she didn't get the no-pants memo either), her hair is falling around her shoulders and she's leaning against a tree in what looks to be some kind of forest or wilderness. She has a playful look in her eyes that is sexy, yet child-like, and makes me think that right after this picture was taken she began running barefoot through the woods screaming and singing and laughing. There are nights when I miss her and I wonder if I was as close with her in real life as I am with the memory of her.

I don't understand Hebrew, I don't read Hebrew, in fact for my Bat-Mitzvah, I memorized all the prayers by ear instead of going to Hebrew school and learning the language, like many of my admirable friends did. But if every language is really just a series of grunts that have gotten more sophistacted and specific over time, for me tonight, I was grunting like a champ. It was like the language became clear. The sounds were about feelings as opposed to meanings. I knew what those words mean because my grandparents know what they mean and their parents knew and their parents' parents knew. And it was strange, because I found myself singing along with the same reckless abandon that my grandmother had in that picture, as if they were songs I sing every day while skipping through the forest of my life. They are our tribal songs that have nothing to do with how devout we are, or to which place of worship we report to, and I'm pretty darn sure they have nothing to do with the clothing we wear.

So, it became blindingly clear, on this night, the beginning of the 5,770th year of Judaism, that it's not really about being Jewish, or Catholic, or Christian, or Muslim or Athiest etc... It's about understanding that there is something bigger than the physical - call it Adonai or Allah or spirit or vibration. It's expressed through us, through our art and our music, through our words and the love we have for eachother.

So this year: What do I choose to express?

If our thoughts become our words; and our words, our actions; and our actions, our character; and our character, our destiny; then I know: IT'S UP TO's up to me who I choose to be.

L'Shanna Tova. To a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.


Taylor said...

I love this. I really do. As the only to ever win the Christian Stewardship Award at my high school, I spent my teens looking at other religions and really deciding that I am a Jew, not just born one. But I didn't get the memo about the pants either....that's hilarious.

Eric said...

Fantastic. I really enjoyed reading this, Lisa.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a Jewtalian, but a much older one than you (I'm in my early 50s).

I found your blog while doing a search on "jewtalian", after my daughter told me there is now a term for what I am (who knew?)

You younger generations of Jewtalians have it much easier than I did; all my life I was hte only one I knew.

I grew up an Orthodox Jew (my mother was Italian, but she converted to Judaism). But I always saw myself as the proud inheritor of two heritages.

G-d bless you for stating your heritage. Too often other Jews made me feel as if I should be quiet about my Italian heritage.


Anonymous said...

Just noticed in reading your blog further that you are an Obama supporter. Uhg...

Ah well, guess we Jewtalians can't all think alike, eh?