Monday, January 31, 2005

3. Hebrew school, part 1

The principal of my Hebrew school, a stuffy, suited, squinting man by the name of Rabbi N, spoke with the gravity and accent of Winston Churchill, except when he yelled and sounded like a bookie from Brooklyn. He yelled often, thanks to my classmate Marshall K, who had a perfect Bay City Rollers haircut and no fear of the wrath of rabbis. Marshall put tacks on the teacher's chair and threatened to jump out the window if we were given any more homework. I was a good girl and awed by these daring feats, which made those three afternoons a week bearable. They also gave me something else to think about when Rabbi S stroked my hair during daily brachot boot camp--"So you're eating a peanut butter sandwich! Quick, what's the blessing? Celery? Steak! Carrots! Faster! Faster!"--pulling my pony tail so I looked right up at the ceiling and, presumably, at him. I liked that I was his favorite student, but it was still weird. I never told anyone, because Rabbi S was a big, fat, round, serious rabbi with a beard, and so beyond reproach.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

2. How I got here

My father was born in 1902 or 1903 in Maliner, a town near Kiev, Russia. Starting in 1917, he made his way to Canada and acquired a wife and two sons, working variously as a fur trapper, song and dance man, Hebrew school teacher, and grocery store produce manager. They moved to the Bronx. His wife died. He met my mom, many years younger, at a dance in Brooklyn. No doubt she was attracted to his Cary Grant mustache, dangerous eyes, and knots of muscle on his arms, the result of years of lifting boxes of vegetables. She had beautiful, slim ankles and a smile that would warm the room you were in and the one next door, as well. They married and went to Queens, and his son returned from Korea to sleep in the room that would become mine, years later. He eventually left for California to join the counterculture, and I was born.

My father was religious and of the old world, but with asterisks for living in America. Queens in the 70s hadn't yet shipped its Jewish population off to Florida, so I attended a tepidly Orthodox Hebrew school three afternoons a week with all my friends. We kept kosher, but with only one set of dishes, and didn't observe the Sabbath; my father said he got special dispensation from the rabbi to work on Saturdays. Nor was Shabbat a big topic in Hebrew school, where we spent much time memorizing the proper blessing to say over Snickers bars and making crowns for the Purim play out of faded construction paper. We also read the book of Genesis, in Hebrew without translation, once a year every year from third through sixth grades. I knew there were four other books, but assumed they were either not very important or only for adults.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

1. Hello

Welcome to my first foray into the world of blog creation. I haven't read many, either, although I do spend the majority of my life online (often as "alto artist," which seemed appropriate here, too). This blog will deal with the remaining minority of my life, the part that seems to count the most.

This collection of words is called "on chanting" because that activity, chanting Torah, has made my head spin over the last few years. The resulting vertigo has sent me stumbling down a path of opened and naked fragments of mind, heart, voice, awe, and gratitude, all begging to be addressed, fueled and solved. But I have so much more to learn before I can even approach my questions. Sometimes, standing in front of the congregation, I stop and shut my eyes and remind myself that this is really my life and not a wonderful waking dream. Then I come home to reality, the deadline on Monday, how to pay the bills, the guy who doesn't call back, and despair that I will never combine the two worlds. I need to know how to bring that joy and abundance into the rest of my life. I hope that writing about this experience will help me understand.

I've tried to put these words together before, but they failed me. Well, really, I was afraid of committing to them. I'm hoping that a paragraph or two every day or so, with the world watching, will help me do better.