(Continued from here. Hag Sameah!)
We did break up, although not for years. By then I was very confused about being Jewish, but tried not to think about it too often. Few of my Jewish friends and none of my remaining family celebrated anything any more, and my recent holiday memories were tinged with loss and sadness. I spent most of the time singing Christian sacred music, which was much prettier than Had Gadya by a long shot. I began to wonder if all those many Christians knew something we relatively few Jews did not. Just as I was considering vaguely contemplating the idea of tossing around the thought of starting to imagine what it might feel like to leave Judaism, and how my ancestors would turn over in their graves with force enough to cause an earthquake, my dear friend R.'s mother passed away. The next year, when the empty places at both our tables were too much to bear, I began spending holidays with she and her father. We followed no ritual except eating chicken soup, and they were the best Passovers of all. I thought often of the tantalizing taste of songs and laughter back in Brooklyn, but being with people I loved, who needed me as much as I needed them, was more than enough music for my soul.
A few years later I discovered my synagogue, and that I loved being Jewish, and felt very torn. I wanted to be with my friend but had seen the promised land, as it were; I couldn't turn back. For the past eight years (nine? ten?) I've spent one seder at the home of old college friends, watching their kids grow up and listening to the same great, ancient jokes over and over again--and reading, in English, every last word of the haggadah, which helped me learn the story I had long ago forgotten, and never really knew. The second seder I've spent with friends from my synagogue, at first cooking and leading from my own, quirky Xeroxed version of the haggadah, and learning that it's much more fun when someone else does all the work. Yesterday we sat around the table until after 1AM wrestling with and discovering ourselves in the story. (And, of course, eating large amounts of wonderful food.) It was also my birthday; I read Torah and got an aliyah, and a beautiful blessing from the rabbi. My soul was sated from morning until long into the night. Part of me, like all of us, struggles daily to leave mitzrayim, the narrow place--and yesterday the openness, the light, was clearly visible. I pray that I can continue to keep it in sight.
Yesterday also began the grand countdown, 48 more days until we stay up all night and receive the Torah on Shavuot in a state of near-delirium (well, speaking for myself). Last year I tried, without success, to write daily thoughts about the Omer. This year I'll commit to occasional observations, a much easier goal, and will begin with a no-brainer. As explained beautifully in Rabbi Simon Jacobson's guide, Week One (of seven) is all about Hesed, Loving-kindness. Last night, according to the multidimensional chart of realms of the soul developed by Kabbalistic rabbis, was a double dose of love, "Hesed of Hesed." I couldn't imagine a better description of my day.
And tonight begins day 2 of the Omer, "Gevurah of Hesed," Discipline in Loving-kindness. My discipline today was to avoid discipline, and allow myself to rest and enjoy the remainder of these holy days instead of worrying about the imminent return to real life.