October 30, 2009

Lekh Lekha and JStreet

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:43 pm by Megan

Reading Lekh Lekha in the wake of JStreet‘s first conference, Driving Change, Securing Peace, is an interesting exercise. Even from far away I was energized by the thought of so many people gathering out of shared commitments to peace and to Israel. Living in Israel has convinced me that the status quo is, ultimately, unsustainable, and that the work ahead will be in finding a way out that honors the humanity and the history of everyone sharing this tiny piece of earth. I think a two-state solution comes closest to this vision, and I’m glad that there are people working to make it a reality.

But wow, Lekh Lekha. If I had to point to the one part of the Bible that most explicitly articulated the Jewish people’s spiritual/mythic/emotional/ancestral connection with the Land of Israel, this would be it. God says, over and over and over again, that S/He is giving this land to Abraham and his descendants, forever and ever.

On the one hand, I can read this through my Reconstructionist lens and say that I don’t believe in a God who acts in history, that the stories in Tanakh are holy simply because they are our stories, and not because they document real events or constitute legally binding contracts. My historical-critical brain supports this, and tells me that stories like these were probably written as political propaganda, designed to cement the ascendancy of one group over another.

However. If that’s all I see when I read this, I think I lose something. In college I called myself a ‘spiritual Zionist’, and talked about the way my soul and heart just felt different in Israel (n.b. At this point, my only exposure to Israel was a 10-day tour I’d been on with my mother’s family, which was designed to push every emotional/affective button it possibly could). After I fell in love with an Israeli and was making the decision to move here to be with her, I had friends who jokingly called me a ‘sexual Zionist’. Israeli citizenship notwithstanding, I’m not sure what kind of Zionist I am these days, if I am one at all. And whatever kind of Zionist I am, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of a vibrant and strong Diaspora. In many, many, ways the Diaspora is much more my home. But so, on some level, is Israel.

I grew up on the West Coast of the United States, 3000 miles from all of my grandparents. Going back another generation, I actually do have roots in the city I was raised in, but as a white girl I know my ‘real’ roots are in Ireland, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands and a couple of other European countries that I’m forgetting. And also, my roots are here. I want to be able to hold on to the magic and miracle of spiritual rootedness in Israel, to revel in the Hebrew revival (we took a dead language and brought it back to life, how cool is that?), to walk over the roads and stones that some of my ancestors did and feel connected to their stories and I want to be able to do all that without stealing. Without the destruction of the soul that comes with being on hegemonic side of hegemony. Without needing my stories to be the only stories told.

October 25, 2009

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 pm by Megan

How embarrassing – I missed posting on only the second parasha of the year! I had things to say about Noah, but life got a little bit overwhelming at the end of last week, and I didn’t manage get to posting them here.

Part of my busy-ness was spending time with a most amazing baby and her parents. I held her and helped feed her and entertain her and just got to enjoy hanging out with her. I also got to watch her parents be parents, which was amazing in its own way – seeing people I’ve known for years in this incredible new role, all of the responsibility and exhaustion, and all of the joy.

At services yesterday the person who removed the Torah from the ark just stood there for a minute, holding the scroll close to her. I glanced around the room and at that exact moment there was a father holding his baby in the exact same way, the same arm position, the same shifts of weight, everything.

The Torah, in Jewish thought, is much more than the physical scroll containing the Five Books of Moses – it is teaching, and learning, and the generations-long conversation about how we humans can and should respond to each other, and the Divine. But Torah is also the physical scroll, and we wrap it in precious fabrics and precious metals, hold it tightly to us whenever we get the chance, walk it around the room so everyone has a chance to kiss it, and just generally treat it like one of the most special and holy things in our world.

Babies are special and holy, too. We wrap them in soft fabrics, hold them close to us, and pass them around so all of their loved ones get a chance to kiss them. Babies are miracles of potential and imagination, our link to a future beyond our own lifespan.

The Torah is our link to the past. It is our inheritance, the stories of our ancestors, the schematic and tool-kit and language we Jews are given with which we can make sense of the world. But the Torah also needs to be a link to the future – we need to look at it and see the potential for new interpretations and new understandings and new imaginings of what it has to tell us. Just like a baby who has her mother’s nose and her grandfather’s eyes, but who will grow into something neither of them could have dreamed of.

October 16, 2009

What’s in a Name?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 4:57 pm by Megan

ויקרא אלהים לאור יום ולחושך קרא לילה
“And God called (the name of) the light: Day, and the darkness S/he named Night.” (Gen. 1:5)

Naming is central to the act of creation. In Genesis chapter 1, God creates order out of chaos, dividing the תוה ובהו/primeval void into the night and day and sea and sky and earth that are so essential to the world we know. God makes them, and gives them names.

At the end of the sixth day of creation, God makes humanity in God’s own image. We, humans, are supposed to somehow reflect God.

In Genesis 2, God creates the first woman from the body and flesh of the first man. The man, however, is the one to name her – “she shall be called woman (אשה) for from man (איש) she was taken.” (Gen. 2:23)

As the story progresses, the anonymous First Man (האדם) transforms into the character of Adam (אדם), and so The First Woman needs a name, too. All on his own, with no divine prodding that we are shown, Adam names his wife Eve (חוה) because she is the mother of all life (אם כל-חי).

Adam and Eve have a son, Cain (קין), and Eve is the one to give him his name, because “I have gained (קניתי) a son from God.” (Gen. 4:1) Thus begin the begats of human history – parents naming children, previous generations describing and defining the world for the ones to come after.

This ability to name things and people is one way in which we are, for good and for ill, reflections of God. Parents of newborns know this – the power of giving a person a name, the name she will bear for the rest of her life, is a heady and frightening thing. It is also true in larger contexts: the names we use for people that are different than we are, the names we use for geographical areas whose ownership is in dispute, the names we call people we disagree with, or merely dislike.

וירא אלהים את האור כי טוב
“And God saw that the light was good…” (Gen. 1:4)

Before God gave the light a name and called it day, God saw that the light was good. It is not enough to slap a label on something and move on, in order to be truly God-like in our naming, we have to take the time, to make the effort, to see the good in the person, in the idea, in the place or thing we are choosing to name.

October 8, 2009

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 4:26 pm by Megan

From the first day of the month of Elul through Hoshana Raba (coming this weekend to a Jewish community near you!), we add Psalm 27 to the liturgy. I figured out over the summer that before bed is my best time for prayer, so I’ve been saying that psalm before falling asleep for the last month and a half. After Saturday, i think I’m going to miss it.

The most famous (or, at least, most frequently-sung) snippet of this psalm begins אחת שאלתי- I have asked one thing.
“one thing have I asked of GOD one goal do I pursue: to dwell in the ETERNAL’s house throughout my days,
to know the bliss of THE SUBLIME, to visit in God’s temple.” (translation by Joel Rosenberg)

It’s a lovely snippet, with many beautiful melodies written for it, and in years past I have walked around singing it over and over, pondering what it means to dwell in the house of God.

This year, however, I’ve been struck by the juxtaposition of another set of verses:
“For my father and mother have abandoned me,
But THE LIVING ONE shall take me in.

Teach me your way, WISE ONE, and guide me in a just path as I meet my foes.”

What isn’t immediately obvious in the translation is that the Hebrew word for teach me – הורני – is closely related to the modern Hebrew word for parents – הורים.

One way of reading those verses is “my own parents will leave me, but God will take over their role.” What on Earth does that mean?

It is true that, unless we and they are very, very unlucky, our parents will most likely predecease us. We will have to learn, eventually, how to function in the world without their particular protection and love and, more generally, without the generational buffer, the comfort of knowing that there are people in the world older than we are, with more knowledge and experience and wisdom. Some day, those elders will be us.

And if we are the elders, if we are those with wisdom and experience and knowledge (a terrifying thought, at least some days), who do we turn to for advice? For direction? For comfort?

The psalm tells us that we should turn to God.

In my theology and in my experience, God, most of the time,is not a Person with whom we can talk. Experiences of the Divine are there in moments of connection with other people, in service (in all the multiple layered meanings of that word), in the things we do that bring us outside of ourselves and our egos.

So when (may it be many, many years from now) I am faced with the loss of those I love most in the generation that raised me, I hope I will be able to turn outward rather than in, and find comfort and guidance in community, in connection, in all of the moments and experiences that I call God.

What Am I Looking For?

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:26 am by Megan

More than occasionally, I have thoughts about the weekly parasha and the Jewish year cycle.  Not having anyone to share them with or a compelling reason to write them down makes me sad.

So – a blog.

My commitment to myself this year is to try and say something in this space, every week, about the weekly Torah portion and/or whatever other shiny, Jewy thing catches my attention.

The first post with real content (n.b. – not a parasha post) should be up soon.