Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kavanot - 11/10/07

My kavanot from my own bat mitzvah on 11/10/2007 - Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis, MO:

In our Torah portion Va-Yetze, Jacob left Beer-Sheba and set out for Haran. Unlike his grandfather Abraham, he was not searching for God or traveling in response to G-d’s request. In Jacob’s case, G-d was silent. Jacob left Beer-Sheba for reasons that we can all probably relate to … his family relationships were the pits, he was looking for love, and he needed a job.

On the first night of his journey Jacob lays down to sleep and has a dream that a ladder drops down from the heavens. And then G-d stands beside him and makes him great promises about all the lands that will be his. And G-d promises Jacob that he will be with him. And Jacob responds like many of us might have. With skepticism. So much so that he makes a deal with G-d. “G-d, if you remain with me through my travels and I return home safely then you will be my G-d.”

Like Jacob, my motivations for traveling on an AJC trip to Israel in the Spring of 2004 were far from spiritual. My son was 1 ½ and I wanted to get away with my husband. A 10-day trip to far off places was just the ticket. Sleeping in with Steve, lingering over exotic meals, having a few too many glasses of wine and not having to worry about taking care of a toddler in the morning. Heaven. Oh … And somewhere in between I would fit in a few visits to the requisite holy sites.

We spent 4 days in Israel. I saw the sites, ate falafel and generally continued to feel the same way that I had felt about the importance of religion in my life for the last 30+ years. I hadn’t set foot in a church by choice since the mid-70s. When I had to go I watched the clock – even during weddings. My great miracle of Christmas had more to do with vacation days and holiday parties. My religion – to the extent it existed – was a bit more personal. I prayed to myself at night. My Christian friends will know it … “Now I lay me down to sleep” followed by my list of people I wanted to bless … including “Brownie” the neighborhood stray dog and “Chip” my first boyfriend in preschool. Some habits are hard to break.

Our next stop on the AJC trip was Morocco. We arrived on a Friday night. I was exhausted and nauseous from the sweaty van trip into Casablanca. An avid fitness freak in need of a fix, I was also enormously disappointed by the state of the hotel gym which held one decrepit stationary bike. We were scheduled to attend a Shabbat dinner at the home of a local Jewish family. I didn’t want to go. Steve convinced me that I should by promising that they would probably have all of my favorite foods … couscous, olives, cheese. So I rallied and went.

What I saw when we arrived was truly something out of a movie. Women dressed in sparkling robes, food for as far as the eye could see, the finest linens. These were some folks ready for a party. As we sat down to dinner, the men toasted one another with glasses of whiskey as their wives rolled their eyes and kibitzed with one another. But something happened that night. Sometime between the fish course and dessert a ladder dropped from the heavens. I listened to the stories of the slow death that Judaism was suffering in Morocco. Jewish graveyards being relocated to make way for Muslim monuments, synagogues closing one by one, and Jewish children leaving the country for a better life in Europe. I was sitting among, perhaps, one of the last generations of Jews in Morocco and they were doing everything they could go keep the religion alive.

That night Steve and I returned to our hotel and made a promise. If the Jews of Casablanca could go to such great lengths to preserve their religion, we could surely manage to have Shabbat dinner once a week as our little effort. But like Jacob, I was skeptical. Dinner at home every Friday night? What about happy hour? I’m not even Jewish! But Steve was. I had seen the way that he had been moved during our trip. I saw a deeper side of him than I had not known before. So I committed.

We went home and had our first Shabbat dinner. I think I even made a brisket. And slowly a richer life began to unfold for us.

We hung the mezuzah we purchased while we were in Israel. I lit the candles each week and read the prayers. Ben became the official Shabbat match extinguisher. Then I started to study. On my own at first and then with Rabbi Susan and the B'not. I converted. I even moved the date of my visit to the mikvah up before my due date so Sarah would have a Jewish mother. And the day of my conversion, I took Ben into the bath with me and we dunked together as I said the prayers with Steve as my witness.

While my journey may have started because Steve is Jewish, this is not why I am here today. This is why. When we hung the mezuzah, G-d got his foot in my door figuratively and literally. I felt G-d as we sat as a family each Friday night -- talking about the good things in our life and watching Ben take joy in his little victory of getting the match blown out. I knew G-d was with me each time I walked into the temple for a meeting with Rabbi Susan and my five new friends and finally did not feel uncomfortable in a spiritual place. And I saw G-d in the soft golden glow that surrounded Ben as I lifted him from the water that day in the mikvah. I will never forget that moment.

My teaching today is for everyone, not just our Jewish guests. And it is this. Keep an eye out for dropping ladders. Avoid the urge to be skeptical. Crack the door open for G-d or whatever higher power or thought moves you. My wish for you is that in doing so your life will be a little richer too.

I would be remiss without making a few personal mentions. I want to thank Rabbi Susan and the B'not for all that they have taught me … particularly Kara who openly shared her experiences with me. Kara – I think a ladder may have dropped down on the kibbutz that day in Israel.

To all my guests today - particularly my non-Jewish friends many of which have never been to a synagogue including one who affectionately referred to this night at my baklava. It means the world to me that you are here tonight.

Finally, to my husband of 11 years as of yesterday. My service is dedicated to you. Thank you for your support and love everyday and for my two miracles – Ben and Sarah. I love you with all my heart.

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