Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
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There’s something about that age, for my kids, anyway. Three is where they start to get a concept of God – and I find it absolutely magical.
When Jessica Mary was three, she was so fascinated by the concept of God that I started looking much more seriously at Judaism, because I wanted a strong religious foundation for her. There was no Church of Melissa that I could send her to for formal instruction, and when I looked at raising her in my spiritual tradition or Marc’s – Marc’s was the clear winner. On the theological bones of it, Judaism was such an easy fit for my beliefs – and Judaism had the added bonus of already having a huge community waiting to welcome her. She loved the rituals, lighting the candles and making the blessings, and explaining that something was a mitzvah was the quickest way to ensure her cooperation. As a three year old, her spirituality was already so defined.
When Samuel Earl was three years old, he was the same way. He wanted to have a birthday party, just him and God for his fourth birthday. Part of that was that he didn’t like people all that much and at least God wouldn’t be looking at him and making him talk – but part of it was also that he had a profound connection to nature and trees and being outside. I called him my little Druid – he was intensely connected to nature. I remember him sobbing after a really bad storm came through and so many trees were lost. It was painful for him on a level that was hard to watch. For Sam, his belief in God has always been intense and natural and easy. God is his friend, God made the trees and when there is damage done to nature, Sam is devastated, not just for him, but also for God.
And my Julianna Ruth, who turned three in April… Last night, I started reading her a book that I had picked up for Sam for summer reading. First Book of Jewish Bible Stories – and I just read the beginning of it, where God first created the world. She was fascinated. It was a story she’s heard before, because she goes to preschool services at the synagogue, and she knew the song about the days of the week, ending in Shabbat. She was so excited about it, reading about her friend God. She announced that he was her new best friend, and how he must have created people so that they could be his friends – and I thought about what a fascinating way children have of boiling down theology to their level. And how safe and reassured she was – God was out there, and God loved her and she loved God, and it was so exactly what I wanted her to take away from the story.
I struggle sometimes with Judaism. I don’t feel at home with the culture all of the time. I don’t like gefilte fish, and don’t understand Hebrew. But what I love about it is that the Jewish God is my God. He (or She) is the one that I’ve been connected to for as long as I remember, and I have always felt as though we have a very personal, individual relationship. And when I’ve struggled the most is when I’ve felt cut-off from that relationship. But in the end, I believe what my kids believe. I think three year olds know it all already, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to understand it: That God loves us, and gave us tools to make it easier to connect with each other and with God, that the natural world is intimately a part of God and that in the end, the world is a better and brighter place because of our relationship with God.
It was what sold me on Judaism in the first place. Shabbat represented family harmony, elevating common everyday things to a sacred level. Taking a whole day, an evening and night and the whole next day to just appreciating what you have. Preparing a big dinner, taking a quiet moment to light the candles and thank God for the food and the light and the family in front of you, spending the next day partially with community, and partly with just family… It was the first thing about Judaism that felt like it was mine, the first thing that made me feel like I wasn’t just doing it for someone else, this was what I wanted. For me, for my husband, and for my kids. It’s the foundation for me, it’s what keeps me grounded in Judaism. I don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish, the emphasis on the Torah is sometimes confusing to me – but Shabbat, Shabbat I understand. Shabbat brings me back, week after week, to what I want most for my life.
So why is it so hard?
I think it’s a function of my life right now. I’m essentially alone with all three kids all week long. My husband works so much, and the hours are so brutal. I’m achingly aware, all the time, of his absence and how much the kids miss him. How much I miss him. And how much EASIER it is when he’s home. Just having another adult in the house, someone to answer the questions or pay attention or help with homework, even just someone to pour me a cup of coffee when I’m too busy to do it myself.
Friday night comes and goes, and he’s not here. I’m trying to make an effort to at least light the candles with the kids, but last night’s dinner was beans and hot dogs. I put my toddler, Julianna, to bed, and then my ten year old daughter, Jessica, conked out on my bed next to her. Sam, my almost seven year old, was rocking and rolling until Marc came home around nine thirty or so. He ended up falling asleep on the couch while poor Marc ate leftovers after everyone else was sleeping.
This morning – I was just irritated. The house was in shambles, coffee wasn’t made. Julie was up at the crack of dawn, followed almost immediately by the other two. The kids were battling, Julie was exhausted and screaming, literally screaming whenever something didn’t go her way. Nothing went her way. And I yelled at Marc until he finally left the house just to escape.
I drove to the synagogue, in no mood for any kind of spiritual activities at all, but Julie loves it so I went. Dragging a reluctant Sam, because he wanted to stay home and color. Jessie had gone to my in-laws for a visit, so I just had the two little ones. They did not behave in an exemplary fashion, and at one point, I had to lean over and hiss in Julie’s ear “If you don’t stop right now, we won’t come again.” That’s right, I threatened to take away Shabbat if she couldn’t behave. Stellar parenting right there.
As I was driving home, still aggravated and feeling put upon and stressed out, I grumbled to myself that I don’t like Shabbat. I was thinking it’s too close to the work week, there’s too much stress and pressure and I need a day to decompress before I can really relax and appreciate my life. But Julie piped up from the back about how much she LOVES Shabbat, she get to see Ellen and Aviva and Abi and Tali at the kids service, and challah and grape juice. I thought for a minute or two, but even after that, I was still crabby and unpleasant.
Then I got a brief window of time, went out all by myself. Marc took the kids and they let me go without too many tears. For a brief period of time, I was able to just… be. Just exist. Do what I wanted, go where I wanted to go. So I got take out chinese, and went to get books. Of course. And I felt better.
Maybe a whole day for Shabbat is just out of reach for me at this point. Maybe all I can manage is a few minutes, here and there. I did light the candles last night, and Julianna, oddly enough, can recite the blessings by herself. I didn’t know that until last night. And Jessica cleaned the house while I was gone earlier and had a tea party with Crabbianna to keep her occupied. On my way back, I picked up Sam and brought him shopping with me, and we picked out dessert for tonight.
Maybe Shabbat is found in little pockets of time that I manage to cull out of my life these days, maybe I should try harder to find them during the week. Moments like yesterday afternoon when Sammy sang on stage, and last night when my Jessie snuggled up next to me like she was a little girl and fell asleep that way. Moments when Marc loves me despite the fact that I yelled at him until he left, rather than fight back with me, because clearly I was too irritable to have a rational discussion.
Maybe I need to rethink Shabbat. Just a little. Just for a while. Because there’s opportunity for holiness everywhere, and gratitude and solace and harmony. There are moments, every day, I just need to be more present and aware of them. Maybe I need to focus more on trying to have a little of it every day, instead of resenting the fact that I can’t have a whole day of concentrated Shabbat-ness.
I have been sitting on my couch for much of the afternoon reliving my experience in Israel, looking at some pictures and trying to find another flight to go back.
I covered my hair while I was in Israel, in part because I wanted to protect my head from the sun, but also because I was in the Holy Land, I felt a bit compelled to cover my hair the same way I do when I go to Shul.
There is the concept in Jewish tradition that a married woman covers her hair, as a symbol of modesty. Hair is considered sensual, and a married saves all her sensuality for the eyes of her husband alone. I have grown to appreciate this concept. I have been wearing skirts that go below my knees and long sleeve shirts for quite some time.
I hadn’t taken the leap to covering my hair full time. Right now I feel a strong pull to do it. Part of me feels a bit like an imposter though. Since my husband isn’t Jewish, I know there are a few mitzvahs that I don’t have to do, like keeping the purity laws (going to the Mikvah every month). I don’t know if covering my hair would fall under that category as well.
I am so sad to be leaving. My husband and I took our son in the stroller for an evening walk last night. I am so grateful that he indulged me. I had been at the Kotel twice earlier in the day, and I guess I want to go another time. My experiences there have been more powerful and meaningful than last time. The moment I step onto the plaza floor I feel chills. I want to hold on to that feeling of connection for as long as possible. I want to figure out how to keep it.
I am sensing that part of the answer has to do with Shabbat. I took a class at Aish yesterday afternoon and as it turned out it was on Shabbat and not the topic on the schedule. I don’t believe in coincidences, so I tried to remain open to the messages that G-d is sending me. I just watched a video blog by Lori Palatnik, and again just so happens she spoke of connection and Shabbat.
I have been keeping Shabbat for a few years, lighting candles, making a special meal, kiddush and not driving or using electricity. I admit much of the driving force has been because Shabbat is one of the Ten Commandments, and over time I have learned to appreciate and even look forward to disconnecting. Maybe it is time to add another dimension, just not sure what…
Good morning from Jerusalem.
The plan for Sunday was to go to the Dead Sea and Masada. I have been to both before, and I really wanted to go with my family this time. My son on the other hand has been less than eager to be in his car seat or stroller for extended periods of time, and I proposed not going. My husband was looking forward to floating in the Dead Sea, so we agreed he will take a bus tour there tomorrow, over Shabbat. I may get a bit overwhelmed being alone with an active toddler, I will do my best and this is definitely for the best so that everyone will have a positive experience. Shalom bayit, peace in the home includes compromise. My husband learned that the mezuzah is placed on an angle because the rabbis weren’t sure whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, the compromise being at an angle. We are reminded then to include compromise to keep Shalom Bayit. Shabbat Shalom.
Today was shopping day for us. We headed to Machane Yehudah also known as the Shuk. It was busy as can be expected the day before a holiday.
I realized today that even though there are challenges with day to day living in Israel, I love being here. I feel the spiritual energy of the city and I end each day on a high. On the flip side, I’m not sure my husband feels the same way. I see him frustrated with the impatience of the drivers. He can’t believe the prices of some of the items here. He is a kind and generally patient person. He will hold doors open for people, let please pass first if there is a narrow spot. People are in a rush here, and walking with a stroller can be challenging in crowded spot. A friend told us today that you get tough after living here a while.
My husband also got to experience the soft side of Israelis. Last night a driver honked at us and my husband got out, told him we had no idea where we were going, the driver shook his hand and spent a few minutes giving my husband detailed directions. Our first night in Jerusalem, the parking machine wouldn’t accept our money so two people waiting in line helped us out, not that we asked, they just did it.
I hope for my husband, those positive experiences will outlast the annoyances of the day to day.
I discovered late last night that children under the age of ten are not allowed into Yad Vashem. I think this makes a lot of sense, so we decided to head to Ashdod where my parents live. We had a nice day at the beach.
During lunch, as I walked my very busy toddler around the restaurant, my husband asked my parents how they felt about my marrying a non Jewish man, as they did not seem observant as I am. They explained how they were worried, but they see how happy I am, how much he respects my religion and I think they are generally appreciative of being able to see their grandson. From what my husband told me about the conversation, they were quite concerned originally, but have come to accept our family as it is. I suspect a lot has to do with a grandchild, and quite honestly I am ok with that. I have spent a long time and much of child hood in family drama of one kind or another, some of which led to family distance, I am quite content for peace (as my son bangs a can on the hard floor lol).
Today was an amazing tour of the Old City with our own guide. One of the most amusing part of the day was at the Kotel, the Western Wall. While I was praying at the Wall, my husband got a quick tour of the men’s side of the Kotel. As they waited for me by the flag pole, my husband was approached by a Chabad rabbi, and asked about the last time he put on tefillin. My husband said, “never”, well, quite obviously to him anyway. The rabbi then asked, “but you’re Jewish, no.” Husband: “well, no.”
He asked my husband about kids, and he told him about our one child. The rabbi then told my husband to raise our son to be just like him (i.e. my husband) and make sure he too marries a nice Jewish girl.
I do very much hope my son grows up to be like his dad, who is one of the most generous, kindest people I know. While I know some readers of this website may disagree, I do hope my son marries a Jewish girl. My husband understands that (also another thing that makes my husband amazing), not just as something that I want, but from the lectures he has taken with me.
Four years ago, my trip included lectures in the Aish building, still under renovation at the time. We all enjoyed the view of the Kotel plaza from the top of building and had our group pictures taken up there. It was truly special for me today to see the finished building, this time with my husband and son, wearing my JWRP pin and getting our photo taken together. Best Mother’s Day present ever. Baruch
There was very little resting on this day of rest. My son did give me the gift of sleeping in until eight thirty this morning which was very nice.
We walked over to the Kotel, the Western Wall. When I was 12, I hadn’t felt much connection. Four years ago, I also didn’t feel much at the Kotel. Today, I couldn’t find my own words, so I used King David’s words from the Tehillim, the Psalms. I had read a few trying to keep the sick people in mind, the same people my son and I have been praying for. I read Psalm number 113, the one where it says G-d gives children to barren women. (My husband and I have been trying to conceive again). Then I leaned against the Wall and just let myself feel. I started to cry, and I can’t say I’m really sure why, but it did feel like I was crying in my Father’s arm. When I was done, I backed away from the Kotel (I have always liked the idea of walking backwards from the Wall, which I assume has to do with not turning our backs away from G-d), rejoined my husband and we walked to a friend’s for lunch.
It was a beautiful Shabbat meal and day over all, one full of connection and sunshine.
This was a busy day. We headed to Tsfat after a hearty breakfast buffet in typical Israeli hotel fashion.
I liked Tsfat. Its old buildings and artists are amazing. We were a bit lost and got directions from a hostel. I mentioned I wanted to see the Ari Synagogue. She told me there were two. The one by the cemetary has an amazing mikvah for men and my husband would love it. Her father apparently had an amazingly powerful experience when he dunked there. I smiled as she quite obviously did not realize that my husband isn’t Jewish. The thought of conversion had crossed my mind and I wondered if he would choose too dunk there for his powerful experience. It was a passing thought…
We made our way to the Ari Synagogue in the old city. The one with the chair that is described to bring luck to women trying to conceive. Four years ago i sat in that chair and one and a half years later i got pregnant. I sat in the chair this time praying for a second child. The first time I sat in the chair I did have a profound experience. Tears flowed naturally. Today I sat and waited for tears to flow but there were none this time. Maybe I was too tired. Maybe I wasn’t meant to have the same experience twice.
After walking around Tsfat we headed to Jerusalem. I asked my husband if he wanted to take a detour and drive through Nazareth. Much of what we will be seeing is about my religion, I wanted to give him a chance to see something connected to his religion. It was very anticlimactic. We probably didn’t drive in the right areas, so all we saw was the town of Nazareth and a lot of traffic.
I guess no real connection for either of us today. Not in the typical spiritual sense. I sensed it in other ways. We had food and other items in the car that would like get damage with the high temperatures in Israel. The weather in Tsfat was overcast with a cool wind. The car didn’t even get hot. A little reminder that G-d is paying attention.