Artist Date 5.2: A Rabbi Like Me

 

According to my friend Deb, one of the first things I ever told her was I wanted to be a rabbi.

I have no recollection of this conversation. However, I do not doubt it as this idea has danced around and inside of me for some time.

I’m not exactly sure where or when it took root. Best I can surmise is some time between my post-college, rabbi-to-be lover and coffee with Deb circa 2007.

Most everyone I have mentioned this to over the years thinks it an obvious next step. Perhaps, most especially, Rabbi Brant Rosen.

“In some ways, you kind of already are (a rabbi),” he told me during one of our monthly meetings.

And yet, each time I seem to be moving toward it … I step away.

Most notably, when my then-husband asked me for a divorce in 2012.

No longer did I have to consider his career path. The four years of medical school and four years of residency that had just earned him a lucrative job offer in Seattle. That rabbinical school was in Philadelphia. Or New York. Los Angeles or Boston.

Only that, suddenly I could go.

I bought Hebrew workbooks. Interviewed recent graduates. Secured the domain name “A Wandering Jewess.”

I availed myself of help offered by spiritual leaders in both Seattle and Chicago.

And yet, not long after my divorce was final, the desire fell away.

I didn’t want to cloister myself away studying ancient Aramaic for five years, I said. I took issue with the schools’ policy of not admitting seminary students with non-Jewish partners. Even though I didn’t even have a partner. (The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has since revoked that policy.)

I wondered about my aptitude for learning Hebrew. Was unclear about what I would do with my ordination. And feared, as a rabbi, I would never find romantic love again.

“Who will I meet?” I asked my rabbi, in earnest. “Another rabbi,” he replied. I wasn’t sure I wanted that either.

So I returned to writing — following a 15-year hiatus — instead. I pursued other work. Fulfilled a life-long dream of living in Europe. (And dove head-first into a delicious three-month romance with a delightful not-Jewish man before leaving the country.)

I applied to the School of Divinity at Yale University.

Anything but re-open my consideration of rabbinical school.

Until recently.

I’ve heard my own voice whisper in possibility, in surrender. Words like “Maybe” and “Really? OK …” But have said little. Until Friday, Artist Date 5.2 (or 121, depending on how you count.)

I ride the number 80 bus to the number 47 and walk about 10 blocks – arriving just a few minutes before Shabbat services at Tzedek Chicago, a new congregation founded by Rabbi Rosen while I was living in Madrid. The congregation is (somewhat ironically) meeting a couple of streets over from the home my ex-husband and I once owned.

There is music and poetry, prayer and politics. Many familiar faces. Many not – like Leah, who plays the guitar and sings. I am reminded of Passover seders and other holiday gatherings … watching Jews sing with unabashed joy, Jews who not only embrace but roll around in their faith as if it were a cashmere blanket.

I am not this kind of Jew. And up until now, I have seen this as proof that I am not “rabbi material.”

Up until now.

I hitch a ride home from services with my friend Elaine. A young woman from Kalamazoo is in the back seat. She has come to Chicago for the weekend, her 22nd birthday, to attend services at Tzedek Chicago.

Her father is Jewish, her mother – Chinese … and she is all Jew. Like me, a Jew (at least to some) who converted to Judaism. But unlike me – an adoptee raised by a Jewish family but not born into one – has only recently claimed this faith as her own.

She plans to apply to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College this fall. And she has spent a summer at Middlebury College learning Hebrew – signing a statement agreeing not to read, write, speak or listen to a language other than Hebrew during the seven-week semester – in preparation for the entrance exam.

She is, in a word, serious.

She believes there is a need for a rabbi like her –a Jew of color, deeply committed to social justice, a supporter of Palestine.

I have no doubt.

But under that, I have another thought.

That I am white. Not terribly political. Older.(Old enough to be her mother.)

Faith does not come easily to me. I am a practitioner of what works. There is a mezuzah in my doorway, a batik of Ganesh on my wall, and the book Alcoholics Anonymous on my shelf.

I gather stray Jews and others for holidays. And say “thank you” when a guest brings a dairy dish and I have cooked meat.

Two of my great loves were not Jews. And when one ended in divorce, I found it necessary to have a Jewish dissolution of marriage, as well as a civil one.

I am doubtful and uncertain. Even now as I write this. Yet I keep returning to it, to this place of Jewishness again and again.

And that, perhaps, there is a need for a rabbi like me.

 

Artist Date 74: Letting Go of The Ghosts

cicada

 

It is Saturday.  My friend Amy has invited me to see the world premiere of Cicada at the GreenHouse Theatre – Artist Date 74.  It has been a labor of love – hers and others – for three years.  She has asked all of her friends to bring their friends.  To spread the word.

I say “yes” to the first part, “no” to the second – honoring my commitment to my weekly solo date.  To myself.  And write it in my calendar in pen.

But now I want to change my mind.  I want to see a boy.

He is young.  Younger.  He visited my OKCupid profile.  I visited his.

He reminds me of Mr. 700 Miles – my last love, my last heartbreak.  Right down to the part where he moved home to be with his mother when she was ill.  That’s the part that really knocked me out about 700 – his seeming unselfishness and big, shiny heart, which he proudly wore on his sleeve.

It is flawed from the start and I know it.  Making contact because he reminds me of someone I used to love.  Someone I am trying to let go of and clearly have not entirely because I am still writing about him.  Because I am attracted to someone who reminds me of him.

We exchange a few messages.  And then we talk.  He isn’t 700.  But I like his voice and there is something sweet and spiritual inside of him.  We talk about gratitude.  I tell him I’m sober – something I have consciously not mentioned in my most recent dating forays up until now, for no other reason than it is not yet germane.

We make a date for the following week, based on my schedule.  But I want to meet sooner.  I think of inviting him to the play with me, reasoning that I sometime go to events with others and still count it as my weekly Artist Date.  Even though it isn’t.

But I know this isn’t the answer.

I meet him in the afternoon instead.  Prior to the play, when a client cancels.  We go for a walk at the lake.  I tell him I had thought of inviting him to the play but didn’t – explaining the ritual and commitment of my weekly Artist Date.  He says he wouldn’t have gone, he wouldn’t want to get in between me and me.  My words, not his.

I had the same experience with 700 in January when I let it slip I would skip my Artist Date to talk with him on the phone for the first time.  He said he would feel horrible if I missed the movie I was planning to see and suggested I call him later – which I do.

It is astonishing how quickly I will abandon myself.

——————–

It is a story about holding on.  And letting go.  About memory.  Identity.  The stories we repeat.

Conversations with ghosts that allow us to live on with those no longer present.  Some haunting and angry.  Some decidedly sweet and tender.

I think about my own ghosts.  About serendipity – the times 700 has recently “showed up.”

An invitation he sent months ago to download Facebook Messenger pops up on my phone without cause or reason – his name and profile picture announcing the old request.

The license plate frame on the car in front of me, from a car dealership in the town where he lives – a village of only 5,000.

I whisper, “Are you there?”  Sometimes I swear I can feel him.  I wonder if he is thinking of me in those moments.  I like to think so.

It hurts watching Amy, as Lily, struggle to let go of the one she loves best.

It is not a single action, letting go.  More a process.  A dropping off, bit by bit, until there is nothing left but the shell of what once was, and you don’t even notice until someone asks you about it.

Like when I went to the Facebook page of the Southern Svengali for the first time in months, and saw he was living in Boston.  How could I not know?  And how is it, I could not care?  I was happy for him.  For the work he was doing.  But I was not affected by it.

——————–

Two days later I cancel my second date with 700 Stand In.

I am overwhelmed.  I am working three jobs.  Plus writing, dancing, and ostensibly looking for work.

I have not exercised since Sunday.  I am again sleeping less than six hours a night.  My apartment is a sty.

Something has got to give.  The choice is obvious.  I choose me.

I let the few other men I have been communicating with know I am on hiatus until June 12 – when my contract work is completed.  I give them my email address and I disable my OKCupid account.

I feel sad.  Like I have given away a puppy.  I forget doing what is right does not always feel good.

I know if I can let go of the attention, and the possibility of romance at least for now – the rest will drop off too.  Like it always does.  Until I don’t even think of it, think of him, until his name is mentioned.  And by then 700 miles is just a measurement of distance between here and there.

Surrender In A Box

My friend Cynthia has a God Can.  “Because God can,” she says.

I’m not quite that optimistic.

2014-02-25 15.36.44
My God Box.

I keep a God Box, instead – wooden and carved.  From Poland, I think.  My friend Patsy gave it to my ex and I as a wedding gift, stuffed with cards on which our guests might write their wishes for us.

I’ve used it as my God Box for a while now.  Long before my ex and I called it quits.

We moved the wishes into the bottom of a cherry-wood box holding black and white photographs of our big day.  Another gift from another friend.  I think I tossed the wishes in the recycle bin when I left Seattle a year and a half ago, but I’m not entirely certain.

Over the years I’ve stuffed the God Box with dreams, wishes and, perhaps most importantly, people and situations over which I have no control.  Which is pretty much everything and everyone…but in this case, those that caused me pain, anxiety, obsession.

Slips of paper and folded-over sticky notes with names.  Occasionally a few details.

My birth mother – she would have jumped into my skin if I would have let her.  In the early days of our reunion, she would call so often I didn’t have a chance to call back.

My mad crush in marriage – the one who bought me a whole smoked-salmon on my 39th birthday and nodded knowingly to seemingly every word I said.  My guru – the man who held space for everything that poured out of me.  Who saw me, was charmed by me, and knew how to hold a boundary.

I desperately wanted to keep each of them.  For each to fall into his or her proper place in my life.  That was my prayer.  To hold them near.  Available.  But without the pain of longing and attachment.

All that has come to pass...
All that has come to pass…

The Southern Svengali.  The man/boy who swept me off of my feet when my birth mom was dying in Charleston.  My divorce buddy – the one who spent long, intimate hours on the phone with me every night but insisted he did not have romantic feelings for me.

Orders to the universe.  For my condo, my apartment, my office.  Notes for a workshop I have yet to conduct.  Questions.  Who would drive back with me from Seattle to Chicago?  A dollar bill.   A prayer for prosperity.

I opened up the god box the other day and put a new slip of paper in it.

The name of a man 700 miles away.  Last week I told him I could no longer ponder the possibilities of a romantic relationship with him.   That he wasn’t available enough to me.  And I was no longer available for the knot in my stomach I called uncertainty.

That pain moved from my stomach to my heart.  I miss him.   I miss my heart leaping each time he calls or messages or just comments on my Facebook status – as if to say, “I see you.  I am here.”

What remains...God's work.
What remains…God’s work.

I wonder, will we be friends like we promised?  (I hope so.  We adore one another.)  But how?  How will he fall into his proper place in my life?While the box was open, I took out the mess of slips inside and read them.  I saw that most of these things had come to pass.  Had worked themselves out without my doing much of anything, other than writing words on slips of paper and stuffing them into a box.  And occasionally twisting, which I’ve learned is not essential to the process.

Most.  But some remained.  Unresolved.  Insistent questions about how I will support myself.  When, where and with whom I will have my next relationship, romantic encounter, date, sex, kiss.  Words cut out from a magazine, “dreams do come true…”  I left them in the box, along with the newest addition.

I’m not sure what to do with those that have come to pass.  Do I keep them as a reminder that things change — with or without me?  That new loves, losses and worries displace the old ones.  That more often than not, I receive some sort of version of what I want? Or do I burn them — as a prayer and an offering?

Meanwhile, there is a little more space in my God Box — room for my work, money and romantic possibilities to grow.  Room for God to work on them.  Room for me to act as if I believe that God is working on them — which is me doing my work.  Writing rather than worrying.  Right now.