Above photo copyright The Tara Chronicles.
Yesterday I attended a Bat Mitzvah. In case you were wondering, I’m not Jewish. Half of my family is – the half I married when I married Todd. Todd is Jewish. He was Jewish when we were 16-17, and it meant absolutely nothing to me. That is, until his mom invited me to Passover. But that’s another story for another time, if I ever heal the scars of having to try to politely eat gefilte fish.
I wish I could tell you that he was Jewish and I was Catholic – the religious Romeo and Juliet – stereotypical star-crossed lovers whose parents wept at the very thought of us staying together and destroying a family culture deeply rooted in tradition. It would make an exciting and dramatic screenplay. But, alas, we are not those two people, and our parents are not those parents. However, today as 40-somethings, we two are deeply spiritual people who still carry those very basic traditions that were instilled in each of us from childhood – but not so stringent as to separate us. I was born into a Catholic family who left the church and call myself a Christian who believes in Jesus. He is not. And it doesn’t matter to us, because we both believe that all people are children of God and OUR God doesn’t dictate to us who we should be. He loves each and every one of us. Okay – enough said.
So yesterday we drove an hour and a half to attend the Bat Mitzvah of his cousin’s daughter. I was eager to meet more of Todd’s extended family – those I hadn’t yet met from his mom’s side. But, secretly weary, after having attended Nephtoo’s Bar Mitzvah three years ago. I was going over what to wear, trying to encourage Veruca to wear something appropriate that wasn’t sports leggings and a sweatshirt. I was anticipating “the rules” of this event. At Nephtoo’s Bar Mitzvah, which was conducted in a Modern Orthodox synagogue, the men and women sat on opposite sides of the sanctuary. As this event took place during Shul, I was initially surprised that people were coming and going throughout the FOUR hours we sat there. As Veruca was just 7 years old (not to mention a Type 1 diabetic), we got up a handful of times for bathroom breaks and boredom busters.
I felt like a fish out of water. And not just a fish out of water – but a fish who just realized he made a wrong turn and ended up at a fish-fry. I tested Veruca’s blood sugar while we were sitting and, as is habit, dug through my purse to write it down on my little notepad. A stern looking woman two seats to my left was making hissing and spitting noises in my direction and I quickly learned I wasn’t “allowed” to be writing in Shul. I felt embarrassed, and a little bit indignant.
Later, at the Kiddush luncheon in the adjacent hall, a woman stopped Todd halfway across the room because he was holding Ava’s scale – and informed him that these video games were not permitted. Todd turned to her and curtly informed her it was a scale for weighing our type one diabetic daughter’s food. I watched her mouth snap shut, but the scathing expression never left her eyes.
So, after this experience, I was prepared for anything yesterday. Turns out – I didn’t have to be. This Bat Mitzvah was in a Reform synagogue, still rooted in the basic principles of Judaism but not Orthodox. The shul was lovely. There was music and singing and a cantor who played guitar and, as we were seated behind the immediate family, we were blessed with the beautiful singing voice of Emily’s oldest sister (who, it turns out, is an accomplished opera singer). The Rabbi was eloquent and humble, easy-going and humorous at times. The two hours went by nearly without notice, except for Veruca’s occasional question as to what time it was. And Emily was flawless and a lovely young lady.
I left feeling a renewed sense of family and community. Everyone was kind, warm, and welcoming. I have nothing against Orthodox – I just really felt like I had no place there and self-consciously (and maybe a bit paranoid) like I wasn’t welcome. Not by the family, not by any means… but by the congregation. Yesterday, it felt exactly the way Emily’s family said it felt to them – like a home.
According to Urban Dictionary, shul can be used to describe something cool, in a Jewish way. Those bagels with lox yesterday were totally shul. (I think I like this way better than on fleek.)
According to the Talmud, one can be defiled by contact with or exchange of genital fluids and be considered unclean. This is what Todd and I were reading during the end of services. I whispered that I do believe I have been defiled. These fluids include semen and menstrual blood, by the way. A new way of thinking about your sex life, ya’ll.
And while we’re at it, a [married] woman’s right to sexual intercourse is called 0nah. Sex is the woman’s right, not the man’s. It is his duty to provide her with sex and make sure it is pleasurable for her. He is also obligated to decipher that she wants sex and to give it to her without her asking for it. Hot damn! Who’s converting??!
Wait a minute – not so fast! Orthodox women are considered unclean for two weeks surrounding their period, and cleanness is obtained by immersing in a kosher mikvah, otherwise known as a ritual pool. It is a ritual cleansing, rather than a physical one. It is also used in conversion. My mother-in-law (who, for the record, doesn’t do the mikvah) says the women are totally nude for this mikvah. Whoa! That’ll be all, thank you.