Shari attended a Conservative Synagogue. From my limited exposure, that was REALLY religious, hence the “expert” status. She listened closely to me and as it turned out she understood better than I did what was attracting me. To this day I am grateful to her for tuning in and putting aside her own predilections. Shari told me that I was looking for something more of a Kabbalistic nature. She could have said Mackerism for all I knew. (I just made Mackerism up).
Where do you find this? Kabbalah didn’t sound like something I could find in the Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland area. Uh oh. Do I have to go to California to find it?
Shari said she didn’t know of any Kabbalah in the area. But she suggested this place called Chabad. She said they may have something of what I am looking for.
Chabad? No. I don’t think so. I knew nothing of “Chabad” and that alone made it seem a little weird. “Umm…is there anywhere else you can think of?” “No”, she said.
Begrudgingly I decided to give it a whirl. This seemed obscure, but Shari was pretty upright and she wouldn’t send me any place too weird, right?
I looked up Chabad in the phone book (there they were!) and I called, reaching the Rabbi’s wife Chanie right away. I liked her name. It reminded me of “Honey” which I thought was pretty cool. I cut straight to the chase and told Chanie my brief story, “I’ve been looking on and off for a sort of spiritual home for a while. I’ve found nothing that feels like a fit. I’ve tried a smattering of synagogues through the years, Unity Church, Unitarian Church, and Buddhist meditation, among other things.”
Chanie said matter of factly, “Why not try us?” I thought it was a little lame. Why would this be a place for me?
Chanie then invited me and my family to a Shavuot celebration at her Shul. Once again, Shavuot? Kabbalah? What are these things? She said they would have ice cream and pizza and read the Ten Commandments. I started to make an excuse why the date would not be convenient for me, then made a snap decision to go.
I invited another mom and her little girl from the pre-school and we agreed to go together. Our children were friends and we had chatted a bit through the year. On the day of Shavuot, my friend came to pick me up and I came out with my two sons (ages four and one) ready to join her and her four year old daughter.
Now mind you, as a middle-aged mother of two, I dressed relatively “normal” at this point. This was in contrast to my pre-marriage, 20 something attire.
A total side story:
One evening last year, we had a family gathering with my ex-husband, a few of his friends, his brother, a mutual friend of ours whom I hadn’t seen in thirty plus years, and our two sons. These days I tend to dress somewhat “modestly”. During the evening, I made some offhand comment about “appropriate” dressing . Good-naturedly, my ex husband retorted, “Vivi, remember. These people knew you when you were Madonna!” This was in reference to when I was a twenty something single woman and didn’t always dress so very “appropriately”. Ha-ha-ha? Nothing like being humbly brought down to earth. I have to admit, I thought that was funny.
I bring this up to place the Shavuot story in perspective. This particular Shavuot day when my friend came to pick me up, though I’d dressed that way many times in former days, I was startled to see her attire. She was wearing very tight short little “hot pants”, high platform sandals, and a tight little midriff shirt. I was no conservative mama but even I was a bit taken aback. Based on where we were going, a religious and family event, and despite my non-conformist ways, I figured we would stick out like sore thumbs; possibly some people might find it off putting.
We arrived at the family event and made our way through activities as the other guests, women and men, welcomed us and introduced themselves. Here’s what took me aback. NO ONE looked askance at us. NO ONE. None of the men looked anywhere except in our faces. I was extremely impressed with the respect and restraint awarded and the lack of any outward sense of judgment or leering.
This funny new group of people began winning me over with their big acceptance even though, by superficial standards, we definitely did NOT fit in.
As we were leaving, we were invited to share Shabbat dinner at a congregant’s home. Additionally the Rabbi’s wife later called and also invited us to have Shabbat dinner at her home. We accepted both invitations. That story to come.
My takeaways here are how life enriching it is to try new things and the importance of our actions. Had I stayed close-minded, I would have remained in my smaller world where I knew the rules, and I would have never met these “funny” people that did not seem to judge us. Regarding the importance of our actions, I have no idea if people felt any judgment towards us. But it didn’t really matter. Regardless of what anyone thought, they ACTED kindly, warmly and welcomingly. If there was any judgement, self restraint was employed and it did not land on us.
Here is a condensed version of the Ten Commandments as printed in the Jewish Virtual Library
1) I am the Lord thy god, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
2) Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
3) Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4) Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
5) Honor thy father and thy mother.
6) Thou shalt not murder.
7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8) Thou shalt not steal.
9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10) Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.
I hadn’t really given these Ten Commandments much more than generalized thought until recently. We all know them right? But now I am diligently working on Commandments One and Two.
That’s another story. To be continued. ©