When you’ve been married to a member of the clergy for over thirty years, it’s tricky to renegotiate your relationship to the religion and its traditions. This is the second year of being on my own on these Holy Days. It’s a lot better than the first.

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September 28, 2020

Soul stirrings
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington

Today was Yom Kippur. My computer and I spent some of it on the deck, the sun making me squint a little and gently warming my hands. In front of me, on the wrought iron table, my small potted garden of green. I’m delighted that the primrose that arrived in the spring are still putting forth purple, pink and blue blooms.

Last Yom Kippur, a friend and I went to the movies on Kol Nidrei, the Downton Abbey film. My idea, and I’m not sorry we did it, but it was surreally awful.

The same friend came and kept me company the next day. We put pictures of my dead relatives on the stove, which doubles as a sort of shrine, and lit a candle. “It would be good,” she said, “if you could put some things out that remind you of life and joy.” Now, there is a pink lion that I painted with my granddaughter; a black metal horse with a red saddle and tiny reins that I’ve had since I was that granddaughter’s age; what I see as a dragon (but others interpret as a crocodile) climbing out of an clay egg that I found at a flea market about forty years ago; and a small painted vase, made decades ago by a relative I never knew and given to me by one of my newly-discovered cousins when I visited Budapest in 2016. The next time my friend came over, she smiled when she saw them all there and this year, they surround my memorial candle.

I had no relationship with the religious or spiritual side of Judaism before meeting the rabbi who became my husband.  I was, like many of my generation, very consciously Jewish, deeply aware that the consequences of that identity had been the cause of the deaths of many of my relatives and the lifelong suffering of my mother. 

But 35 year ago today (in the Hebrew calendar—I can’t tell you the date in the Julian calendar), my life changed. The meeting with the man also marked the beginning of my relationship with a tradition that lived, unsuspected, in my bones. A couple of months later, I wrote in my journal: Hebrew is in me in a way that’s different from English. Or Hungarian. Certainly German. I can’t explain it. I’m just allowing myself to explore and admit it. There are new places in my soul opening up.

When you’ve spent half your life hearing the words of prayers and blessings spoken by a certain voice and having them interpreted through a certain mind, it is challenging to even consider finding them inside oneself, separate from that other voice. I’m not sure I can. For the first year, I didn’t even think I wanted to. I’ve developed an allergy to things Jewish and religious, I told my friends.

But things are beginning to shift around inside me. It makes it somewhat easier that no one is gathering in a physical space this year. The coming together of community, of people I knew for so many years, was part of what made the observation of the Jewish Holy Days so precious. But, with this blog, a virtual community is gathering and many of those who have joined me here are from that spiritual community of which I was a part for so long. 

Now, with all of you keeping me company, I am once again on the journey of discovering my own path. My soul is starting to open again. 

Photo by Ruth Neuwald Falcon

13 Comments

  1. Thank you Ruth for sharing so honestly and openly. I have some measure of understanding of what you are going through. But is it not truly wonderful that beyond the boundaries of a particular path, one can find a shared community and commonality to that transcends all paths, a communion and community of the soul, The words of Rumi come to mind.
    “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about.
    Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
    doesn’t make any sense.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. La Shona tova Ruth. It’s definitely a different kind of Yom Kippur this year, no matter how you look at it. I didn’t even sign up for Ted’s zoom services. Nothing feels right anymore. But each day is a blessing during Covid and fires despite all the changes and accompanying weird loneliness. I relish the memories of holidays past with community, with an ever hopeful eye towards eventually making new memories

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Ruth, thank you so much for being here on this page, and here in this world. I’ve been thinking about you a lot this week, especially today, and am sending so much love. It is indeed strange to spend the Holy Days at home, with so many memories of our joyful community celebrations together. Ruth, thank you for sharing your truth. Your shrine is beautiful. I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ruth, thank you for your sharing. You’ve been on my mind. It’s wonderful to hear about your healing evolution.

    I’m wishing you a healthy, loving, & joyful new year! L’shana tova & a big hug, and love,

    Shari

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ruth, thank you for speaking so courageously and honestly about what it is to find authentic soul yearnings and resonance in this life. Thank you for speaking to the complexity of expressing ourselves, knowing ourselves, when we are in the weave of relationship, or unweaving relationship. I witness what is blooming and emerging in you, and through your words, and I am grateful to be part of your community. I love your altar. Me, I see the dragon. L’shana tova, dear Ruth, big hugs, and much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, how Don and I appreciate this piece, dear Ruth. We are members of the congregation you were most recently a part of with your former husband, and can truly understand so many of your feelings thanks to your writing today. We appreciate your honesty and your telling of the road you have traversed the past few years. May you continue to travel in peace and joy!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ruth, your writing in this piece is so powerful—authentically vulnerable and strong at the same time. Amidst many changes, you are finding ways to forge your personal relationship with Judaism.

    As you begin a new year, and a new life, may you always have the support you need.

    It is a genuine honor to be part of your virtual community. Thank you for the privilege!

    Blessings and love,
    Marilyn

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As many have said, thank you for your honesty and sharing the journey you have been on to reconnect with your spiritual identity.
    Although our journeys are different, I too, am struggling to make sense of how my spirituality fits into this crazy world…how I, can I, or do I even want to fit in these desperate, dark times.
    I tell myself, it is like entering a labyrinth. When you first enter, it seems the center is so close. Yet, when you make those turns it can feel as though you are wandering so far afield. Then, just when you are about to wonder if you will ever make it, then around another turn, there it is and you find yourself in the center!!

    Liked by 1 person

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