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.
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.