When Baddy and I were freshly married, we were on our way to a Livingston family reunion and we were staying at the La Quinta Inn. On our way we stopped to have a family dinner at the take out window of Burger King. I looked at Baddy and the three boys chomping on their gum and said, “Ya know Baddy, I don’t really do La Quinta.” “Well, ya do now,” he cheerily sang while hucking a loogie out of the window. “What ever happened to the Jewish Princess my father raised me to be?” I asked. “Oh, don’t you worry,” he guffawed, “Once a Princess always a Princess,” and he squeezed that spot on my knee that makes me scream and jump out of my seat.
Every year when I pull out the two boxes from the attic, one filled with Christmas Ornaments for the Christmas tree and the other with Jewish ornaments for the Chanukah bush, plus a Menorah and a Star of David, I can’t help but question the confusion my children must feel by having parents from differing religions. Baddy a Presbyterian and I a Jew from Massachusetts. Had I married a Jewish man would life have more meaning for my children? Would they be calmer because of their inner peace?
Growing up Conservatively my parents took us to temple on the high holidays, and although the services were painfully long and boring and not geared toward children, I loved sitting next to my handsome father as he sang the songs from the Prayer book. I felt safe in his strong, steadfast presence, breathing in his cologne and playing with his shiny gold cuff links given to him by my German grandmother, it didn’t matter that I found absolutely no meaning in the prayers.
When we needed a break my sisters and I would push open the enormous doors and expend our energy by running around outside in our beautiful dresses looking for trees to climb and then we would hang out in the bathroom to play with all of the expensive soaps. Somehow the songs and the Hebrew words spoken from the Rabbi permeated into my being and became part of my soul, but I never truly understood the full meaning of what it was to be Jewish.
I endured my horribly nervous teacher at Hebrew school who would scream at me to shut up every time I flirted with the most dreamiest of boys in my classroom, Steven Goodman. Any kind of school was easier to endure when boys were around to flirt with. My friends and I did what we could to keep awake by passing notes back and forth as she paced the classroom yelling at us and rapping her yard stick on our desks, “Sheket,”she’d cried. Saying shut up in Hebrew seems to be the most significant thing I learned from her.
I had a Bat Mitzvah because it was par for the course in my hometown and it meant everything to my parents, not to mention that I was rewarded with the best party I ever had with my very own DJ, a disco ball and flowing gifts. I’d like to think that my inability to appreciate the significance and spirituality of my training was due to my incredibly dull teachers, I couldn’t live with placing all of the onus on myself.
If only I had been fortunate enough to have a professor like the Israeli Tal Ben-Shahar who held the most popular class in the history of Harvard called “Positive Psychology”. He taught students how to create a fulfilling and flourishing life teaching them positive thinking, ”Learn to fail or fail to learn,” and ”not ‘it happened for the best,’ but ‘how can I make the best of what happened?’ ” It saddens me that in my many hours of studying the Torah at such an impressionable age the ancient words of wisdom were not interpreted for me.
Living on a Kibbutz:
It wasn’t until I traveled to Israel with my sister that I found a deep love for the Israeli people and Judaism. We had never been to an armed country before and the sea of soldiers with huge guns slung across their shoulders was very disconcerting at first. But the soldiers were beautiful, most of them being our age, and we shyly flirted with them admiring their strong bodies, sparkly green eyes and olive skin. It didn’t matter that their big warm smiles were marred by teeth filled with the shells of the sunflower seeds they snacked on. We soon got used to being guarded and began to rely upon their presence to keep us safe.
We lived on a Kibbutz and worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life which, at that point, wasn’t saying much. We visited the Dead Sea and watched the very white tourists pretending to read the newspaper while floating like big fat Otters on their backs, we hiked in leopard country in the Negev desert playing in the lush forest and waterfalls hidden behind the desert walls, we walked through the markets of Tel Aviv while Arabs beckoned us from their butcher shops with headless goats hanging from the ceilings, we posted prayers to our aunts and uncles that we had lost during the Holocaust and placed them between the stones of the Western Wall and we fell in love with the magnificent gardens that sprouted out of the dry desolate desert. We were filled with an enormous pride to be connected to the Israeli people and their culture.
Through the years, I have also grown to appreciate my husband’s religion – but it was my gathering together with Reverend Dr. Stephen-Poos Benson that gave me a much greater appreciation for the spiritual meaning behind the Christian doctrines and what I know by being a Jew married to a Catholic is that I am living in paradise in my mixed marriage and those living with hatred are not truly living – and never will experience the beauty of what life is all about.
With Chanukah here and Christmas rapidly approaching, I feel the pressure building once again to create a heartfelt festive and spiritual atmosphere around the house, just as our mother’s did when we were growing up. But it is not an easy task to successfully bring on the magic of both holidays and since I can’t focus on one I fear that I will inevitably fail at both, a worrisome problem.