Genesis 2 – And Then There Was The Word

Christmas moved out when I turned 8.

My brother, being tired of rules, was done being told he was heading down the wrong path. So he decided to move out and head down the wrong path somewhere else.

I don’t remember the interactions surrounding his departure. It was more of a “now you see him, now you don’t.” This wasn’t the movies, we didn’t have some “See ya kid.” Poignant movie moment. I was 8 – invisible; he was gone.

All ornaments and decorations were packed up in a box and put in the attic. We were now only Jewish.

It wasn’t that long before my Catholic friends started going to CCD (catechism education) I was jealous that on Thursday nights they would all be in the same place learning something that I didn’t even know about. I shouldn’t have wasted my time being jealous, I should have relished my freedom.

In a blink of an eye, we had joined the temple of my parent’s social circle, and then it was my turn to go to Hebrew School. While all my Catholic friends basically went to CCD together, Hebrew School was another story.

The town we lived in wasn’t as Jewish is it is now, however the adjacent town was well-known, throughout the civilized world, as being the most Jewish town on the North Shore. And so, I became a minority within a majority. I was a girl, from the wrong-side of the tracks, going to Hebrew School with a bunch of kids who didn’t even see me, unless it was to look down their noses at me. While we were upper-middle class, these kids were upper-class. At that time, the rivalry between our two towns, our two high-schools, was strong, and even religion based. When our high-school teams played football every year, our side would throw bagels at them. We were supposed to hate each other. Apparently I had been left out of that memo, and felt the one-sided animosity.

torah

My religious education consisted of two things, learning Hebrew and learning the Jewish equivalent of Social Studies. As far as the Hebrew went, I remember how to say Father = Aba and be quiet! sheket b’vakasha (which translated means shut your mouth).

With religious education came religious services. Being a Jew in our neighborhood meant being a reformed Jew, while there were a few Conservative temples, it really was the same thing around us. It meant you went to Temple for High-Holidays twice a year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Unfortunately those holiday’s were basically back to back. And thus ensued the battle of the wardrobe. It was forbidden (or so I was told) for two young girls (my sister and me) to go to temple in pants, and so we shopped for skirts and even had to wear pantyhose. It was a nightmare for a tomboy like me. The screaming fights that occurred over the years occasionally reached epic proportions, with door slamming and everything.

I learned about my religion out of context. We read the Torah in Hebrew, a language I could read but not comprehend. Our high-holiday services were in Hebrew, on one side the Torah was written with the Hebrew alphabet and the opposite page had the phonetic pronunciation of the Hebrew in the English alphabet. The only English in the service was the short message at the end. No one seemed concerned that the children understand what was being said. Our liturgical service was much like the Catholic call and response, only this one was in a language I didn’t understand.

Perhaps if I had learned about it in context I would have been more inclined to participate. But frankly, that wasn’t even a possibility.  In Hebrew school we focused on the “minor” holidays like Sukkot and Purim, two holidays that never even made it in the door at our house. And we learned about the Passover through an elaborate ritual in the homes of our friends and family. Not surprisingly, Passover would become the common thread tying me to my Judaism.

The rest of it became a wedge.

 

This is the second post in a series. I have always been very guarded about my faith, for as you will find in the coming months, the specific combination of beliefs that make me me, make me part of one of the most discriminated against groups in our current society. This has kept me from writing about my beliefs, but why write if I cannot write about me. You can read the first post here:

Genesis 1 – In the Begining I Was Jewish

 

 

 

Glossary:

Reformed Judaism – Modified or abandoned many traditional Jewish beliefs and practices in an effort to adapt Judaism to the modern world. It permits men and women to sit together in the synagogue, incorporates choir and organ music in the service, allows a Bat Mitzvah for girls parallel to the boys’ Bar Mitzvah, and does not observe daily public worship, strict dietary laws, or the restriction of normal activities on the Sabbath. (Concise Encyclopedia)

Conservative Judaism – Mediates between Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism. It arose among German-Jewish theologians who advocated change but found Reform positions extreme. They accepted the Reform emphasis on critical scholarship, but wished to maintain a stricter observance of Jewish law (e.g., dietary laws) and continued belief in the coming of the messiah. In 1886, rabbis of this centrist persuasion founded the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (New York), leading to the development of Conservative Judaism as a religious movement.

Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year. Sometimes called the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah falls in September or October and ushers in a 10-day period of self-examination and penitence that ends with Yom Kippur. The liturgy includes the blowing of the ram’s horn, or shofar, a call for spiritual awakening associated with the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is also called the Day of Remembrance, since it celebrates the creation of the world and the responsibilities of the Jews as God’s chosen people. It is a solemn but hopeful holiday; bread and fruit dipped in honey are eaten as omens of sweetness for the year ahead.

Yom Kippur – :  a Jewish holiday observed with fasting and prayer on the 10th day of Tishri in accordance with the rites described in Leviticus 16 —called also Day of Atonement

Sukkot – Sukkot, a Hebrew word meaning “booths” or “huts,” refers to the Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest.  It also commemorates the 40 years of Jewish wandering in the desert after the giving of the Torah atop Mt. Sinai. Sukkot is celebrated five days after Yom Kippur on the 15th of Tishrei, and is marked by several distinct traditions. One, which takes the commandment to dwell in booths literally, is to erect a sukkah, a small, temporary booth or hut. Sukkot (in this case, the plural of sukkah) are commonly used during the seven-day festival for eating, entertaining and even for sleeping.

Purim – Jewish festival celebrating the survival of the Jews marked for death in Persia in the 5th cent BC. According to the Book of Esther, Haman, chief minister of King Ahasuerus, planned a general massacre of the Jews and set the date by casting lots. Ahasuerus’ wife Esther interceded for the Jews, and they were allowed to attack their enemies. The ritual observance begins with a day of fasting on the 13th of Adar (in February or March), the day before the actual holiday. The Book of Esther is read in the synagogue, and Jews are enjoined to exchange gifts and make donations to the poor. Purim is a day of merrymaking and feasting.

Torah – Is the first 5 books of the Tanakh (what most of you call the old testament). The Torah includes Genesis thru Deuteronomy. The second part of the Tanakh is the Nevi’im (The Prophets) Joshua thru Malachi, and then the last part is the Ketuvim (The Books of Truth, Five Scrolls and Writings) Psalms thru Chronicles.

Passover – is an important Biblically-derived Jewish festival. The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation over 3,300 years ago by God from slavery in ancient Egypt that was ruled by the Pharaohs, and their birth as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. This festival is often celebrated in the home with the everyone from the head of the house to the youngest child participating.

 

 

  • Jen, I meant to comment on your first post but never made it. Thank you for sharing your story. I was brought up Catholic, have been lapsed since I was twelve, but no matter how you try, there are certain creeds that are just ingrained. I have lived with a Jewish man for over twenty years and while religion has never been an issue in our relationship, we respect each others lapsed beliefs and celebrate each other’s holidays, there are times, especially for Christmas when I feel he doesn’t “get” it. And he doesn’t and that’s fine, because I don’t get some some of his either. But there is a tiny bit of sadness or longing, that this holiday will never be as it was before we were together.

    So while your story is a totally different experience, the sense of being different or being isolated is something to which I can relate. Very well done, look forward to the rest of the series.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      It can be a delicate balance Kath. More to come.ReplyCancel

  • Let that guard down, girl. Write on.ReplyCancel

  • I admire your openness and courage at exposing your journey. I am enjoying learning more about you through your faith. I cannot wait to read more.

    And, um…North Shore of Boston?ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Thank you Kerri, and no Chicago 😉ReplyCancel

  • I am REALLY enjoying these posts so far. I can’t wait to read the next installment. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Jean

    They threw bagels? And we think terrible bullying is a new epidemic. Just horrible.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Can I be honest Jean? Nobody even thought twice about it on either side. It was something we did. I live in the same town now, with the same neighbors and people who remember and we just laugh. It wasn’t done in maliciousness as much as it was a tradition.ReplyCancel

  • Religion that one doesn’t understand.. I really wonder about the reason behind that. Why just teach rituals and verses in a language one doesn’t understand instead of relaying the message in a way kids can understand..ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Stay tuned Stephanie, we’ll get into that laterReplyCancel

  • Interesting — it makes me think of Catholic services before Vatican II, conducted in Latin, and wonder how many people understood what was being said or taught. Very interesting series Jen! This also makes me think of Karen Armstrong’s writing ~ she writes about how for most of human history, religion was what we DID, it WAS the ritual, and that only recently (well, since the Reformation, so recently in the scope of human history) has religion been confessional, about what you BELIEVE.ReplyCancel

  • Fascinating. I’m loving learning about how you view your faith, and what shaped it. Thank you for your honesty. This is shaping up to be a compelling series.

    I’ve been to Latin mass (did NOT follow it at all – it’s bad enough when it’s just in Irish (we go when we’re ‘at home’ in Ireland, with Husby’s family) because they speak English SOFAST)

    My church has also held passover feasts, partly to appreciate it better, and begin to understand the importance and vitality of the Jewish traditions, and partly to help us understand where it led to, and what the significance of it being Christ’s last meal was.

    There is much I am keen to learn from you.ReplyCancel

    • Jennifer Kehl

      Thanks Lizzi, there is a lot more to come.ReplyCancel

  • We went to temple for the high holidays when I was a kid, and I didn’t know any Hebrew. I remember being so bored at services. My kids have a formal Jewish education, and while I won’t say services are fun for them, they are much more engaged than I ever was. They understand what is being said, and why. We also have more in English, so that helps too. Can’t wait for part 3!ReplyCancel

  • I’m what I call a Recovering Catholic. Raised in a family where it was just naturally assumed that everyone would be catholic. Went to Catholic school for 8 yrs. And when it was time to make my confirmation (9th grade) I just said I couldn’t do it. It was all a big lie to me and at the point where I was an “adult” in the church, I just wouldn’t / couldn’t do it. I always find open discussions about faith intriguing. Looking forward to your future posts!ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for sharing this. Religion fascinates me. I love reading about other people’s experiences with it growing up.ReplyCancel

  • I went back to catch up on the first part. I love learning about how much or little religion plays a part in our lives. I have to be perfectly honest and say that I don’t know a lot about the Catholic faith, nor Judaism. So, I’m very interested in the definitions you left in the glossary and then I, of course, have questions running around in my mind. For instance, how is your relationship with your brother? It makes me feel sad that you didn’t want to write about your religious beliefs due to all the discrimination Jewish people have suffered. I’m so glad you decided to write about your beliefs and thank you for sharing them with all of us in the blog world. hugsReplyCancel

  • I am riveted by this story. Two things struck me. First: reading a language but not comprehending it. Such a subtle but critical distinction. Second, learning about things in context. That is the very same criticism I had of my own religious upbringing (Catholic). It was so incredible disconnected from my life. And my questions were always given short shrift. As if I just had to accept assertions at face value. That’s not me. Not then, not now.ReplyCancel

  • JEN! Holy wow, friend. I can’t wait for part 3. Truly fascinating. I can picture young, tomboy you, fighting over pantyhose. Isn’t it interesting what we remember about our religious upbringings? My step mom is Jewish and while I don’t know much about it all, I’m fascinated by Yom Kippur. That we can atone has so much appeal to me (did I get the right holiday? I could go back and look at the glossary…ok yes, I did). The bagel thing is weird, right?
    You’re awesome for sharing this.
    TTTx10ReplyCancel

  • Thank you for sharing something so private. Your experience reminds me of my best friend, who is also reform Jewish. Growing up, she also read Hebrew but couldn’t understand. I can’t wait to read more of this series.ReplyCancel

  • […] next week I will continue with my story, I will continue where I left off. Next week I will explain what happened to my faith after my father died right before my 18th […]ReplyCancel

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