Together

With the notion of Tikkun Olam fresh in my mind I decide it’s time to find out what will happen when I try to reconnect with my old neighbors, the family of Hassidic Jews that lived a few doors down from us when I first moved to Los Angeles. Followers of Kabbalah might think of Tikkun Olam as the process by which pieces of the original vessel, shattered by the “Big Bang,” are brought together once again.

I studied a map of my old neighborhood and found an orthodox synagogue seven blocks from the corner of their apartment complex. As ultra-orthodox Jews, I knew they’d live within walking distance of their place of worship. This was the only place it could be. Perhaps the family had moved, but it seemed likely that someone at the synagogue would remember them. I would reconnect with their community if not the family itself.

I called the synagogue and made sure they were alright with visitors and to see if I needed to do something with my hair. A rabbi with a voice like Joe Pesci said, “It’s not important your hair.”

By the time I left for the Saturday morning service, the only thing showing besides my hair was my face and hands. I arrived early. I thought parking would be a nightmare, but a space directly in front sat waiting. I wondered what the building was before being converted into a synagogue. A WWII dance hall? Inside looked like an old gymnasium. I spotted a couple of elderly women behind a partition and I joined them. They were speaking in hushed tones and they nodded in my direction and went back to whispering. I flipped through a prayer book with no English or phonetic translation, just a sea of squiggles, and listened to the rain falling outside. Everything felt damp and dreary and not at all welcoming. I wondered how often they were visited by non-Jews. I reviewed my motives hoping some element of insincerity would grant me good reason to flee. I decided I was coming from a genuine place and that the discomfort was a sign of this effort’s importance.

No one paid any attention to me. Male voices chanted on the other side of the room divider. More women arrived but they seemed not to notice me. They set about chatting quietly with one another. Every once in a while one would stand, bow, take a step back, and mouth prayers. Occasionally some kids would wander in to say a few words to their moms before being ushered back to their classroom.

I sat mutely for what felt like a very long time. As the sounds and activities went on around me, I was painfully aware of my own presence, even more so because no one else seemed to notice it. After what felt like an eternity, a woman my age approached and asked what brought me here today. I could tell she was trying to be friendly, but she didn’t smile.

I’ll call her Rachel. She looked surprisingly normal. I knew her hair was a wig because most Hassidic women use wigs to cover their real hair, but it looked like my hair except better. My hair was a fuzzy mess from the moisture in the air but hers was smooth. I explained to her about living down the street and how I saw the kids but never spoke to them. “I’ve come back,” I said. Spoken to a stranger, the endeavor seemed bizarre, but she nodded like it was the most natural thing in the world.

She said, “My husband grew up there.”

I stared mutely. I couldn’t believe it. It was that easy. I had found them.

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23 thoughts on “Together

  1. Some would think of some of your story as simple “coincidence” ; your parking space, your inner meditative thoughts about yourself in relation to this service and your easy connection with people from your past. These things I personally refer to as, “God things”. It is a time when I give thanks in the moment for what’s happening and then go into observer mode to see where it’s taking me.

  2. Dear Corinna:

    It’s obvious that you are very interested; even awe-inspired by the Jewish faith. I have refrained from commenting thus far (some are thinking, “Thankfully!”) as I know that every person has a unique ‘take’ on their relationship with faith and I respect that.
    However, it seems to me that the division between the sexes that you’ve been speaking about and the intricacies involved (!) points to only one thing – inequality. I just can’t accept that (nor do I think anyone else should). If that’s the God that some on this site are lauding and applauding – I’ll be frank – (you be Corinna) – it’s giving me the “NO!” feeling. I can’t, for the life of me, think that covering one’s hair would have any kind of effect on a relationship, let alone a human/supernatural one.
    As Joss Whedon pointed out in a recent (excellent!) speech – “Either you think that women are equal to men or you don’t”.
    How is it that some religious denominations are hanging on to this utter foolishness??
    I’d put the link on, but it’s not behaving today . .. .like me.

    • Hi Carmen, I can understand where you’re coming from. The separating of the genders is something very foreign to me in my normal life. However, I can say that now having experienced it, I never got the sense of women being unequal or considered “beneath.” I can’t say I completely understand it, only that I was surprisingly adaptable to the situation.

      • Corinna, I have enjoyed reading your perspective as a “seeking none”, but at times in reading your comments, its sometimes there are concerns that you may be tempted into reducing yourself so that you can participate beyond journalism. I know from personal experience it is very easy to succumb to what is comforting rituals, and revered as “ancient, old as the hills”, God’s true “religion”, with religious “laws” that command that you are to be respected and taken care of…. but as a woman only. It is required that you must know your place there as a woman. THEIR definition of a woman.

        But you are not a woman only, you are a human being. YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING BEFORE YOU ARE A WOMAN – this i do know too from personal experience. And by the majority of the top three religions and their religious laws, you will have to give up your human being status in order to participate. They want you to reduce you, what makes you Corinna, in order for the religion to be stronger, based on your sex. This is what i believe Carmen is warning you about. And that is why I too, will warn you, Corinna, that you are walking in dangerous territory of losing yourself, your uniqueness, who you are, in order to participate with certain religions, please be careful.

        What it it, is this – We older women have walked before you, forgetting complacency breeds death, and through this forgetfullness we almost lost ourselves and the connection we have as human beings, who we are and how we can contribute to the community of the world with our strengths. But unfortunately we do have friends and loved ones who have lost themselves already, feeling that they are beyond redemption, resigning themselves to being “wives” of the religion…

        BUT YET – here we are- we, who didnt succumb and we have become stronger then a religion in order to warn you and your future off-spring – please be careful. Dont be condemned to repeat the failure of others.

        The humane living message that beats in the heart of every human being from birth to death – is that in order for the world to move forward and not destroy itself – all, ALL, human beings need to be recognized as equal. Not to under or overestimate, but we are all equal.

        No one’s human being status needs to be reduced in order for a man, woman or a God to live. ever. And I know you know this.

        (((hugs)))!

        • Hi Janice, I am taking your words to heart so thank you for sharing the sentiments they contain. This aspect of my explorations is probably one of the more difficult for me as a woman and a none. I feel the need to approach each place–including the more orthodox versions of faiths–with as little judgment as possible. I want to experience what’s available as it is, but you’re right in pointing out that it’s a difficult line I’m treading. I have struggled–and continue to struggle–with how to process my experiences but also be authentically me.

          • You are a strong, capable and very educated person; otherwise you wouldnt have tackled such a herculean task! Thank you for reading my comment in the intent it was sent.

            On a side note, I almost wonder if there is a PTSD trigger that I am not recognizing in some of your posts when you are writing about gender within a religion and its rules. Its sad to think that, but I do believe it comes with the territory of being a “seeker”, but yet also an “outsider” when it comes to following doctrine – when we read a certain description in a post it can trigger those depressing “nonacceptance due to being a female” thoughts that can haunt you. But Im glad I dont need to focus on that in the present, and can move on in freedom.

            I am very interested in cultures, and so I will tackle on and have fun reading your perceptions of what you see. From your broadcasted interview that I was finally able to listen to (yay!) I also know you have moved on.

            BTW And its your authenticity that keeps me here :)

        • Hi folks, Due to Carmen’s technical difficulties, I’m posting her comment for her today. It begins:

          As you can probably detect, this whole business of sexism in churches (which is still rampant) REALLY gets under my skin. I think that no matter how it’s sugar-coated, it still boils down to the same thing. Inequality.

          (For example, if you were in a situation that divided people by colour – but you told the brown people, “Look, it’s not because you aren’t equal or considered beneath us. .. ” – you’d immediately recognize this for what it IS – racism)

          If you have any doubt about its nasty, corrupt, detrimental effects – just start reading some accounts from women who’ve had to live under that system. It’s degrading.

          What’s so difficult for me to understand is that the rest of society has evolved and realized, “Hey, that’s just crazy – of course women are the same as men and deserve the same rights, privileges, and opportunities!” but in some religions, they still cling to the “Man on top” mentality. As another Blogger pointed out, “When God is a man, all men get to be God” (or something like that)

          DOESN”T WORK FOR ME. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see why a lot of men want it that way – hell, if you were a Pope, who in their right mind would want to relinquish that kind of power and privilege???

          It’s just wrong.

          • Interesting timing. On Sunday, our (female) Episcopal priest was telling us about a visit she had from about 20 girls from a local Roman Catholic high school. The girls’ assignment was to visit other denominations to ask and understand about their doctrines, services, practices, etc. Our priest said, at one point, she felt sad because she was talking to a group of young women who’ve been told they can’t participate fully in their church because of their gender. I’ve heard all the reasons, which I see no need to repeat here, and all the excuses, such as “women have other, equally vital roles to play in the church, besides the priesthood”. That would be a little more tolerable if the men in authority weren’t, at the same time, dictating to women what to do with their bodies both sexually and socially.

            To me, its always been about the message rather than the messenger. The Gospel transcends time, culture and gender. Getting hung up on gender issues is like being a person stranded in the desert. Someone finally pulls up next to him to offer a ride, and he says “Oh no, you’re driving a Chevy and I’m a Ford man!” And keeps on walking in the heat. Our first reaction in that situation would be “What an idiot! Who cares what kind of car it is as long as it gets you where you need to be!” If someone can help you build a better, closer relationship with God, that person’s gender is unimportant.

            I do believe men in general have given up something very precious and valuable in the past 30 years or so: the understanding of what it means to be a man. To me, it means standing for what is right by living with integrity day in and day out; to honor the promises you make to others, especially your spouse and children; and to be a role model for the next generation. I think we’ve lost that in a fog of hubris and false masculinity. No male who fathers a child and then walks away or ignores that child has the right to call himself a man. Look at how the media treats men. 50 years ago, the pendulum was too far in one direction, with men portrayed like “Father Knows Best” icons, making all the important decisions, while the wife sat quietly at home waiting for her man. Then all of a sudden, men, especially husbands, became the butt of jokes, blustering and indecisive, who need to be told what to do by their wives, like “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Neither stereotype was or is true. Men and women were created by the same God to be equal life-mates. The wondrous thing is both genders can send the same message and stand up for the same things, but articulate and demonstrate them in different ways.

            Totally changing the subject, I can see God’s hand in your meeting with the wife of one of your old neighbors (if that was the case–guess we have to wait and see). Something drew you to the synagogue on that particular day, and moved the woman, out of all those present, to talk to you. God doesn’t move us around like mindless chess pieces, but I think He does send us subtle messages to look around and see the ways we can touch others.

  3. I’m with Frank on the “God thing.” There is so much unseen and “mysterious” about what the Lord does. I don’t use “mysterious” as synonymous with “mystical” or “magical” as some may use that. I just don’t claim to have all understanding about God even though I may say I “know him” (it’s more like, “getting to know him”)….but, yeah, I think God had that parking space marked and blocked off just for you…. :)

    So it is with the male-female division. I do know that male and female are meant to complement one another sexually as well as companionship-wise. I also know, if I understand what is said in scripture correctly, that there will no longer be the male-female division in the new heavens and earth (and I certainly have questions and dread about the non-sexuality implications of that non-division!). Much of the emphasis in religion about male-female differences, submission, and leadership, is filtered through the eyes of we men, who often feel threatened by women and so try to cling to positions of power–even while we ignore the model of Jesus as a servant-leader. (Yes, I do think that we men were intended to serve women rather than rule them, but still provide leadership, which we are afraid to do in any genuine sense. Carmen, it’s thoughts like that that I had in mind months ago when I wrote about some new thinking…I think I used the word paradigm or dichotomies, or some such, if you remember.)
    Carmen, you complement this website (that’s a compliment) and I find your ‘not behaving’ refreshing. :)

    • “Yes, I do think that we men were intended to serve women rather than rule them, but still provide leadership, which we are afraid to do in any genuine sense”

      Walt, on what basis does a man have the right to lead or serve a woman? is it only because his sex is male? Because if so, do you mean you are telling us that women who do not have a male to lead/serve them should let themselves “led” or “served” by the first male they meet – the unknown sex offender at the bus stop because he is a male? Or the violent extremist because his sex is a male? Or the unemployed kid living in his parents basement because he is a male? Or only men who say they are male christians? But what sect of christianity? Or is it only the Jewish Community of Males? or Muslim Males? What do you mean by “we men”? Is it husbands of that religion only? All the men? only the ones who passed some test? Should I tell my partner/husband hes being replaced because, by someone elses standards, he is not serving/leading me properly ?… he will not like that…. :D and i think you know where im “leading” this to -

      uh, no, Walt. please no. I can take care of myself, and others, without basing it on the orientation of sex. Also, A lazy person lets sexual thoughts only dictate their motives, certainly not a leader. Estrogen and Testesterone do not rule a human being’s body – the brain does. I think its time for the world to move on concerning that concept. And fear of doing something is also one of those human emotions that’s action can be controlled. Otherwise there wouldnt be mothers, astronauts and horse trainers. LOL

      However, please Walt, I am respectfully asking from one human being to another, can you clarify this “we, men” statement?
      ;)

      • Hi Janice:
        Thanks for all the smiley faces….they helped me to keep my head up instead of ducking… :)
        I just now read what you wrote.
        “We men” simply refers to all males. (period after the word males). The male ego is a humungous ugly monster that is pretty much responsible for much (dare I say most, even all) of the pain and suffering in the world (not that women haven’t done their fair share of mucking it up).
        When I wrote men serving women, I was not thinking in terms of any other context than all of life. If you were thinking of a marriage relationship, you read your idea into what I was saying–which may have been the fault of the way I worded it. On the basis of being human in the human community are we ALL to serve one another in love–a predominant message of the Scripture (mostly evident in the New Testament and particularly in the life of Jesus). I take this as being also part of the law of human nature, the sense that we have within our consciences about treating others the way we would have them treat us. Leadership in real life is not a position so much as what should happen among us all when we, either by wisdom or some conviction about what is right or what will be best, sense the direction we should take. I lead my wife–but I unhesitatingly and unapologetically follow her lead in many areas of our relationship.
        Leading done right has nothing to do with condescending to someone just because they are a woman or a man or a child–someone we may perceive as unworthy of being the leader.

        I am a Christian who believes that the Bible is from God, but I wrestle with how what is said there about male-female roles plays out in churches today. I know it is an historical book written within a culture that held pretty strong views about such things, and I find it difficult at times to know what is purely cultural and what is intended as principles for all time. I’m very conscious of how Jesus stood up to the religious leaders of the day and faulted them for insisting on observing the letter of the law at the expense of kindness, and love, and serving one another. He always seemed to come down on the side of love trumping the letter of the law. I seek to do the same in our life together.

        Janice, I hope what I’ve said has clarified things a bit. I’m searching for some of the answers myself. The short answer for what seem to be most of your questions is that my relationship with others should proceed from a love-focused heart rather than a self-focused one. Only there have I found meaning and freedom. :)

        • ps: A man and woman were approaching a door. The man opened the door and held it, waiting for the woman to go through….
          “Are you doing that because I’m a woman?!”
          “No, because I’m a gentleman.”

          • So is he serving her best interests then in holding open the door for her, or is he fulfilling a desire within himself to build himself up? I have also held open the door for an elderly man, so that he can get his walker through. did that mean he was not a gentleman? :) or that i was not being a lady? :) Oh Walt, you can hold open a door at any time for me, as long as you are doing it with the right intent. If you are doing it to help me get through to somewhere, thats great! But if you are doing it to make yourself male, then im making this face here :S my husband opens my truck door for me, even if Im dressed up for fencing- he does it as a sign of respect for me, in the same way I will hold the rails while he screws them in; I respect that he can have the strength to handle a tool that i cant physically, and he respects the fact that im willing to come out and do hard work to get things done…But we are married, and we respect each other as people first, even when we disagree…I think we need to re- establish the reality in this world that all of us deserve the respect of being a living person, before what our gender is. I think this is actually where we are failing in life – when we “need” or “desire” affirmation from others that we are a male or a female. Females have a habit by of doing this by wearing clothing that would draw attention to their body parts; males have a tendency to do this by their actions that they think are masculine. In both cases, its a sad sign of self doubt. NO ONE needs anyone to affirm their sex parts (both inside and out!) that makes them male or female – you already have these parts and it defines you already without outside affirmation. Its what makes you special. So IMO When we seek affirmation for ourselves when serving or leading, then its definitely a weak leadership, and it will bring destruction to what goals are being attempted as a whole. I have had the opportunity to lead many times in my life, and the greatest joy in my leadership was recognizing the achievements of those who i was leading. It isnt about being a gentleman or being a lady, male or female, Jesus’s message was about doing the right thing, aka The golden rule.

            BTW my husband opens my truck door for me, even if Im dressed up for fencing- he does it as a sign of respect for me, in the same way I will hold the rails while he screws them in; I respect that he can have the strength to handle a tool that i cant physically, and he respects the fact that im willing to do hard physical work to get things done…But we are married, and we respect each other as people first, even when we disagree…I think we need to re- establish the reality in this world that all of us deserve the respect of being a living person, before what our gender is.. Gender is just the icing on the top!

            • Whoops – thats why i hate copy and paste…i try to be articulate LOL Guess I really wanted to hammer that point down about serving/leading within a marriage LOL

              • So Walt and Janice were approaching a door. Walt held it open…..Janice asked, “Are you doing that because I’m a woman?”….and a few other questions….by then, Walt was having trouble figuring out his motivation….his hand had cramped and the door slipped closed before Janice could go through it…. :)
                Actually, I hold the door open for anyone. I don’t know my own motives mostly, but it does seem to be common courtesy…. Most of my working life has been in Middle and High schools, where holding doors open is an after-thought….after they go to class….. :(
                Call me old fashioned, but I was raised with ideals about chivalry…done in the wrong way, it can still demean women. I do hold the door and other things with great love and respect for my wife.
                I agree with you about us needing affirmation. I struggled with that most of my life, and it led to me doing a lot of things (good, mostly) that I didn’t really know why I was doing them at the time. I didn’t really suspect the reason I was doing them until about 5-6 years ago (I call what I was doing being on a performance treadmill, though, as a Christian, mostly I was seeking affirmation from God, whom I did not regard as caring about me very much). Within the Christian circles I inhabit, I’ve seen firsthand the destruction caused by leaders who “lead” for affirmation…..I did that myself on a semi-regular basis.
                Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’ve been around the block a few times. I just entered the Obamacare website avoidance chute (ie, I’m on medicare), married forty-three years and been a Christian for about forty-two…an old guy.
                ps: if we ever meet, I’ll humble myself and let you hold the door. :)

  4. I especially appreciated how you expressed your discomfort with your self. It is a delight experiencing tour writing as though I am sitting across from you at a Small kitchen table or the like….Colleen Sent from my iPhone

  5. Dear Carmen,
    You might want to read the story of Ruth in the Old Testament. This is the story of the great grandparents of King David. In it a woman falls on really hard times because all the men in her life died. She’s bitter. She lives at the time of the judges when violence against women, vengeance, idolatry, and general disintegration were rampant. So you might ask, why would I want to read that???

    Well, it’s the story of two women who asserted themselves and were guided and provided for by God to a wonderful ending that blessed not only them, but their hometown of Bethlehem, and even beyond that. The older woman thought God was against her. But, when the younger woman wanted to leave her own country to go with her back to her country of origin and back to her God, they went. Even though God is not mentioned, it says things like “it just so happened that . . .” These women find a relative who shows great compassion, grace, and generosity, and who offers them protection. Ultimately, their journey leads them to great blessing from God.

    In the long run, if you read Jesus’ genealogy, you find this family there. So despite times when women were treated like second class citizens, God finds a victorious way through. That’s just the beginning. Jesus’ story is filled with grace and respect toward women.
    Ginger

    • Wanting to be a grandparent I think is a powerful thing. Enough that you mourn dramatically enough that you almost forget your daughterinlaw from a foreign country is also alone, even more so then you because the girl aint got no family AT ALL, no kids, no mementos at all left of her beloved, but then you decide to match make/scheme a marriage without her really knowing what the heck youre doing, but you keep on saying “trust me” and in the end you somehow get some grandchildren eventually. That grandparent thing is a pretty strong emotion. Thats my take on The Book of Ruth. and the fact im waiting on grandchildren one day.

      Oh, and i love the fact that Boaz mom, Rahab, was supposedly a prostitute… or was that a hotel keeper, but because she was a single/”castoff” woman that was the title the community gave her? Well the community got theres didnt they? Anyhow, even though she was considered a “woman of bad repute” she ended up being mentioned in the lineage of Jesus Christ, one of ONLY 5 women to have been mentioned. BTW I dont think the all the guys were adopting; im sure there were more women giving birth in that lineage…their names probably got left out because there wasnt enough scroll paper or ink to fit them in…

  6. I don’t think I can enter the ‘battle of the sexes’ here….I don’t have the strength or the words for it. So I will simply state what I find in my personal life: 1) my mother always said that men and women would only be truly equal when their pay packets were – at present they aren’t, so I think that in terms of equality, the secular world pretty much sucks; 2) men and women can be equal, but that doesn’t mean that they are the same. They aren’t – physically, mentally, emotionally or neuroscientifically. So complete sameness of place, style, activity, etc. may never happen and I don’t think it actually should. 3) I am a member of a church that does segregate men and women’s role, as all male acolytes, all female Altar Guild. That doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t threaten me at all. As I told my priest up front, as far as I’m concerned, Mary Magdalene was the first Apostle. And I have no doubt that Jesus would have agreed. My priest can think otherwise, but it doesn’t change my opinion. IF I felt the need to preach or be a priest, I would simply be a member of a different sect of Christianity. We are each where we are. 4) And in the most important relationship of all, with my husband, I am a devout advocate of the position of the church that a husband ought to stand in stead to his wife as Jesus stands to the church: i.e., a true husband is willing to lay down his life for his wife. The fact that a true wife should also be willing to stand as Jesus for her husband is, as far as I am concerned, the unspoken corollary to that statement.

    I am 64 years old and I have lived through the sexual/social/sexes revolution, and I have to say this: yes, we have gained some things by it, in terms of being able to be a brain surgeon if we wish, or a doctor, or these days a priest. But except for freedom of choice in some things, most of what I have seen women gain is negative: the ability to be as promiscuous as men and ‘enjoy’ the resulting shallowness of sexual relationships; the ability to indulge in all the physically detrimental things that were the ‘province’ of men – tobacco, alcohol, hard living, such that we now die of heart attacks almost as easily as they do; and the equality to be soldiers and kill as well as men do.

    Do not think that because I say these things I DIS-believe in the cultural advances women have achieved. I am devoutly grateful for birth control and the ability to choose a life unrestricted by the rules of past (often male) dominated conditions.

    I am simply saying that there is also value and goodness and acceptability to be found in Judaism’s gender restrictions – for those who are happy with them. Or in my church’s liturgical preference for a male clergy and a female “Bible Women – Deaconess” status. Or in the acceptance that there can be personal comfort in knowing that there is sometimes safety and comfort in staying behind my husband as he ‘forbids’ me to do something that I know is destructive to my welfare (let’s say a friendship) but I can’t find the oomph to handle myself.

    I agree with Janice that total equality is actually total respect for each other (did I get that right?). But roles……how and when and what….those can be more fluid. And shouldn’t be condemned for those who are happy with them as they are. I guess I am saying that I think this is why God made both chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

    So much for saying I didn’t have a lot of words. Sorry for the longwindedness of this….just I’ve been gone for awhile and I suddenly found myself with a lot to say. And Frank, boy do I agree with your concept of ‘coincidence’ and “God things.”

    Much love and yours in Christ,

  7. Thank you Corinna. I have been enjoying the beauty of what you are finding in Judaism and in your present/past childhood friends. Your writing has been both mentally stimulating and very beautiful.

    On the subject of the sexes…….sometimes I wish what Walt talked about of the sexes in Heaven were true here and now. It would save SO much aggravation. But, it would also sometimes be so not nearly as much fun. On a more solemn note, it could be so wonderful if we saw each other as Susan B. Anthony said of men and women: that they are completely egalitarian souls in the eyes of God. But since we are humans not always filled with the Divine (or at least noticing it Frank), I know there is a lot to work on in this world.

    Good blogging, Corinna. I look forward to the next chapter.

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