I was raised in a Conservative (not the political designation) Jewish home from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. It is the middle ground between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Prayers were said in Hebrew, and the Divine was referred to with the masculine pronoun. I attended Hebrew School until I was 16, became a Bat Mitzvah at 13 and engaged in most of the rituals throughout my teens and now in my 60s, I maintain somewhat of a practice. The only constant is the signature prayer known as the Shema which I said every night before sleep for as long as I can remember. My parents would recite it with my sister Jan and me when they tucked us in and even when we had babysitters, they would listen to us say it. I still say it out of habit and because it is a sweet experience to drift off to dreamland with it in mind.
The Hebrew is: “Shema Yisrael. Adonai Elohenu. Adonai Echad.” It translates to “Hear, Oh Israel. The Lord Our God. The Lord is One.” An alternative translation which I love tremendously is, “That which we call God is Oneness itself.” It was offered up by Rabbi Rami Shapiro who was the religious leader at Temple Beth Or, in Kendall, Florida when my husband and I attended services there in the early 1990s. No longer a pulpit rabbi, Rami is an author, speaker, and a Holy Rascal who, in his words, “are spiritual culture jammers who playfully pull back the curtain on the great and terrible wizards of parochial piety and shallow spirituality to free religion from hucksterism and pious pabulum.” I count myself among them and a few years back was a guest on Rami’s podcast by the same name.
I enjoyed learning about the history and traditions of my tribe and felt a kinship with them regardless of the type of practice they held. I learned about engaged spirituality from my parents who volunteered in our community and donated money as they could to charity. They welcomed people of all faiths at our Seder table at Passover. They allowed us to attend services with our Christian friends at their churches. When attending High Holiday services with my parents and sister, I would love to sit next to my father as his tallis (prayer shawl) was wrapped around my shoulder. He would lead services at a Sunday morning breakfast club for the boys. My sister and I broke the gender barrier and then other girls would join us. I felt valued as a member of the congregation.
Then one day, something changed. A new rabbi was hired. His style of leadership was worlds apart from his predecessors. When my mother initially greeted him, she had to remind him, “My eyes are up here.” When he taught Confirmation class (we were 16 at the time), the class was supposed to be for one year. There were more boys than girls and we felt disenfranchised since he favored the boys. He then told the class that he had decided we needed to take another year with him and then we would be confirmed. The girls dropped out, tired of feeling like second class citizens. As soon as we did that, the boys were confirmed. Not sure why our parents didn’t object.
A few years later, I came home from college on an April day when a freak snowstorm occurred. My father, sister and I went to synagogue. When we arrived, we found that there were seven men there. In the Jewish religion, there needs to be 10 for what is called a minyan, so that certain prayers can be said. My father suggested that we start since there were indeed 10 people. The rabbi was adamant that we needed to wait for two more men. My father rebounded with, “My daughters should count.” The rabbi volleyed back, “That’s very nice and we still need two more men.” I am grateful that my dad spoke up in our defense AND if he really wanted to make a point, he would have walked out with us, informing the rabbi that now they needed three more men.” He wasn’t willing to be that radical or rock the boat. It was then that I realized that religion was not about the relationship with the Creator and Sustainer but what I then thought of as “men’s stupid rules.” It took many years for me to set foot in a synagogue again, preferring to explore other traditions. I didn’t find them particularly egalitarian either.
In 1999, I graduated from The New Seminary in New York City and was ordained as an Interfaith Minister. The motto of the school is “Never instead of. Always in addition to.” It encouraged embracing as many traditions as our hearts and minds could hold.”
These days, I create my own relationship with the God of my understanding, finding strength and solace with the energy of Love rather than an entity. I had long ago stopped believing what I was taught that God was an old white dude with a beard hurling judgments like lightning bolts from on high. Instead, I refer to It as God, Goddess, All That Is. No need for anyone to mansplain.
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