Saturday, August 15, 2009
The nervousness went away immediately after I stood up there on the bimah, with Rabbi S next to me and I looked around in the chapel. Everyone looked at me the friendliest way I can possibly imagine. I spoke for a few minutes and then the formal part of the ceremony started. We opened up the ark, Rabbi S took one of the Torah scrolls and handed it to me. Then I read a pledge, while holding the sacred scripture in my arms. It was so beautiful!
I loved the pledge -- well, I read it beforehand, Rabbi S gave it to me earlier that day, before the Beit Din. The Beit Din took place at the synagogue with the two rabbis and the cantor of the Temple. They asked me some questions and after about half an hour they said I was good to go to the mikvah with Rabbi S.
We went over to Serith Israel to use their mikvah, my husband joined us there because he also wanted to witness my rebirth as a Jew. It felt so spiritually uplifting, cleansing and emotional. I said prayers, the Shema as a concluding prayer, immersed three times completely under water and became a Jew.
I am so happy, clean, enthusiastic, and proud. All my friends who were in town came to the service to celebrate with me. Even people I don't know came up to me after the service to congratulate or praise my speech and to say how much they liked it. I never felt happier: I have everything now: my loving husband, great faily and friends, and a spiritual path that I have found -- again.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Tomorrow is the day. I am so excited! I am meeting the Beit Din, then I will go to the mikvah (at Sherith Israel) with Rabbi S, and in the evening, during Shabbat service, I am going to celebrate my conversion with the clergy and my friends. I am so happy, and overwhelmed, and excited, I can't even begin to tell you how much!
I can't believe I am finally here :-)
Monday, June 29, 2009
I am working on finalizing my project. The interview I did with a Hungarian elderly lady whose family helped several Jewish families during WWII. I am very close to being done and I can't wait to present it to the Rabbi and to the Beit Din, maybe to the whole congregation. The most amazing thing about her story is that she does not think of it as something extraordinary. She and her family just did what their sense of justice told them to do, which was not to let the innocent people be killed because because they happened to be Jewish. She spoke to me about it as it was the most obvious and natural thing on Earth to do. Her father was not a Schindler, he did not save thousands of lives. But he did save a few in a world where saving the Jews was equal to death penalty if caught. I think one taken life is one too many. Therefore I think everyone who risked their lives for the right cause should be remembered and honored. I feel so honored that she shared her story with me and that I will be able to share it with more people.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
But it feels really great to be back. I could even get it together to be there at the Shabbat service last Friday (I flew in Thursday night!) because I missed it so much. That service was especially sweet because of the adult B'nei Mitzvah class students who became bar and bat mitzvah. It is really great, my "farewell" service in April was the dedication of the new prayer book -- which I like a lot! -- and my "welcome" service was this one. I think I am really lucky.
As for my studies: I am almost done with the readings, we only meet one more time with the Rabbi -- well, for that purpose, at least -- and my project is coming along good. I have typed in the interview in both English and Hungarian and now I am at the fact-check part. I have sent some clarification questions to the person I did the interview with and as soon as she responds I'll correct the interview and send it to her to another fact-check. I really don't want to have any incorrect information in it, it should be genuinely pure and true.
At my friends' weddingI met a Jewish lawyer who is also teaching at the rabbinical school and is the legal representative for the Hungarian Jewish organization, MAZSIHISZ .
He seemed to be eager to learn more abou the Reform Movement and about Jewish life in the USA, more closely in Tennessee. We talked about how he'd like to establish contact with our congregation so I am going to start working on that, as well.
Friday, May 29, 2009
I know I have been silent for a while and for that I would like to apologize. Those of you who have been following my other "road" know the reason.
Something really sad and bad happened recently and although I think I am dealing with it fairly well I still need time to heal my broken heart and soul. That is why I have not written anything recently here, although I have been trying to work on my assignments and readings. I will be back in a few days, renewed and fresh. The good thing is that I have great friends who are beside me whatever happens, and that I know from my not very sunshiny experience that nothing in me can be broken forever. Everything heals.
I have to tell you, though, that I did some past-digging in my family history and I made a huge discovery: my ancestors were Jews. On one side of my family. Later I will explain it in more details but for now I just wanted to point out something: isn't it interesting that I have been drawn back to "my" people by some invisible but strong force. To the people of whom I have not known I was one of them. I always felt it, though. I now believe there is something we call FATE. And now I know what mine is -- well, some of it.
I wanted to thank my readers for being my readers and following my spiritual road. You all mean a lot to me and I can't wait to see you again. I miss the Temple and the people. It's only a matter of a little less than 2 weeks. Until then I will probably be back with more details and news from Hungary. I just wanted to say THANK YOU to you.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I could not help but notice how different ideologies are mix-matched here: Hungarism -- Hungarian nationalism, meaning they want the old territories back; anti-Semitism; ant-democratic ideology...One Hungarist "genius" -- I think it was their leader or something -- said that they don't want democracy and all Jews are liars. Well, I don't really see either the connection or the consistency, not to mention the generalization fueled by hatred. I bet this guy has not met any Jew so far but he seems to "know" the unquestionable truth.
It is ridiculous and scary at the same time. I hope this ideology does not attract too many people but I also think that unfortunately there are groups of people who are easy to influence: teenagers, the unemployed and the less educated. The mixing of the ideas and the lack of consistency which is, in turn, presented as a complete ideology, is a laughing matter. But I don't know where this all leads and I can only hope that people know better.
The scary part is how it is not a shame anymore to be explicitly extremist: publicly and even proudly wearing/showing symbols of hatred and hostility ... There is a new symbol which seriously resembles the swastika. It is not that but almost ...
(this is a sticker with the "old Hungary" map with the colors of the Arpad dinasty, the first royal dinasty in Hungary, their symbolism has been revived by the nationalist movements in the beginning of the 20th century and used since then by the extreme rightists; and the thing inside of it that -- maybe I am wrong, but -- strongly resembles to the swastika ... )
Interestingly, someone suggested that the Arpad-colors should be considered a prohibited symbol because in World War II the Hungarian "Nazi" party has used it as their flag but the law did not go through. The reasoning was that the Arpad-colors are an ancient historic treasure and as such can not be prohibited...
Monday, May 4, 2009
I hope -- maybe naively enough -- that people who could be even more harmful than me (which is not very hard to do) would change their minds as soon as they'd learn. The problem is they are not very willing to :-( I mean the really harmful ones. My impression is that these people enjoy being mean and they are not interested in reality but more in their reality they have created for themselves. They become protective of their created reality and scared to leave it ... I am more and more convinced that anti-Semitism (which, I think, goes hand in hand with anti-Zionism) originates from insecurity of a person's identity.
Now that I have clarified -- at least to a certain extent -- my ideas about Zionism by reading Kertzer's and Wylen's books my vision has changed some. I don't think of Zionism as something negative anymore. It is certainly true that Zionism is a nationalistic movement and therefore a little bit exclusive but it is also understandable. I mean, the Jews almost never had a home.
As a Hungarian (well, half) I know. Hungary was founded in 1000 AD, Hungarians did not have a home beforehand. They were wandering around, occasionally attacking other peoples who came along, they were hunters and fighters. Then, we arrived to the Carpathian Basin and our leaders decided this is going to be our country. Well, it was all beautiful and stuff but there were people here who were convinced that the place was their country. So my ancestors fought them, negotiated with them and finally -- after having agreed to adopt Christianity -- we were allowed to stay. Our first king, Stephen, fought his brother, as well, because his brother was the eldest -- therefore the next righteous king -- but he resented Roman Catholicism and wanted to remain Pagan. Finally even he converted to Orthodox Catholicism but the Roman Church was stronger in the territory and they have supported Stephen to win over his brother and helped him to take the throne.
Why am I talking about this? Because it is somewhat similar to how the State of Israel was founded. With the slight difference that the Land of Israel used to be the Jewish homeland for a while, so in my terms the Jews had every right to claim it back. And therefore Zionism looks completely different from such a perspective.
What I think about the relationships of Israel with the surrounding area: well, as I have already mentioned, I am a pacifist, so I am against all kinds of warfare. I also know that sometimes war is inevitable, unfortunately. The Arab world does not like the fact that the Jewish State has been founded in their midst. The Jewish people don't like attacks on their own. So there is continuous conflicts to be solved and I am really sad that diplomacy does not seem to work there. I am hopeful, I wish that Israel and the Arab world would reconcile and live next to each other peacefully, without rackets and air force attacks, and killing innocent people on both ends. Evidence shows that Israel is not in the way of developing the area, au contraire. I would love to see the Arabs cooperating with Israel for the benefit of both parties. Until that is possible, I know there would be bloodshed and I know that sometimes there is no alternatives.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
I have not been online here for a while, unfortunately I had serious health issues to deal with. Now it is solved, so I am getting back to life :-) I will also get back here, soon. In the meantime, I just wanted to let you all know that I have been missing you greatly and thinking of you a lot!
I have held Shabbat here, at my Mom's home, every Friday night since I left Nashville. Well, except for the latest one. It made the time we spend together even more precious. I love Shabbat.
There is one interesting thing, though. I was waiting for my hubby at the airport the other day and I saw there was quite a few Hasidic Jews there. In the parking lot and in the building. There was this young (well, my age :-)) guy, waiting for someone from JFK -- from where I was expecting G to arrive. We started talking and he told me that they were gathering in Hungary to remember the yahrzeit of Reb Shayele -- Yeshayah Steiner --, a great and well-known Jewish spiritual leader in Bodrogkeresztur. So, I have learned something interesting, again. And I am proud that Hungary gave some value to the Jewish people and history, not only bad things.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The Parliament is going to discuss it after the proposal will be made on Monday. I hope it will go through.
I don't want to be brave to wear my Chai, I just want to wear it...
It was last Sunday, April 19th. There was a ceremony in the 7th district of Budapest, which used to be a ghetto during the war. Near one of the synagogues. I could not go, I wanted to, but we had guests that day. I watched it on TV later and it shook me, again.
What is very sad is that at the very same time, in a different part of the city, there was an anti-Holocaust demonstration :-( Unfortunately it is a serious issue here, and in Europe in general. I mean anti-Semitism. My Jewish friend told me that in Hungary it is a brave action to wear the Chai. This is really sad :-(
I went yesterday to the banks of the Danube for a walk with my friend. We passed by the shoes, the memorial of the Holocaust. One of them. They are there because numerous Jews were shot on the banks, into the river. Before they died, they had to remove their shoes...
Monday, April 20, 2009
I cannot wait to share what she shared with me but I will need time to make it into a concise and coherent document. I am really excited about her and her stories. We spent 3 hours together today and she did most of the talking. And I did not realize so much time has passed. I could feel how important it was for her to really tell it to someone who really listens. She said her dad -- the person who actually saved several lives -- had been brought to court after the war because someone found Jewish wealth in his property -- wealth he tried to save for his Jewish fellow citizens. Jews whose lives he saved witnessed for him and saved him from jail.
He moved out of his house to give it up for Jews to hide in it. He made fake documents for the Jews. He was a real and true hero in my terms. He died long ago. His daughter, T, was told he'd receive a thank you note from the people of Israel for what he did for the Jews of Budapest but he never received it. Probably because they were not able to find him, he changed addresses since the war and later he passed away. I would love to help T get this note from Israel because she knows her dad was a hero, and I know it, and probably a lot of other people do but I really would love for T to receive such an honor. They have risked their lives, after all. Because they cared.
It is such an interesting and exciting and, at the same time, horrifying story. All of it. I think today has changed me and my vision of the world once again. T is a great, intelligent, caring and loving person. I am glad I met her and I am glad she shared her story with me. I can't wait to record it so everyone who is interested can hear her story. It is really worth it.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I met this Jewish guy on the flight from Chicago to JFK. He was abou 17 years old, traveling (but not sitting) with his father, who sat 2 rows behind us. He asked me where I was headed and I asked him the same. He was on his way back home -- to Israel. He lives in Tel Aviv and was on a Passover vacation/visit in Chicago because that is where his mother was from. So he is Israeli-American. We chatted, he wanted to know if I was going to be needing the sickbag that I was holding desperately -- due to my claustrophobia :-)
The chatting was going on, he told me so many interesting things about living in Israel, and then I asked him how they -- i.e the people in Israel -- felt about the war in the Ghaza Strip. He told me this issue was never going to be solved as long as both parties are "hitting back". He told me stories about how the Hezbollah used the civilians to hide among them and attack from their midst. As the young boy explained this to me, I could feel tension building up in the row right behind us. Three women were sitting there, obviously overhearing us, and after a while they started shouting and sceaming at my new young friend, accusing him of not telling the truth and misleading me therefore, then they went on and on about how their fathers/grandfathers/lovers got killed by Israeli forces.The boy was surprisingly kind and polite in telling them that he was talking to me and not to them but he assured them about their right to have and share their opinions. Only in a civilized way, not shouting and screaming.
It was a really strange experience for me but it was also obvious that our young friend was used to such situations and was amazingly cool about it -- especially considering his young age.
When we got off the plane he and his dad went to find their flight to Tel Aviv and I went to find mine to Brussels. I told him I was sorry for asking that stupid question that made those ladies mad. He said it was OK, he said this happens all the time. He amazed me with his wisdom -- and he is 17!
Now I am trying to finalize my reading session and questions so that I can send them to Rabbi S. And tomorrow I am meeting my "project", the lady who has been helping a lot of Jews during the war here, in Budapest, by hiding them in her house, delivering them food in the ghetto, and so on. She will be my project, well, an interview with her.
Before I continue with the interview -- I only meet her tomorrow to discuss about the process of the interview -- I thought I would let you all know so that if you have anything you want me to ask her, please feel free to write them down either here, in a comment, or via email to me. I would love to hear what you would love to hear.
Friday, April 10, 2009
This evening, after the most beautiful Shabbat service -- dedicating the new prayerbook that I L.O.V.E.D!! -- I had to say good bye to a lot of sweet, kind and intelligent people who have been filling a gap in my life for the past 2-3 months. I am going over to the other shore of the Big Pond (the Atlantic :-)) and will reside there for 2 months.
It was overwhelming to see now how many friends I have made in the little time I've joined this amazing congregation. Seeing all these people -- the rabbis, especially Rabbi S, who's been my teacher for a while; the ladies from Torah study; the ladies from the knitting club; and of course N, who became one of my most cherished friendships -- warmed my heart and made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because I really care about these people and I know they care about us; sad because I am not going to see them for a while and I know I am going to miss them greatly.
It is because of these dear friends that I feel some strength building up in me to start another journey, a journey I have been on and off for years, with nothing but suffering and pain. But now, I know, I feel, that my prayers will find a way to God and he'll listen to them. I know, that even if the answer is going to be a 'no', I am not lost. I am found. Whatever happens will be fine.
My dear friends, I know I am going to be back but I want you to know that I cherish what I have now with you all (or all y 'all, as Rabbi M would say :-)) and I am going to miss you soooo very much!!! Thank you for thinking of me, supporting me ... well, thank you all for being you :-) I will be back in a while! Until then, I will still post in my blog(s:-)) and emailing you, and talking to you.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Fist and foremost, I feel sadness diluted with anger. I naively -- and because I am an eternal optimist -- keep hoping that violence and mercilessness will disappear from the story. But no, they stay, and their appearance is becoming even more striking as the story unfolds. I feel tears building up in my eyes as I go on with the "reading".
My most shocking experience with this excellent book is that whenever I hear an episode of horror -- that was actually witnessed by the author and millions of others -- I am trying to remember it and hoping that I can tell about it to G. But every time I think of an episode as the most horrifying another episode comes along that is -- impossibly! -- even more horrifying.
I always knew about the Holocaust and I always felt compassion toward the Jews and anger toward those who tortured them; but to actually hear about it from a witness, from someone who has been there and miraculously survived it, puts the whole issue into a different perspective. These people were REAL people, who simply wanted to live. They did not even believe, when they heard the news, that extermination camps existed. They were hopeful an optimistic, even when on the train that took most of them to a final destination. My heart breaks while listening to this account.
I think humanity should be obliged to keep these accounts alive, to publish them as much as possible. I think humanity needs these accounts -- from time to time -- to be shoved at its face so that no one ever forgets what happened in WWII. I think it is necessary to remember these stories and learn from them never to let such a thing happen.
Monday, April 6, 2009
I have just read a lot about Christianity vs Judaism and I have to tell you that there was this huge gap in my knowledge that has just been (at least partially, because one never knows "too much" or "enough" :-)) filled up. I never knew, for instance, the origin of the opposition between Jews and Christians. What I have learned just now is that Christianity was practically defined in opposition to Judaism, so there. No wonder there is a gigantic contrast.
Paul, who seems to be the first Christian defined Christianity in a way that it somehow degraded Judaism saying that Jewish teachings were outdated and, of course, no Jew could be saved and/or go to Heaven unless they converted to Christianity.
The idea of Jesus being the Christ (messiah or savior?) is foreign for me, as well as it is for Judaism. I mean, this idea lacks logic in many aspects -- well, at least for me it does. And my view is not based on scientific evidence, or for the most part it isn't, but it is based on what I hope to be common sense.
First of all, if Jesus really was God's son, why would God let him be killed and die for a humanity that already disappointed Him so many times. Second, there is no evidence -- aside from scriptures that have been edited well after Jesus' death -- that Jesus was of divine origin. What can be and, in fact, is proven is that he was a pious Jew who never taught anything not Jewish. Third, I am having a hard time believing that there is a heaven and moreover that one can get in there only by believing in Jesus as the Savior. These ideas may have been acceptable and they may have even made sense at the time they were established, no doubts there. But honestly I don't think that they make too much sense nowadays, now that humanity knows so much about itself and its environment -- far and near.
In my view the biggest difference between the two faiths is that one is able to renew itself constantly and adapt to the changing circumstances -- therefore flexible --, while the other is stuck at a 2000 years old place and there is very little -- if any -- effort and attempt to adjust to contemporary values. The world evolves, life goes on, people do research -- and if they are God's creation then God should not be angry with them because they use their ability of thinking that was given to them by God --, rigidity is not viable anymore.
It is very interesting for me, how originally Christianity started out as a "progressive" sect of Judaism -- it was probably meant to go past Judaism -- and defined Judaism to be outdated. It may have been the case then, but today it is definitely not. The opposite, if anything. Between a faith that takes their Holy Scriptures literally and think that condoms are "dangerous" and they are not protecting against STD's and a faith that promotes planned parenthood and welcomes every scientific breakthrough, even supports it ... well, it is not hard to see where the idea of "outdated" can be fit better. Unfortunately I do not have a very positive opinion about Christianity but I wholeheartedly respect good people whatever their religion may be.
I think the best way is to let everyone follow the faith they choose and follow the "live and let live" ideology. I never understood why would any religion be forced on people. I mean, faith is something that can not be forced, by definition, just as love.
All in all, goodness is not measured by religion, but by good deeds. I don't like pushing ideas, especially if the other party is clearly not interested, therefore I sometimes feel insulted when I see a giant poster saying that I have to choose between heaven or hell -- I recently saw one while driving on the Interstate. I think it is not this simple. I also think these two places do not exist, therefore this choice is not a valid one. Finally, I think such an "offer" to choose is rather a threat than anything. And just as love, faith can not be and almost never is the answer to a threat.
I would love to live in a place where Christian, Muslim and Jew could and would respect each other and I see there is hope. There is also a lot of work to be done but I am confident that we are getting there, slowly but surely.
Friday, March 27, 2009
There is this stupid thing, the Hungarian National Guard (or something like that) which is already considered illegal because of its racist and anti-Semite views but they still keep inaugurating officials and "soldiers". For some reason they think they are going to turn the world upside down just because they shave their heads, chant hatred-filled slogans (that BTW do not make any sense to anyone having an IQ score above 75) and attempt to provoke upheaval -- well, fortunately with less success than they expect. But still.
I mean, come on, people, how could anyone (who is sane or close enough to be so) honestly believe that the Jewish, the Gay, the Gypsy or whatever group of people is solely responsible for a worldwide crisis. This just does not make any sense. And still, a lot of people believe it. Sometimes I feel like I am too naive when I think that people are not considered animals because they can think. Apparently and unfortunately not all members of the human race share the blessing of the ability to think and to make sense of complex ideas. They are the ones who chose hatred and violence. I don't like to think about that but when I do it makes me really sad and I feel disappointed.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The most interesting thing that caught my attention is the public confession on Yom Kippur. I think it is such a neat thing. I mean, it gives the confession some weight. It is so much harder to confess something in public and therefore it seems to be more powerful than to just confess for ourselves or to another person. It is powerful in many senses; most importantly, on the one hand it confirms the sense of belonging to the community, and, on the other hand it may be more effective in preventing one from the repetition of the same mistakes.
I have read that the Kol Nidre is such a powerful prayer that it even turned Jews back toward their tradition, despite of their previous desire to look elsewhere for spirituality. Now I understand everything because I have listened to the prayer and even though I don't exactly know what it speaks about, it speaks in a beautiful tone.
The idea of "twice-a-year Jew" is not completely foreign for me. I have heard about the "Chreasters" in Christianity from my friends. I guess it is the same idea, Chreatrers go to church only at Easter and Christmas (the two biggest Christian holidays), while twice-a-year Jews go to the synagogue at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the two major Jewish holidays). The difference, though, between these two is, I think, that while Chreasters go to church on these days due to some kind of external pressure (family, peers, etc) Jews go (even if only 2 times a year) because they feel they belong to the community, they share the tradition. I am not saying there is no external pressure in case of Jews or that it is exclusively the external pressure in case of Christians -- but mostly it is.
It is also very nice to know that I was born in the month of Tishrei, which is the month of Yom Kippur.
Monday, March 16, 2009
I have completed my readings, though, and I have learned a lot more about this Holy Day. It doesn't stop to amaze me how the Jewish history and tradition had a substantial impact on humanity as a whole. For instance there is the seven-day-week. I always took it for granted and did not really know the origin of it. Haven't even thought of its possible origin because it is just so obvious that a week is composed of 7 days. But it got me thinking now in general: how we have the tendency to take stuff for granted, without even thinking about them.
For instance, I think most of us take our family for granted. They are there, whatever we do, they love us and -- well, normally -- stand beside us. BUT! It does not means we don't have to appreciate them and express this appreciation in ways we can. For me this is the essential meaning of Shabbat. I know it is the most important Jewish Holy Day because of its biblical relevance but I also think it has its human aspect added to it and for me it is the explicit appreciation of people we care about: family and friends. According to my readings it is part of the celebration to bless children, husband and wife, make "Shabbat Shalom" phone calls, and just basically spend the day of rest with our loved ones at home and in the synagogue.
I also think making Shabbat -- as expressing appreciation -- is not, by any means, easy. I mean, it is really not so trivial to just cut off work related things and focus on family. We are tempted to check our emails, and once we do, there could be something to fix, someone to help, something to be taken care of. Today work is not something you leave on your office desk. It requires effort to do so. Just as it requires effort to express appreciation. But I am convinced that it is well worth it and therefore we should take on the effort and just do it. This is why I love Shabbat. Because, in a way, it "pushes" me to focus on my loved ones and this is a good push. To take my time and reflect on what and who is really important.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Last week I have completed my first “official” volunteer task as a member of the congregation. We – because G was involved as much as I was – shopped for some groceries, made dinner for an elderly couple and delivered it the next day to their home. It was such a great experience, I don’t think I’d ever forget it. The smile of joy on their faces, the appreciation was priceless. Also, my appreciation toward the Jewish community increases more and more as I get more and more involved.
We spent the weekend in Texas, it was a business/vacation trip. We were wondering around in a gift store on Padre Island trying to find the most necessary thing we have to get every trip in every city/town/country we go: a magnet for the fridge :-)(the second most important is the snow globe but in some cases I can manage my urge to get one :-)). So, at the counter while checking out with the 2 magnets (one for my Mom) the storekeeper asks me: “Are you Jewish?” Now, I don’t know if it was because of the shock this question caused me or the result of some kind of a subconscious process but I immediately replied with a definite YES. He told me he asked because he saw the Chai on my necklace. As this symbol is not as obvious as the star of David and not many people recognize it, I asked back, how he knew. He said “well, I am from Israel” – and revealed a huge star of David pendant from under his shirt. He said he was wearing it so that if he dies people would know how to bury him. It was a little strange considering he was about my age and people usually don’t think that much about dying unless they have a good reason to do so. Anyway, he got so excited that he showed us out and pointed at a building across the street: there is the synagogue.
It was a neat experience in many respects but most of all it was my first incident when I said I was a Jew, not becoming one. And I was extremely proud, too.
Today was the day of the room in the inn at Temple and I went to help out as I promised to B last week at the knitting club. Another great experience I would cherish my whole life. There was this woman, again, about my age. She was clean and neat, wore eyeglasses with red frame. She told me about a website where I could learn more Hebrew (because that’s where she learned what she knew) and she was eager to know more about Judaism. She wanted to see the chapel and the sanctuary so B and me went with her and showed her around. B let me explain the tapestry on the wall of the sanctuary – which I just learned a week ago when Rabbi S took a tour with me – and I was really proud I knew it.
This woman taught me something even though she probably does not know it: how to remain positive even when life throws a curve ball at me. I mean, she does not have a place to live, to call it home, and she is still optimistic, hopeful, eager to learn and go ahead with her life. If I think about how miserable I felt after each and every unsuccessful IVF and how I wanted to die for a few days (figure of speech, of course) while I had everything in my life -- except for one. And she has nothing. It’s ridiculous but I don’t even know her name. I hope I’ll see her again next week or later.
All in all, so far I can summarize my experiences with Judaism in only positive terms: hope and faith in humanity, integrity, happiness, good people, perspective and unconditional acceptance. I think I found my way not to somewhere but back to somewhere. I am happy and feeling complete now. This is what I’ve been missing for many years.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I also loved his way of speaking, it was impossible not to listen to what he had to say. He is funny, smart and knows how to attract undivided attention :-) He spoke about the commandment of "love thy neighbor". He said what I always thought about it: it is impossible to command someone to feel a certain way. Emotions can not be controlled in ways behavior can. BUT: he emphasized the sentence that precedes the one in question, which says: hear, O, Israel ... hear, as -- according to Rabbi Shapiro -- in listen. Because, and I fully agree on this, too, there is indeed a difference between hearing and listening. The latter involves a whole lot more. If we really listen to someone we care about we will understand not only the words they say but also the complexity of their thoughts and feelings encoded in the words we hear. In a way, we hear words but listen to thoughts and feelings. Therefore listening means caring, and once we are able to listen, we are able to love. Even our neighbor :-)
(This weekend we watched Bill Maher's Religulous. I loved the movie, which is a kind of comedy-documentary. It is focusing on the idea of not using our ability of doubt and critical thinking and on the potential consequences of such behavior. Maher showed it through pointing out obvious contradictions in -- well, mostly in the New Testament -- religious scriptures and asked people about them. He got some interesting answers :-) I am convinced that everyone should see this film.)
Friday, February 27, 2009
This time I paid special attention to the Judaica section and bumped into a prayer book. I started to flip the pages to see if it was something that I could use. To my surprise, the book had a note on the very first page, according to which it has been given as a gift by Rabbi Randall Falk in 1984 to a David for his bar mitzvah. Under the signature of Rabbi Falk it said: Congregation Ohabai Sholom. I almost bought the book because I felt it was a calling I had to answer to but I decided to let the thought sink in for a while.
Today I am going back to the bookstore and if the prayer book is still there, I am going to buy it.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I have received a new member goody bag from N on Friday, after Shabbat service. It included a CD with prayers and songs sung by the Cantor of the Temple. I love his voice and can't stop listening to the CD ever since I got it. It is still in my laptop's CD player so that I can turn it on whenever I feel like it.
I always enjoy being at Temple, whatever the occasion. I don't know, there is something there that keeps attracting me. It has to be a mixture of things: the people I see there, the rabbi who is teaching me about Judaism and takes care of my learning very attentively; the ladies of the knitting club, Miss E -- who has been through so much during her very long and interesting life -- takes her time to teach me patiently how to knit and tells me stories of her life; N, whom I became friends with instantly when we first met and with whom I enjoy every minute we spend talking and having lunch together; the friendly atmosphere, that is nuanced by the wise spirituality in the air ... well, I could have just said: everything :-)
Today I had lunch with N and we had a good time chatting again before I went to see Rabbi S for my next lesson. I love these sessions with her because I learn so much during that one hour we spend talking. These discussions help me clarify blurred things and give me more and more insight, which, in turn, make Judaism even more attractive for me.
I cherish everything about my studies, my new friends and community that has unconditionally accepted and welcomed me -- even considering the fact that I am (probably, but not certainly) not Jewish. I love reading the books Rabbi S assigned for me, my favorite is the one written by Rabbi Kertzer. I read it as a suspense novel :-) Can't put it down, therefore I am always ahead with the readings vs our sessions.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I have never-ever felt so much at home. As I am advancing with the studies I want to belong among the Jews even more. I simply know I found what I was looking for. I am ready and willing to work hard to earn the trust -- and even in many cases true friendship -- of the people who are giving me so much. They might not even know how much that is.
My newfound life opened up layers of my soul that I have never known existed. Or I knew about them but they were buried so deep that I forgot about them completely. My existence is starting to be complete, for the first time during my 34 years.
The very first prayer I learnt in Hebrew is the Shema. I say it every night and every morning, as it is commended. I sometimes prayed before but I always felt it was kind of rude to just get in and ask for things. I have always prayed for strength, to be able to deal with the hardship of my life -- which were quite numerous, considering my age. I would say life was pretty "generous" in providing me with suffering, and I don't mean that as a complaint. My Mom used to say: there should be a purpose of your life, a guardian angel by your side. She said that because I have almost died when I was born and doctors considered it a miracle that I was alive.
There was a second time, when I was 26: almost died again, and it was, again, considered a miracle that I survived. The doctor who "saved" my life said it was my strength and willingness to fight and not give up that kept me hanging there. He just performed an operation -- a life-saving one -- but it would have been in vain without my strength -- he said. Why am I writing about these things? Because I think they are strongly related to the journey I have taken on recently. If I have that much strength, I want to share it. Sure, I can use it for my own purposes or share it with my close loved ones, but the truth is, even after that there is a lot remaining. I need to give. And, I think, it is very much in line with the Jewish values.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Both my grandparents died a violent death at a very young age: my grandfather died in a car crash when he was 49. An 18-wheeler hit their car head on, he died at the scene. My grandma was with him, she got severely injured. This all happened before I was even born. My grandma lived to see me as a newborn baby but soon after my birth she committed suicide. She always felt guilty for the death of her husband because she knew he was not very good at driving -- they hardly ever drove anywhere -- and she still insisted on them taking a road trip to see my uncles divorced wife to talk to her and try to convince her not to rip my uncle off everything he had. On their way back they had the accident. The driver of the 18-wheeler was drunk and he admitted to being at fault. He sat in prison for several years for negligent homicide. My uncle kept in touch with him, visited him in prison regularly and forgave him for killing his (and my Mom's) parents. He even filed a request of mercy on the driver's behalf and finally the driver was discharged from prison. I always admired my uncle's generosity and kindness. Both him and my Mom "forgave" the guy and did not want his kids to grow up without their father. I think there is no greater level of forgiveness and generosity. Even though I remember Rabbi Schiftan's teaching about forgiveness, and I even agree with it, I still wish I could be so merciful to someone who took almost everything I love from me.
My grandma was a psychiatrist and my grandfather was in the military -- as a musician. He could play all the woodwind and brass instruments equally well. He stationed, for a while, in Hungary -- in the town where I went to university, Szeged -- and he spoke fluent Hungarian. Which came very handy when my Mom took home her boyfriend (my Dad), who was Hungarian, an international student at the University of Saintpetersbourg (Russia). That is where my parents met.
On my father's side, there is even less information available. His mother died when he was 17, I never knew her. I only saw pictures of her and I know she was from where today Slovakia is. My paternal grandfather was a baker.
Overall, I think this qualifies as my conversion-project. I am going to research more, especially when I go home to Hungary for my upcoming (and last) IVF protocol. I am going to ask the congregation to give me its blessing and dedicate a prayer that I can finally, after so many years, have my only dream come true.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
What it means to me is that there is at least one day of the year which is dedicated to the person(s) we care about. I put the plural between parenthesis not because I am a fan of polygamy but because I care about a lot of people and I even love a lot of people. Now, I am in love with only one, the One. It is nice, even without gifts, to take some time and reflect on what two people who are in love with each other share together.
The legitimate question of what this all has to do with Judaism might very well have emerged :-) For me, a great deal. First of all, as I am changing my perspective (or finding my way back to my place on Earth, depends on the point of view we take) and that puts a new light on my relationship with my husband. I cherish our life even more than before, I see sides that were either invisible or blurry for me.
We usually give symbolic gifts to each other on Valentine's Day and try to focus on each other -- let's be honest, this is really difficult to do in our accelerated world: work, different kinds of stress factors and the like make it hard to take our time and focus on sentiments.
Yesterday G cooked me dinner while I was out for a coffee with my best friend B (we call each other sisters :-)) for a few hours (her boyfriend made a surprise dinner for her, as well :-)). He gave me a silver Chai pendant as a gift, which means so much to me. It means he knows me and listens to me and understands if something is important to me. He made me very happy by showing how much he cares -- not by the charm itself but by the fact that he thought of getting such a gift.
Chai means life, and G means life to me. My love gave me life -- in many-many respects. I hope one day the two of us will be able to give our lives to someone else by giving them life.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
I am fascinated with both learning and Judaism, so this seems to be a rather good combination. This week I got to know more about the beginnings of what we call today Rabbinic Judaism. The forerunners of rabbis are thought to be the Pharisees, a religious "sect" or party of Judaism in the 1st century C.E. These people studied the Torah and interpreted its verses and commandments. I would say: updated them. This is so amazing, though. It got me thinking: how enlightened and therefore learned these people were. First of all, while Christianity still considers its Bible as credible accounts of their history, Judaism in the 1st century was already tending toward not taking the Bible literally but symbolically. This can only be possible if people (well, mostly scholars at that time, but still) acquire a high level of abstract thinking.
My feeling is that even though Judaism has been through so many oppression, persecution and torture, it has survived because of its emphasis on studying, thinking and therefore being open to new ideas and adjustment to new social, technological, scientific, etc. conditions. Being able to adjust and accept the world "on the go" is a very valuable asset for survival.
I never knew, though, that the roots of such ability of abstract thinking went back to the very early history of Judaism. Even in the 1st century, at the dawn of Rabbinic Judaism, rabbis and sages were able to think of the sacred Scripture as "guidance" from God as to how they should live their lives to make the world a better place for everyone. Jewish laws are derived from the Bible but in some cases they can even be in opposition with the words of the Bible. This is amazing for me. One might think that religious people would stick to every word of their Scripture, which would be, in my opinion, a very limited view of the world. Jews were (and are) making their laws based upon the Bible, by flexible rules of interpretation.
This flexibility is also originated from the 1st century, from the School of Hillel (who was a Pharisee himself). They (the Hillelites) established 7 rules of interpretation, which later was extended to 13 and 32. Hillelite approach, I guess, became the basis of contemporary Judaism, especially of Reform Judaism. This school promoted liberal views and human-centered approach to rituals.
When I first looked into Judaism a little more deeply I still thought that the rules of tradition and rituals were rather strict. I even looked up websites of synagogues in the city and found exact times to light the Shabbat candles on Friday night: 18 minutes before sundown. Although I like the Holy Day of the shabbat, I think it might not be possible for everyone to be home at that exact time and light the candles. They can work late hours or be away for some reason and it should not be considered as if they were "bad" Jews. The more human-centered approach -- which was represented by the Hillelites -- seems to be more reasonable: the important thing is to light the candles and celebrate the Shabbat, not the timing. This is the human response to God's commandment: Shabbat starts when people recite the kiddush.
All in all, I always knew that Judaism put great emphasis on being learned and aware of the world, it was still shocking (in a good way :-)) to learn that this is not a recent, contemporary development of the Jewish culture but it goes back to the beginning of our Common Era. This is astonishing -- again, in a good way :-) I never knew that public education even existed by the 1st century -- not only in Judaism, but in general.
This is always confirmed in my thoughts when I go to the Shabbat service and see a teenager reading from the Torah. I mean, these guys are teens, with all the problems a teenager can possibly have: pimples, girl/boy troubles, issues of popularity among their peers -- well, there is really no need to mention all the troubles, everyone knows :-)
Take this young guy, for example, who last night re-read his Torah portion in front of the congregation to celebrate the 1st anniversary of his becoming a bar mitzvah. He was a cute teen, wearing a suit and tie with Vans sneakers :-) He also was quite serious and even proud about reading the Torah. Usually, among teenagers, popularity is inversely proportional with being smart publicly. This is not the case in this congregation, that is for sure (probably in Judaism in general) :-) And this is one of the aspects I respect, admire and love about Judaism.
Friday, February 6, 2009
So I have stopped bringing the topic up. Last night he brought it up and he was really surprised about my reaction (well, even I was surprised :-)). I told him I am not mad at them and I am more than willing to accept them for what they are and I am ready to forgive them every mean stuff they have said and done. More so, I would like us to be open and able to communicate with them so that things get settled.
When I finished what I wanted to say about the topic, my husband told me: this Jewish thing is doing good to you, you seem to be calm and relaxed ever since you started studying. I never thought about that but now that he mentioned it: he was absolutely right. I am calm. I don't have rage attacks when something upsets me. It has even been put to a test recently and will be for the following week. The reaction it induced was not rage, but more like sadness. Oh, yes, a little quiet crying was involved, too.
I feel that I am changing as a person, and people around me seem to notice it. I get comments about how I look different, something to do with inner shine. I am shining. This is what I was looking for the whole time, all through my almost 35 years on planet Earth. And I found my inner shine, I think. I am becoming a better person and it is made even more beautiful due to the fact that the transition is done through learning. I value intellect very much, in fact, it is one of my highest priorities and principles.
Interestingly enough the issue of injustice came up in my reading this week. And in my life, I might add. I have not been very lucky lately -- in the past 4 years -- and today I hit bottom. I have never been jealous or envious when someone got what we have been fighting for since ... well, forever. And even now I am not. I just felt the injustice so deeply cutting through my soul like a sharp knife that I broke down. I basically spent my day today crying on and off. My sweet friends tried to comfort me but the truth is that only I can help myself. And this time not only do I have to accept the fact that someone else -- one with wrong intentions -- will become a mom before I ever will (if at all), but also I will have to smile and be happy and nice about it. Injustice. Now that I read the Jewish perspective about it everything seems to have settled down. I have always viewed injustice to be a fact we have to accept as it is, an axiom. It may sound odd but it consoled my raging soul. It is just what it is and I don't have to think that maybe one of my relatives did something bad and now I am paying for their wrongdoing. It is just humbug. There are a lot of things in life that have an explanation. Injustice is not one of them.
After a day of crying we were driving home with G so that I can be there when Shabbat service started I told G how deep I am now in the hole my fate kept digging for me and how I was losing hope that this series of misery would ever end. Yes. And just when I finished the sentence, our phone rang. We had to pull over because G can't focus on two things at the same time. He kept wowing and I heard our lawyer's voice from the other end of the phone. We have been approved yesterday for permanent residency. These little words mean a LOT: I can finally WORK, we can finally have PLANS (well, this is mostly important to G), we are out of the cage we've been in for years. I can't believe it. It must have been a miracle.
The reason I am writing about this is that ever since I have started to be in contact with the Jewish community here, GOOD stuff started to happen to us. For the first time in our marriage -- aside from the little things, of course because our life was no all miserable only mostly. For the first time. Ever. And I know deep down in my heart that it has to do with Judaism. Or, with my finding my place. My people. Even my name is Jewish. It means Jewish woman.
Tonight at the Shabbat service I felt it talking to me. There was this prayer, the one we should say to ourselves. It told me everything I needed to know tonight. It touched my soul and gave me back my strength, the strength I am known for everywhere -- in Hungary and now in the US. I always thought there was no place to find strength, it has to be found inside of us. And this is what this prayer told me, confirmed my strength and faith to go on and not give up. Ever.
Ivan sat with me. He saw I was sitting alone and decided I should not do that. I love this, how Jews really do care about the other. Even if the other is not (yet) Jewish. Even if they are not very religious: like my doctor, Dr. W. He is the most amazing doctor I have ever crossed paths with. Helps people not so uch for the money but for he feels that is the right thing to do.
N made challah for me. It was such a sweet gesture, she made it herself. When I got home I shared it with G and we had a nice glass of wine with it. After all, it is Shabbat today.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
I have been raised in an atheist family, I have not been baptized Catholic until I was 26, so that I can get married in a church to my first husband. His family insisted on us having a church wedding and I thought I could do that for the man I loved and whose baby I was carrying (halfway along by the wedding). So I got baptized but to be honest, for me it was nothing more than a ritual, meant nothing religiously. One may say that I got baptized against my principles, and it would probably be party true, too. In my view what happened was that my relationship and future baby meant more to me, they weighed more than my principles. Or let's put it this way: I gave up part of my principles (which I did not consider very important compared to my other principles, moral and ethical ones that I'd never give up and therefore one who loves me would never ask me to do so) for the greater good.
The marriage ended after we suffered a bitter loss: our baby died. He was born at week 29 (7 weeks after the wedding) and died soon after. His name was Mark. I almost followed him to death but doctors were able to save my life, for which I will always be thankful. Even considering the fact that these events lead to my infertility and hardship to give the love of my life a baby.
After the baptism I really tried hard to internalize the Christian faith. I had doubts and questions that were never answered. At the wedding the minister blessed me and my fertility. Results described above :-( So, it made my trying even harder, until I finally decided I simply CAN'T.
After the divorce I was struggling with myself, with my faith, because I needed one so bad. I just could not find one that would fulfill my soul and my intellect. I am unable to accept dogmas and the "because I said so" type answers.
4 years later I met my husband who is my life and soul, my heart and mind. He is atheist but supportive for my quest for faith. We have been in the IVF program for 3 years now, have had 5 embryo transfers, 2 pregnancies (an ectopic and a miscarriage) and our life never became any easier. I have tried again the Christian faith, maybe now that I've been through so much horror, I could see it in a different light. Well, I didn't. It is simply not mine.
A few weeks ago I started to look up synagogues in the city to see whether I could join one to learn more, and that is how I found the Temple and Rabbi SGM. Before I met her I read some books about Judaism, basic ones, I guess, to get to know more about it. I felt this inexplicable draw to do so. And this is how I ended up at Rabbi SGM's office, discussing about potential conversion. I started studying about Judaism with her guidance and I am happy to be at the place I am now. In transition, on the road which -- I can feel it so clearly -- is leading me to where I belong.
When I arrived N greeted me at the chapel door and introduced me to her friend, L, who is also studying for conversion with Rabbi S. L is a really nice lady, we sat together – and also with N and her husband – at the service.
I love the atmosphere and the feeling of „oneness” that is circulating in my mind and body ever since. The music (someone played the piano while the Rabbis and the congregation were chanting the prayers) was uplifting and the speeches of the Rabbis were realistic, calm and most of all, very-very intelligent. I think this is what I like the most about Judaism: the intelligence that is nurtured and placed very high among the Jewish values.
Rabbi M told the story of a Rabbi who was traveling on a train in Poland to go back to his hometown. He shared the compartment with some businessmen who were playing cards and after a while invited the Rabbi to join the game. The Rabbi refused, he preferred to go on with his reading. The businessmen asked him again and again, and as he turned down all the invitations, one of the businessmen grabbed him and threw him out of the compartment. When they got to the Rabbi’s hometown (which turned out to be the destination of these businessmen, too), the attacker saw how people greeted the Rabbi and got to know who he really was. He asked the Rabbi for forgiveness, but the Rabbi said he could not forgive. Later we learned that the Rabbi could not forgive the attacker because he did not attack the Rabbi. He attacked someone he thought the Rabbi to be. Forgiveness can only be granted by the victim, no one can grant it on the victim’s behalf.
The story related to the discussion about the denial of the Holocaust (and its extent). Although I am not yet Jewish I have always had great compassion and empathy for the Jewish people and was always amazed by their ability to cope with all the hardship they had to face all through history. There is no other people who could survive so much persecution and oppression and even genocide (in the case of the Holocaust). I admire these people from the deepest of my heart and I feel for them whenever they speak or hear about the Holocaust because you can see how they are still hurt and yet open even towards the ones that hurt them. This is why it always upsets (even angers) me when someone attempts to deny this horrible event of human history. My strong belief is that humanity should learn from the mistakes they make and therefore not to repeat them.
About the extent of the Holocaust: this is the thing that angers me the most. I mean, there is no question that people (millions of them, too) died in the Holocaust merely for their belonging to a group. Killing is a crime. Whether one person or thousands or millions of them are the victims, it is not less of a crime. Therefore I think denying the extent of the Holocaust is utterly „stupid” (sorry, but there is no other word I could use here) and thinking that by theoretically reducing the number of actual victims is going to make the Holocaust any less of a very serious crime is beyond my ability to understand. Holocaust is a crime. A lot of people died or became handicapped (mentally and/or physically) , a whole People was hurt and there is no way to make this appear any less of a huge mistake of humanity against itself. I wish humanity was able to learn from its own mistakes and not forget about them. I have been to the Dachau camp and I saw pictures and videos and I saw the places where people were tortured. I think everybody should see these, maybe visual aid would help them remember. Arrggghh, it makes me so sad ...
When I left the Temple I was smiling and feeling so „complete”, this „oneness” filled me with joy and was strange, too, in a way. Because I have never felt it before. It is as if I had different compartments in my soul, one of them empty for a long time. Now this last one is filled, too. The first thought I had when I started the ignition of my car at the parking lot was: I wish it was Friday next week already, so I can go to Shabbat service again. It feels so great!
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
A few weeks ago I have started to look up every information I possibly could about conversion to Judaism and about Judaism itself. The more I got to know, the more I felt attracted to what seems now less unknown. I have always admired the Jewish people, their traditions and their history, even though it was -- and still is -- full of suffering and torture. This people is still alive and growing, and there are more and more converts, too, beside the ones who are born to belong to this amazing people.
I met a Rabbi today at the Temple and not only is she gracious and welcoming but also she is very smart and open-minded. Just the approach I was seeking. She spent more than an hour of her time talking with me about my thoughts and purposes, she has not turned me down 3 times as traditionalist Rabbis do -- only understandably --, for two reasons: one, they want to see the commitment of the convert-to-be, and two, they want to protect their people from newcomers that could be wrongdoers to the community.
She gave me the syllabus and the outline for my study -- with her guidance -- to be able to make an informed decision: whether or not I want to convert to Judaism. I can't wait to go to the library tomorrow morning and get the books she recommends and requires for me to educate myself about Jewish life, culture and the people. I am so excited!!! I left the Temple with all kinds of positive and uplifting thoughts and feelings, I kept smiling all the way while I was driving back to my husband's office to pick him up.
I am in a transition and I can feel how this journey would take me where I belong. This blog is serving as my journal, as I go through this transition, for me and for those who are interested. Most importantly, for my Rabbi who is going to help me find my way.
I would be more than happy to read comments -- if any -- but inappropriate comments and those of hatred are going to be moderated. It would really not worth it to post such comments, because my pacifist nature and the spiritual nature of the topic do not leave room for them.
I thank everyone for reading my posts with respect.