Bubie Marge z”l

My grandmother, Marge Torontour Mintz, was named for Miriam.  This seems appropriate to me as I can picture her dancing in wild colors with tamborine or drum along with Miriam and the women in the desert. My grandmother loved to dance. She loved life. When Miriam died, everything stopped.  The very water that had sustained the Israelites ceased to flow.   My grandmother, who died last week, was a constant source of love in my life.  She has always been there.  Her absence leaves a great hollow in my heart.  It feels like the very water, the life source of our family, has stopped flowing.  I grieve the emptiness her passing leaves.  I miss her.

At her advanced age, her passing was not a surprise, yet I had come to believe in my grandmother’s indomitable spirit.  I thought she would stay with me a while longer… I wanted to be able to place my daughter in her arms…. She died just two months shy of her 95th birthday.  My daughter, still waiting on her US citizenship papers never made it to Toronto to be held by her great grandmother. I am grateful my grandmother lived to see our adoption complete, to meet Eliyana by skype and to rejoice with me.  I am blessed that my grandmother was such a large part of my life, that her influence and teaching, her stories and art, are an intricate part of my soul today.

My grandmother clung to life with both hands.  At 93 she insisted on the surgery needed to repair her broken hip and though she was confined afterward to a wheelchair, she continued to work towards walking again.  We should not have doubted her.  A year later she was walking.  She was stubborn and demanding… and she was fabulous.  I loved her in her entirety.  She was a force to be reconned with.  A spitfire some called her, her spirit lit the room.

In the deaths of Nadiv and Abihu, Aaron’s beloved sons, the Torah gives no hint that Aaron was allowed time to grieve.  Instead, immediately following their deaths, God gives instructions to Moses for Aaron on appropriate sin offerings.  Traditionally we have explained that Nadiv and Abihu sinned in giving inappropriate sacrifices to God and died for their mistake.  The Chassidim reject this interpretation. According to one Chassidic text, Nadiv and Abihu entered the holy of holies in a heightened spiritual state, cleaving to God.  They drew near to God with such passion that their souls left the mundane earth and did not know how to return.  The Chassidim see the story as a cautionary tale to remain grounded in life even as we reach for heaven.

My Bubie Marge was incredibly grounded in life. She wanted to be here, to see the next adventure, to be surrounded by family, and rejoice in their life steps.  As a little girl, my grandmother was diagnosed with a congenital lung defect.  She remembered the “great doctor” telling her parents, “this child will never live to see adulthood”. But my grandmother did live, and would tell the story with glee, adding that she was still alive and that the famous doctor was long dead. In the 1920s, the only course of action available to her parents was to send her away to live in a convent in the country.  It was a very lonely existence for a little Jewish girl from Montreal.  She survived, learning to embroider and crotchet, and telling her grandchildren stories of ribbons won for her good work there.  After returning to her family, life was not much easier: They were poor.  In fifth grade my grandmother left school to go to work and help support her family. A few years later she met Ben Mintz, they courted and he asked her to marry him.

My grandmother tells a fantastic story of the pajamas she and her mother crafted for my grandfather as a wedding gift.  They could only afford leftover scraps of material but found a good solid stripe print. They spent hours matching up the bits and pieces of fabric so the striped would align and my grandmother, a young bride presented the pajamas to her husband.  My grandfather smiled quietly as my grandmother finished the story: “they were awful, I don’t know how he wore them.”  And I smile now, remembering the joy of sitting with my grandparents listening to my grandmother weave tales of her history, her life.  Matching up scraps to create something entirely new, this is a good metaphor for my grandmother’s life.

Marge MintzBubie was an artist.  I reveled in visiting her to see the wonders she would pick up at flea markets and rework into incredible creations.  If she found a wool sweater at a garage sale she would spend the next weeks unraveling it to store and make something new of.  If she found a jacket with bead fringes she would bargain the seller down to the ten cents she claimed it was worth then remove all the beads to reuse in her next art project. In her 60s Bubie went back to college and got her bachelor of fine arts from York University. While there she continued to pursue her dreams with her own unique flare.  If the assignment was an essay, my grandmother was just as likely to hand in a book of collage with poetry and research interspersed with original art and pictures cut from magazines. If the assignment was a bust, she made fiber art in three dimensions, rather than the usual clay.  She graduated with honors, proud to walk in graduation with hat and gown. Amazingly, she stayed in contact with her young University friends into her 90s by joining facebook.

After University, my grandmother applied for and received multiple Canada Arts Council grants which she used to make documentary movies about early Canadian pioneer women and the needlework tools they brought from the old country.  She had collected incredible needlework antiques, researched them, and would lecture at museums on their use. She was very involved in the Older Women’s Network which acted for social and political change.  She organized senior trips to Stratford for afternoons of Theatre, educational workshops on con artists, and established senior classes on computer and internet skills. She was a model of industry, working to make tikkun olam in her corner of the world.

My grandmother filled my life with love, stories, art, and adventure.  My sister and I would often spend the day at Bubie Marge‘s and she always had something special planned. Sometimes it was pressing and arranging dried flowers, or picking raspberries, or watching old black and white movies with full commentary on the actors from my grandmother.  She taught me to love Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple.  She taught me to savor fresh fruit, good quality yarns, and solid shoes.  She taught me to crotchet and knit, to embroider and bead, and to stop by the side of the road if there were interesting wild flowers to be picked.  She made me giggle with her stinky sock routine.  She took me out to high tea.  We sang “Tea for two”.  She ended every conversation with “have I told you lately that I love you.” She built herself a a wondrous hat and covered it with beach glass… the drive down here for my wedding tired her but when the music started she danced enthusiastically, wowing everyone.

My grandmother was at her core an artist and a student of life.  She loved to learn, to philosophize, to create.  She was always at the library, researching and happily embraced the internet when it became a source for study.  She would research for months on a particular topic before turning it into her latest art creation.  When I visited Bubie, it was not to make cookies but to tie dye handmade paper that we would make into fabulous puppets.  She would regale me with tales of her trips to Spain, Italy and India.  She would speak at length about the role of unions, women’s empowerment, and socialized medicine in ending poverty.

Unlike Nadiv and Abihu my grandmother was rooted in the solidness of life. She often felt this left no room for spirituality.  Her life was children and grandchildren, art and craft, everything held solidly hand and heart.  In truth all of us felt her spirituality in her zest for life, her enthusiasm, her stories, and her art.  Her hip surgery at age 93 was her third.  Her second was at age 91 and I spent a week then in the hospital with her awaiting surgery.  It was an incredible time.  She was in excruciating pain.  We waited.  The room was stuffy and depressing, with an elderly women dying the bed next to us.  We waited.  Finally I told the nursing staff I wanted a wheelchair… I was taking her outside.  The nurses were horrified.  I insisted.  We left. We sat just outside the front of the hospital in a small patch of grass under a tree watching the birds and listening to the traffic, pretending the cars of the highways were really the crash of waves against the beach.  My grandmother told me she didn’t know how to pray.  I assured her all she had to do was stand before God and speak what was in her heart.  While she was recovering from that hip surgery, she wrote this prayer.  It says everything.

Hineni

Hineni means simply Here I am.

Here I am God, waiting for your command.

Here I am an elderly person and God has called on me to let go,

to let others, who are more capable, do for me.

I love to look after myself,

to be responsible for making my own decisions.

Of course I appreciate being loved,

but I don’t want to be taken care of.

God please I don’t want to be old.

I have been told by God that it is time to let go,

to wait for others to help me.

But Dear God,

I have always been the one who was capable.

I made so many cakes and so many cookies.

Everybody came to my house.

There is going to be a big dinner for Rosh Hashanah

and I will only sit and smile.

That makes me lonely.

Will You hear my prayer?

Have I nothing left to give?

Will You hear my prayer?

 

 

New Model Elder Care

 

Honored to have my article on caring for the elderly within community published in KOLOT: Voices of Conservative Judaism Magazine.

photo Kabbalat Shabbat at Woodland Manor

Residents of Woodland Manor and Temple Israel Daveners getting ready for Kabbalat Shabbat.

She Sleeps

she sleeps

smelling like today’s strawberries

snoring between mommy and daddy

I am at the edge of the bed

still, she inches closer, happily mashed into my side

one minute, absolute peace in her body and face, arms flung out to the side, demanding her space

the next, one hand on my arm, the other, a thumb in her mouth, her breath on my face

and on this special night when I can not sleep

I watch her in love and awe

shall I roll her back to the middle of the bed?

I smile knowing that she will only inch closer once again…

she opens her eyes but for a moment

and then they close once more

a small bundle of potential and possibility

my heart

my joy

enjoy your sleep little one

Mama is watching over you.

Letting Go of “Perfect”

In the many jobs I have had since I started working at age 15, I have only been  fired once –as student gabbai at the Jewish Theological Seminary synagogue.  I look back on the memory lovingly now, having learned so much since then.  At the time, I felt wholly inadequate and underprepared in the traditional laws surrounding Jewish worship.  The drive to master these was spurred by my passion for Judaism and a rabbinical school dedicated to their preservation.  I, as a student, wanted to work as gabbai so I could learn with practice to do the job well; the rule at JTS was a worship service that was technically perfect, serving as a model to students. The educational theory was that we would learn if we were exposed to the service in pristine perfection. I did not make the cut.  At that time, prayer was not a course requirement to become a rabbi, we learned on our own time. I felt ill equipped as a Jew and a rabbi.  More than modeling classic prayer, my seminary experience left me feeling I needed to be perfect in order to be a rabbi.

It was my congregants that taught me otherwise and for their kind wisdom I am eternally grateful.  In a shul in Connecticut a dedicated group of 10 welcomed me, a brand new knee-knocking assistant rabbi, into their daily minyan.  They were incredibly supportive of me, and anyone, who wanted to lead prayer.   I learned like, Nachshon, to leap into prayer with both feet, and worry about the correct tunes later.  My congregants did not mind if my voice cracked or I changed key mid song.  They were not hung up on the prayer being perfect, only on the true values of our tradition: community, tradition, and God  –that Judaism and God are served better by an imperfect nusach than a Jew in fearful silence.

So often I meet fellow Jews terrified to lead Jewish prayer for fear of making a mistake, of not being perfect.  As a rabbi, I try to nurture davening talent in my congregants, encouraging them take up the mantle of prayer leadership.  Often, people are afraid to stop learning and jump into davening because they don’t yet have the skill “perfected.”  ”Naaseh V’nishma,” I tell them.  Action precedes understanding in Jewish theology.  We do and from our practice comes understanding.  And then I tell them the greatest secret of Jewish prayer ever revealed… “if you go blank on a tune, make one up, if you forget a word, mumble and move forward.”

The intricacy of our liturgy and the laws surrounding their recitation have built walls around our prayer that reach higher than the tower of Babel, impenetrable.  Just like Babel, the towers we build leave us isolated, and unfulfilled.  Our stress on perfection brings us no closer to God.  A better model for us would be King David who “danced before the Lord with all his might.” (2 Samuel 6:14)  He was not afraid of “what he would look like” but dug deep into his heart to express himself fully to God.

This is true for so much in life.  Our fear of looking ridiculous, of trying something new for fear of falling over our clumsiness, hold us back.  Far greater that being perfect in our own small domain, is Judaism’s call to live life to the fullest, to keep learning and growing.

Twenty years after graduating from the seminary I can easily lead a service from our prayerbook.  Now the challenge is find a deeper level of kavanah, to leave the words of the prayerbook and dance before God in my heart.   Sometimes as I lead, I close my eyes and feel the prayer in my soul.  Often this means I stumble on a word when I again look down at the prayerbook. God bless the next twenty years of learning curve.  May I have the courage to continue to let go of being perfect and the strength of Nachshon and David to leap and dance in life and before God.

Transition and Ending: Facing Our Fear

Guest Blog Post from Rabbi Nadia Siritsky

In a famous Charlie Brown cartoon the children are looking at the clouds and Linus says ‘See that one cloud over there? It sort of looks like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous portrait painter. And that other group over there – that looks as though it could be a map of British Honduras. And then do you see that large group of clouds up there? I see mythology in the making, with some of our earliest historical figures depicted by the shifting clouds.’ Then Lucy says, ‘That’s very good, Linus. It shows you have quite a good imagination. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?’ And Charlie says, ‘Well I was going to say I saw a ducky and a horsey but now I’ve changed my mind.’

Sometimes, when we read our Torah, we may feel like Charlie Brown, as we try to understand where our rabbis are coming from in their commentaries. Many of you will have probably noticed by now, that for our rabbis, everything is susceptible to interpretation, including even the physical appearance of the Torah text, the size and shape of the letters or the spaces between words.

In our Torah scroll the parashiot are all separated by an intervening space, all except parashah Vayechi.  Our rabbis understand this anomaly as holding the key to the inner meaning of our Torah portion which is entitled: Vayechi: he will live, and which speaks instead about Jacob’s death. The lack of separation between Torah portions calls us to become mindful of the ways in which death and life are often intertwined, and the ways in which death can lead us back into life. Joseph gathers his sons together, to offer them his blessing and wisdom, and in so doing, he lives on through them, and through all of us.

There is a deep spiritual meaning in this seamless transition from life to death.  It calls us to be more attentive to our own lives and those close to us.  We all live in a space in between. We rarely acknowledge it, certainly in our death denying culture. But Judaism calls us to be mindful of it. Our rabbis tell us to try to live every day as if it might be our last, with a belief that this might inspire us to make choices that are less motivated by temporary concerns, and more in line with our deeper values and the way that we want to be remembered after we are gone. The awareness that we are always hovering between death and life need not scare us, but rather should prompt us to keep searching for light and meaning.  With this in mind, we turn our attention to Jacob, hoping that his parting words might illumine our own shadowy doubts regarding our future.

Our rabbis comment that Jacob on his deathbed intended to share with his sons a glimpse of things to come, but he was denied the vision. The noteworthy absence of any defining space in the Torah scroll at the beginning of Vayechi suggested to the rabbinic imagination, stored in Bereishit Rabba, that the prophetic insight granted to Jacob momentarily, near the end of his life, seemed to evaporate before he was able to put it into words.

The first two verses of the deathbed scene seem repetitive: “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father (49:1-2).’”Our rabbis wonder why he sounds like he is repeating himself, when, with time pressing and the end nearing, he should be trying to make the most out of every word and every moment. Instead, Jacob sounds tentative, almost stalling for time. Of course it is normal to be scared of endings, and to try to hold on. But, we can learn from this that when we stall for time, instead of living in the moment, sometimes we lose out too.

Our rabbis note that, as Jacob stalls, the illumination begins to darken and the vision begins to fade. Jacob ends up talking about past hurts instead of future blessings: “Reuben, you are my first born … unstable as water … What you have done to me in the past has brought me disgrace.”  What we can learn from this is that when we let fear keep us from seizing the moment and making holy choices, that fear can lead us away from light and into a dark bitterness. It is all too easy to hold on to anger and hurt. How often do we become scared that past disappointments will repeat themselves?

We, no less than Jacob, and his sons, yearn for moments of light to illumine our own darkness, our own fears for the future.  At times of transition and change, in the midst of the loss that must inevitably accompany any change, we may also try to peer ahead into a dimly lit future. Uncertain, we too may be tempted to shift from hope to fear, from trust to resentment. But Jacob’s hesitation reminds us that, while it is normal to hesitate, time is short and fleeting, and we should do what we can to make the most of the present.

Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezerich, taught that, rather than be afraid of endings and transitions, we should try to embrace the process, and trust that, ultimately, it will lead us toward life and blessing. He said: Nothing can be transformed from one thing to another unless it first loses its original identity. Thus for example, before an egg can become a chicken, it must cease completely to be an egg. Each thing must be nullified before it can become something else. Only then can it become something else.”

As scary as endings can feel, new beginnings are only possible when we release our hold on what was. Our Torah portion for this week represents not only the end of Jacob’s life, but also the end of the book of Genesis, a book that was turbulent and filled with sibling rivalry, fratricide, family members competing over God’s favor, and destroying each other in the process. Abel, Ham, Lot , Ishmael, Esau…  each generation has repeated the mistakes of the previous one… cutting off one another in an attempt to hold onto the elusive family blessing.  Perhaps each were replaying that initial trauma of having been expelled from Eden? 

The story of Joseph, whose brothers want to kill him and ultimately sell him into slavery, once again seems to take on the familiar echo of generations past. Yet it ends on a redemptive note of family reconciliation and blessing. It also marks the beginning of the story of the Jewish people that ultimately led us to Torah and the promised land. Ultimately our Torah portion reminds us that healing and forgiveness, blessing and reunion are possible. As Jacob ends his life, surrounded by his family, even as he hesitates at first, and holds on to resentment, ultimately, he realizes that, even if he may not be able to predict the future for his children, but he still is able to give them his final blessing, and trust them to figure out how to actualize it for themselves. In so doing, he recommits himself to life, blessing, healing and legacy.

I can not read this death scene of Jacob, and not think of the great Nelson Mandela’s whose death we marked this year, by pausing to celebrate his life and his enduring legacy, his courage and his determination, his vision for a world redeemed. He did not look to his time in jail as an end- as defeat. He used it as a time to grow and learn, to refine his tools so that he emerged even stronger and wiser than before. He too, can teach us so much about how to face loss, and moments of transition, and look forward with trust and faith. Had he looked only to the past, he would not have found the strength to fight for a vision of equality that South Africa did not yet know. He took every ending and obstacle, and harnessed the wisdom he learned from it, in order to actualize his quest for justice, creating a world where all people, created in God’s image, would be able to be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.

May our Sabbath bring us opportunity for reflection and reconnection with those in our lives, that we may transcend the weight of the past and be granted Light, blessing, healing and wholeness. Let us not be afraid of endings, but find the strength and faith to embrace them, and the courage to use them to work for a redemption that we pray will be our legacy. 

Inviting God to Lunch

When I was a little girl, my grandmother took me for a full tea, mini sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and petit fours.  It was to be the first of many wonderful teas together and I never forgot it.  I was awestruck by the multi-tiered platers, the fine china cups and the crustless cucumber sandwiches. We sat on the small veranda of a restaurant watching a nearby stream.  It was such a special time, just the two of us, being very ladylike, and enjoying it with all the enthusiasm of childhood.

mommy and eI was reminded of this when my daughter and I went out for our first lunch together this week.  After a difficult morning at the doctor’s office for routine poking and prodding of a patient then tearful baby, I took us out to a favorite restaurant, the Moosewood.  With the magic of strained pears pulled from my bag, we were two ladies out on the town.  In this special moment I felt God’s presence invited to join us. We reveled in each other’s presence, in a moment stopped in time, and this opened the door to the holy.

I spent many years awaiting my beautiful daughter and dreaming of the wonderful shechechiyanu moments we would have together.  The images were complete with first trips to the park, new coats, and hat.  The reality is more wondrous than the dream.  Though the hat turned out to be pink not blue. This week Eliyana discovered rolling over from front to back… a foolproof way to get out of the detested Mommy enforced “tummy time.”  She also had her first trip down a slide, ate her first mum mum cookie, and drank from her first sippy cup.  With each, her eyes opened wide with enthusiasm for the new experience and my heart galloped as I travelled with her on the journey of discovery.  In each moment I felt the holy, God’s presence joining me as time stopped for joy.

The firsts are truly amazing, as are the seconds, the thirds and the fourths.  Each step in my daughter’s development and growth is like opening a door to a new universe.  I thank God for allowing me to bear witness to these small miracles.  In Jewish tradition, new experiences call for the shechechiyanu prayer.  I thank God for enabling us to reach this time of new experience, for taking joy in the wonder of the world around us, and for helping us be present for each other as we grow and learn.

0852-shehecheyanu

Constructing Shabbat

It is not always easy attending Shabbat services with a baby.  I cringe each time she cries out, worried that she is marring the community’s prayer space.  But each week I bring her again to Temple Israel services and each week we are part of a great construction, the building of Shabbat.

In Judaism, spiritual space is constructed with fine attention to detail.  The sabbath is not just a time of rest.  It is holiness constructed by diligent observance of 39 melachot, 39 forbidden labors.  Looking at the heart of the Jewish Sabbath one sees laws upon laws, like an onion peeled of it’s layers.  It can take years to wrap one’s head around the multitude of forbidden acts that make up our sabbath.  Observance is counter intuitive.  Why study, prepare, work and sweat, to make a day of rest?  The answer lies in the concept of construction.  With each forbidden act, with each call to mitzvah, we construct a space wholly (holy) different from the prosaic.

The laws that guard our sabbath are taken the building of mishkan, tabernacle.  In Exodus (20:8-11) we are commanded to cease working on the shabbat just as God ceased all work on the seventh day of creation (Gen 2:2).  The Torah does not specify or define this work.  The rabbis find the answer in the juxtaposition of the command to build the mishkan and the the command to keep the sabbath. (Parashah Vayekhel, Ex 35:1-5)  The construction of the mishkan becomes a microcosm, defining every sort of human act of creation.  The labor of mankind, human creation, ceases on the shabbat, to construct a space honoring God’s creation.

There is a poetry, a thread of holy inspiration, in taking the tools to create a sabbath space, a feature of time, from the labors used to create the mishkan, a physical entity.  As humans we crave the safety and comfort of walls around us.  God was ever present for Israel in the desert, guiding them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night… but we craved the physical building.  God gave instructions and all of Israel’s artists came forth to construct a physical space of holiness.  Shabbat is a concept, a time… but we made it concrete, observable.  From the construction of the mishkan is built a sabbath space.  Shabbat becomes a place, a home, a sanctuary.

The Jews are a people who have known what it is to wander without a home. Our Sabbath is constructed to be a space in which we can dwell no matter where we are.  Even as Temple Israel works to rebuild our beautiful building, our community has rallied to make Shabbat together.  Our artisans furnished us with the familiar wine and challah each week, arks on wheels, friendship and warmth.  No less than the tent poles of the great mishkan, our community constructs itself anew each shabbat as it raises the space in which we observe shabbat.  Each week we make a holy space and in this space we invite God and community into our lives.

Shema – Wonder and Joy

Mommy and baby Addis trip 1Each night as I rock my daughter to sleep, I sing her the Shema and V’Ahavta prayer. I sing the verses over and over again until we are both lulled into a place of warmth and comfort. She has come to understand the connection between this prayer and sleep but this was not the case the first time I sang it to her.  In the hotel room in Addis Ababa, the first night she was ours, my husband and I hovered over our beautiful child, cooing her to sleep.  She was drifting off but when I began to sing the Shema, my daughter’s eyes popped wide open and she smiled happily at me fully awake.  I was moved to tears.

I had anticipated the Shechinah, God’s presence, joining us in that first Shema moment –bringing a calming peace to bedtime. Instead Eliyana encountered the Shema with eyes wide open.  She embraced her first taste of Judaism with great joy and awareness.  I was filled with pride and happiness in my child, my religion, and in the future our family would build together.

The Shema announces our covenant with God, a spiritual contract for how we live our lives.  It should be said with open eyes and heart.  It is traditionally said three times a day, during morning and evening services and again at night before going to sleep.  It is meant to be the last words on our lips as we leave this world and the first words of Torah we learn as children.

My mother taught me the Shema when I was very little.  It is one of my earliest memories.  I couldn’t have been more than five years old.  My mother chanted each word for me and I repeated until I had it memorized.  Oh the pride I felt in shul when it was time to say the shema and I too knew the words.  My mother’s gift was more than prayer, it was community.  It was covenant with God and history and peoplehood.  And it was all mine.

My husband and I joke that our daughter will now associate the Shema so strongly with bedtime that she will promptly fall asleep when we arrive at the Shema in the Shabbat service.  I am not worried.  I remember that first Shema we shared, her eyes smiling and alert as I sang.  This is her gift, a covenant with God that began in wonder and joy.

Extraordinary

I had an extraordinary exchange with my child’s pediatrician yesterday.  The first thing the nurse had us do when we arrived was strip off my daughter’s cloths and diaper so she could be weighed and measured. I had her naked on the table for two seconds when a graceful arch of pee flew from her body to soak blanket, table and mommy.  I joked with the doctor that she seemed to have an instinct to pee as soon as her diaper was removed.  Our doctor, who is just fabulous, responded that, in fact, it made perfect sense. Children, through history, have been wrap carried on the hips and backs of parents.  When it was time to pee, the child would be unwrapped, exposed to air, held away from parent’s body.  Isn’t nature brilliant?

I have been in awe watching nature take it’s course, not only in my daughter’s instincts, but in those of the adults around her.  When Tim and I chose to adopt, our families were supportive and helpful.  We knew our daughter would be welcomed and loved.  Our families are diverse: religiously, geographically, and generationaly.  Yet, with each and every family member, we have marveled at their immediate and passionate bonding to Eliyana.  God is wise. Nature is all encompassing.

I expected, perhaps because we adopted, for the relationship with grandparents to take place in head and heart… but there is an overwhelming physical instinct at play.  I can feel it, both when the grandparents are in the room, and when they interact with Eliyana on skype.  They need to hold her, to touch her, to connect with her physically, even at a distance by catching her eyes, her smile, her laugh.  Our parents, grandparents, and families love us, and so by extension they love our daughter.  This was the beginning… but the relationship grew independent of us with incredible speed.  I am in awe. Our spirits have such capacity for love, for family. God is wondrous.

mommy and e 2Bereshit: In the beginning God created a single human being, male and female was this being.  God split the being down the side and two people emerged, Adam and Eve. This is why we yearn for another, for friendship, love and family.  We need to touch, skin to skin.  The yearning reaches down to the well of our very existence, to body and soul.

The spirit is not removed from the physical.  Our souls are not independent of our bodies.  Jewish mysticism teaches that a spark of God’s self descends into each child at birth and there intertwines with the physical elements of our soul. When our bodies die, the spark returns to God.  Though all or part of that spark may enter another, there will never be another like us. Our soul, our being is unique, a bonding of the divine, the spirit, and our physical selves.  Perhaps it is this intertwining of body and soul that feeds our need to cleave to one another, to connect, to love, not just emotionally but with physical closeness.

I gift to you to moment of awe, of miracle.  Please watch these wondrous creatures of nature and think on our own need to connect and fly through life together.

dream that was meant to be

Looking down at my beautiful daughter in my arms, I sometimes wonder what on earth took me so long.  Bringing her into our lives was a long journey that did not begin with agency and governmental red tape, but with a dream I was afraid to let die.  The decision to end our efforts with infertility treatments, though they that were slowly killing my husband and me, was incredibly difficult.

I don’t think I actually yearned for a biological child in the beginning.  At my age, I knew it was a long shot.  We talked of adoption before we ever visited a fertility specialist.  Then, with the introduction of a powerful drug to my system, I got pregnant.  Oh the joy of that time, brief as it was, and the devastation and loss in that miscarriage.  I desperately wanted to recapture the joy and hopefulness of carrying our child and so I tried again and again, with stronger and stronger drugs.  I chased the dream.  I cried.  I tortured myself with guilt. Something must be wrong with me physically, or spiritually, or emotionally…  I knew I must have done something terrible and this was my punishment.  I was sure God had deserted me.  I sacrificed my body to surgeries, tests, medications, and scrutiny by professionals, friends, and family.  I cried.

It came to a head when the side effects of the drug had me in such excruciating pain that I was sedated with heavy narcotics.  ”Don’t worry,” said my doctor, “the narcotics won’t affect the fetus at this stage.”  That was it for my husband.  He was done.  Of course I did not get pregnant… who would under those circumstances?  Still, it took longer for me to let go of the dream.  I had built it up to such immensity in my mind and soul. And then I was angry.  I was angry for a long time, at God, at the world, and at myself most of all.

I was afraid to adopt.  I was terrified of imposing my guilt and grief onto an innocent child. I had a notion that I had to heal completely before adopting so as to protect our child to be.  My rabbi and mentor of many years, with the help of God, put me in touch with another family who had been through our journey and more.  Their story of pain and grief horrified me and helped bring me to my senses.   I will never forget one particular conversation with my new friends.  I asked them how they let go of the dream of a biological child.  They replied that they hadn’t.  There was still grief, but it lessened with each joyous moment that filled their lives once they adopted their child.  We applied to adopt.

Then we waited, and did paperwork, and waited and more paperwork and waited some more… This was followed by paperwork, waiting and more paperwork.  Finally we were matched to a beautiful little girl in Ethiopia. For Tim, the bond to Eliyana was absolutely immediate, from the moment he saw her picture, from the instant her held her in his arms.  He stared at her little feet. He sang her funny songs. He gurgled into her sweet face.

My bond was not complete until we were able to bring her home with us from the orphanage (a difficult month later).  I remember holding Eliyana in my arms, rocking her to sleep, and my whole body filling with warmth and pure joy.  In every smile, hug, giggle, and cuddle I marveled at how wonderful she was and at our luck in receiving her into our lives.  I feel so blessed in the path, difficult as it was, that brought us Eliyana. She is more perfect than we ever deserved.

The first time I sang Eliyana the Shema, while putting her to sleep, her eyes popped wide open and she stared, giggling and smiling, into my face as I sang.  I felt God.  But more than that…  I felt Eliyana.  Her presence overwhelmed me.

Eliyana takes joy in everything.  She wakes up laughing! She dances to music only she can hear and her enticing smile invites you to join in.  She loves to cuddle and will join in singing with you, albeit using her own words. She loves people, all people.  She lights up to see them. She has an inner strength and a self reliance that allows her to entertain herself happily with blocks or nesting cups, or joy of joy, eating a board book.  Every day I look at her and can’t think what I could have done in life to deserve such a sweet beautiful treasure.

After I began writing about this journey, people started to contact me about their own difficulties with infertility. I can’t tell them to stop. I can’t advise adoption. It is an incredibly difficult process and the decision very personal.

But for Tim and me, Eliyana is our Beshert. This is the family we were meant to be. Eliyana is our dream. We thank God for the journey that brought her to us. We feel blessed every day.