by Tammy Bleck (Oak Park, CA)
During the twenty-five years that I was married to a Jewish man, I was often called an honorary Jew. I’m not exactly sure why. In all those years my husband never attended Temple or practiced his faith. No high holidays were ever observed, no Hanukkah candles lit. So why does almost everyone I meet assume that I am a Jew, and why do I sometimes feel like one?
It could be because I shlep, kibbitz, and have done many a mitzvah, and since my divorce ten years ago I have found love once more with a mensch. For almost two years I have been going to Temple with this wonderful man. In that time I’ve witnessed a faith that is open, accepting, loving and giving. I would like to think of myself as all those things.
Each Shabbat I listen to prayers that are offered up asking for God’s blessings for all men and women, for peace and strength, for favor and healing. But mostly I hear prayers of thanks. There is a lot of gratitude in the Jewish faith. I think we could all stand to be a little more grateful.
My father raised, baptized and confirmed me as a Catholic. My mother taught, baptized, and took me to her Baptist church each opportunity she had. I know my catechism, the Stations of the Cross, and I know my Praise the Lord renditions of the old Baptist way. I am not uneducated in the world of organized faiths, but there is no church that has me as a member. I consider myself to be a faithful person but shun the term “religious.”
I am open, and I appreciate all faiths that are open and patient with me. Faith is a good thing, and God, whatever name you choose to call him (or her), is gracious and loving. I have to say, in attending synagogue, there’s something to be said for attending a worship service and not being aggressively recruited or reminded of how much I’ve sinned. I appreciate both of the omissions.
There is so much about the Jewish faith I won’t even pretend to understand. I may study it one day. I’m sure I’d be the better for it. But I do understand the foundation, the music, the feeling of gratitude that fills the synagogue. It uplifts me and it encourages me.
When I attend Shabbat services, I do so without any reservations. I am there with an open mind to support the man who has my heart. With so much of the evening service in Hebrew, I greatly appreciate the rabbi’s woven explanations of the prayers. They are beautiful, positive, hopeful and gracious–all things that I aspire to be.
I am motivated to come back by the music and by the man who sings it. He is called a cantor, and I learned very quickly that we don’t applaud after he finishes singing. Too bad, because he sings with such love, such emotion and such intent, that I want to leap to my feet and put my hands together loudly. (I imagine that the old Baptist way of raising your hands up in the air and swaying to the music would be deemed inappropriate!)
I listen without understanding a word, but I read along in the book (definitely not called the Bible), and am able to get a real translation. I appreciate the words almost as much as I do the voice. I don’t understand why Jews don’t pass a basket in the service for contributions from the congregation for the synagogue. After listening to the cantor, if a basket were passed in front of me, I’d be putting in some big money. It’s what thankful people do: contribute (at least in a perfect world).
It occurs to me that if we really want to make it a better world, we should support those people and those things that do right by us. Synagogues and churches are among those ‘things,’ along with family, friends, and country. Jews live this, and they vehemently support their synagogues and their homeland, Israel. I can only imagine what they are feeling in watching the events unfold in the Middle East. In some strange way, I feel it too; the fear, the uncertainty, the need to prepare and to pray.
The feelings Jews have for Israel are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They are committed to Israel in a quiet, precise, and serious way. It feels very American to me. The dedication and quiet resolve is a little off-putting, but in a good way. While I don’t pretend to understand it, I can feel the passion, the purpose of it all, and I share in some of that. I guess you could call me an American-Catholic-Baptist-almost-Jew.
I’m happy just to be invited. The people, the message, the peace, the food–don’t even get me started on the food. Oy Vay! (What do they do to those cabbage rolls that make them so heavenly?)
I have lots of questions. They range from matzo balls, black hats and long curls, the Book of Life, to the sounding of the ram’s horn, the bris ceremony, and bar mitzvahs; all for another time, another discussion. Until then, I will learn, enjoy, eat and try to be a good (American-Catholic- Baptist- almost-) Jew.
Oh, and yes, I will pray.
Tammy Bleck is the author of the book Single Past 50 Now What? You can read more of her writings at www.WittyWomanWriting.com, where a slightly different version of this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.