Sep 052010


How Do We Create Hope Out Of Hopelessness?

That is one of my lines in the Rosh Hashana service that I have been asked to participate in.  Such an honor.  And as I read over the text my Cantor sent me, this line jumped right out at me.  Because I –like many I assume, feel so hopeless so often.  These are really tough times for so many of us.  It is so easy to slide into that hopeless hell.

I am not very religious – never have been.  My liberal, opinionated New York City born and raised Eastern European descended worked in factories and dress shops took in boarders during the depression Lower East side living high school educated independent thinking smart talented parents – had all sorts of problems with the Temple when we moved from Queens to Long Island and after one year of Hebrew School I quit and my parents let me.  We were “Holiday Jews” – celebrated the holidays but did not go to Temple although of course my only brother DID have a bar mitzvah.  Anyhoo, I am sorry to say now that I always took being Jewish for granted.

Until recently.

My appreciation of my Temple and my Heritage my Spiritualism really kicked in when icky things happened to me and to my family (divorce, job loss, illness) and there they were; an entire community of caring people – right there.  Then my mother died and the Rabbi came to my house to lead a service.  SHE CAME TO MY HOUSE – like a doctor!  I still can’t get over it.  I’ll NEVER get over it.  I can still hear her sweet comforting voice ringing in my living room.  It is like a huge hug whenever I think about it.

I so love my “Repair The World” Temple, which my ex-husband found about fourteen years ago when we were a brand new family.  I remember how he said in his then charming now annoying British accent, “Dahling, you’ll love it – it is all run my women”. A Conservative (male) Rabbi had married us.   I had let my husband call the religious shots since he was the religious one and the night before our wedding we were part of a service in which my husband was called up on the Bema, HIS father was called up on the Bema – and me?  Nope.  I was not called up.  I had no role.  I ended up in the bathroom crying.  Another reminder of why I did not like religion and another missed clue as to what my marriage would be like.  But he DID find this wonderful Temple and I will always be grateful for that.

So when they asked me to “act” in the Rosh Hashanah service – me on that Bema – me who cannot read or understand Hebrew – I was and am beyond honored. I still can’t believe I am a part of such a fabulous progressive inclusive Temple and have been asked – two years in a row – to participate in the service.  I am a professional stage actress so it made sense to ask me.  Many “professionals” in our Temple are asked to participate in all sorts of things.  I was “Bubbe In The Kitchen” making latkes for the Hanukkah Show two years ago and acted in a play about Rosh Hashana three years ago and I have performed parts of my show that I wrote “Cheerios In My Underwear” during the arts festival.   When asked – I do anything my Temple asks.

My cantor sent me the script to read given to him by a cantorial colleague and here is the first paragraph.

Once upon a time in Ramatayim, there was a man with two wives, Hannah, and Peninah. Peninah had children, many of them, running around making mischief.  But Hannah could have none.  Peninah would torture Peninah constantly, until she cried so much she couldn’t even eat. Her husband Elkanah loved her dearly, and tried to cheer her up, but there was nothing he could do.  For her life had no meaning.  For her, all she could feel was her own barrenness.

Uh oh.  Her life had no meaning because she could not have children?  Now Amy, I told myself – let’s not overanalyze this but of course I have always had and still have a problem with sexism in religion. I am, after all, a Cultural Herstorian – yup – you read it right – and I could write and talk for hours about how – as my heroine Elizabeth Cady Stanton said in her alienating and shocking 1895 The Woman’s Bible, A Classic Feminist Perspective “religion holds women down”.  Yes it certainly did back then.  Of course it is waaaay better now – but religious sexism still absolutely exists and I was always worried about my daughters’ religious education, which is filled with sexist (and oh so gory) stories.  And when I first went to my Rabbi to discuss my feelings about this, she of course said immediately – “yes, question everything.  That is what we Jews do”.  And she proceeded to explain and interpret and generally set me straight.  I knew then and know now that my daughters were and are in terrific non-sexist spiritually guiding community oriented beautiful hands.  And then I read the rest of the text.

(I am Reader #1).

READER  #2: Once upon a time in a city very close by to where we sit today, there was a man with a blackberry, a pager, and a bluetooth.  David worked seven days a week, pursuing his job with fury and passion.  He also had a family, who saw him at meals, a soccer game here and

there, and the occasional family vacation.  But no matter what he did, he could not conquer time. There was never enough time.  So he ate with the bluetooth stuck on his ear, and he sat at soccer games frantically typing on those tiny blackberry keys.  And he slept with the pager by his side.

Nothing else mattered.  But meanwhile, he was unhappy, and he couldn’t figure out why.

READER 1: How do we create hope out of hopelessness?

READER 2: How do we learn faith when things seem meaningless?

READER 1: So Hannah prayed:

READER 2: Out of her deep pain, she silently swayed.  Her lips moving, as if she were drunk, Hannah asked: God on high, if you will just see the pain I am in, if you remember me, if you grant me a son, I will dedicate him to You for life.

READER 1: And in that moment, she forever altered the meaning of prayer.  Her faith opened her to the possibilities of life, and so the story ends well.  God granted her a son.

READER 1: And David knew Hannah’s story, and he decided to give it a try.  God, we  haven’t talked much.  But…my life is out of control. If you just help me…If you just help me… give me more time.  Help me find meaning in these things I do.  Help me find my way back to my family.

READER 2: And so in that moment, he altered forever the meaning of his life.  His faith opened him to the possibilities of life, and so the story ends well.  He found that he could put the blackberry down and still get the work he needed done.  He could take off the bluetooth and somehow his world did not fall apart.  His life did not change radically, but he discovered

something new that day, all because he dared to ask for it.

OK.  So.  My feminist perspective kicked right in when I read….

if you grant me a son.

And then…

God granted her a son.

Hmmm.  So I called the Cantor and said “can I change it to a child instead of a son”? And he said. “sure”.

And that is why I love my Temple.

A zillion years ago – or yesterday – “my people” or “all people” struggled with the same issues.  And on Friday nights when I thumb through the Torah during services, which I have come to love, I find these passages that so speak to me.  I find understanding and inspiration and comfort – and the biggie – hope. How do we create hope out of hopelessness?  Well, I guess everyone finds it – if they are lucky – their own way.  For me – I have started to pray.  What could it hurt?