a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Erika Davis and the Totally Awesome Chag

Posted on: September 23, 2013

Keynote

We’re 2.5 holidays in with one more to go and I’m so happy! I gotta tell you, guys. I haven’t felt this jazzed, inspired, awed and so moved by Judaism in a whole year.

You may have noticed that sometime around Rosh Hashanah last year I sort of stopped blogging frequently. My normally inward thinking, reflective posts gave way to a bevy of cross-posts and other stuff that really had little to do with me and my Judaism.

This was partially to do with the fact or idea that I wasn’t sure I had more to give. I’ve already converted, what else could I share about my journey that you couldn’t learn or read from another Jew-chosen or born?

It was also to do with the fact that I was so underwhelmed and uninspired by High Holiday services last year.

So I buried myself in my other work and sort of neglected the blog. I know we’re past Elul and season of apologies, but I am truly sorry that I’ve been so distant on this space that I cherish so much. And thank you for being dedicated to reading the blog even though the content has been lacking. It is truly appreciated.

So, I’m back and let me tell you this High Holiday was the absolute best HH experience I’ve had.

Pre Rosh Hashanah Holiness

As you know, I work for the Jewish environmental organization, Hazon. My time there has been pretty extraordinary. It took about a year for me to get my groove and after a job change I’m finally getting the swing of things and feeling like a vital part of the organization. This year, like every year, we held our annual NY Ride and Retreat at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT in the beautiful Berkshires.

The retreat, while restful for participants, is quite busy and hectic for staff. We work pretty long hours and don’t have much down time to enjoy much of the programming but on Shabbat things blessedly slow down. Since it’s Shabbat we can’t “work” and while we’re expected to staff things like Yoga or meditation we can pretty much enjoy Shabbat.

Being at Freedman is always magical. The environment helps, but it’s also nice to be in a Jewish space. Walking down the “street” of Freedman from Friday – Saturday evening feels like being on a kibbutz in Israel. Everyone wishes you a happy Shabbat and meals end in spirited, joyful pray and song.

Late afternoon on Saturday I sat exhausted from my keynote with Ruth Messinger and Val Lieber-two female powerhouses in the Jewish community.  (More on that later, but WOW!)

I sat on the sundrenched porch with friends old and new talking and debating about going to the Mincha service in the synagogue. I thought I wanted to go, but wasn’t super inspired to do much of anything but sitting with friends. I reluctantly pulled myself off the bench and made my way to the packed synagogue where Amichai Lau-Lavie, the ED of LabShul/Storahtelling was already deep into the service. I can’t describe it, really, but the combination of his charismatic presence, the day and the participants shook me to my core. He called people up for aliyah in a way that I’ve never seen and can’t articulate accurately but it was so … moving. So moving, in fact, I didn’t take the aliyah I wanted because I was so nervous that I’d sob uncontrollably (and embarrassingly) in front of my boss among others.

The aliyot were for those who wanted to be rocks, those who wanted to fly and those who wanted to…shit, I don’t remember what, but it was based on the parasha of Moses giving his final message to the Israelites before going into the Promised Land. And I know I’m not giving the magic that wast his mincha service the credit it deserves in my poor ability to explain it, I think the fact that I can’t describe it in words says a lot about how powerful it was. Instead of taking an aliyah I sat and marveled at the spirit stirring in my being. I fought back tears of gratitude-I was still connected to this faith that had mystified me for nearly a year.

When service concluded I approached Amichai, who I’d often seen in our offices and expressed my gratitude. Yasher koach wasn’t sufficient. I needed him to know that he helped rekindle the flame that was the passion for Judaism on my terms. We gushed over one another for a bit and he extended an invitation to join him for Rosh Hashanah at LabShul. I’d already made plans-I joined Kane  Street Synagogue, the shul I’d attended for the past year and a half, but happy accepted his invitation…

Up Next- Rosh Hashanah … in a hospital

1 Response to "Erika Davis and the Totally Awesome Chag"

Definitely keep going with your posts – this blog is definitely one of my faves 🙂 It is SO refreshing and unique to see the point of view of a converted Jew on various elements and thoughts in Judaism. Sometimes I forget the beauty of cherished traditions, until they are highlighted in a way I never looked at before! Loved reading about your work at Freedman — sounded beautiful!

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