a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

“Pushing forward and arching back…”

Posted on: September 23, 2011

Today is the last Shabbat of the year.  When I read that on one of my friend’s Facebook page a few minutes ago I couldn’t believe it.  Sure, I know that Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner, but I didn’t realize that it was so close.  I’ve been completely wrapped up in Israel and trying to get there that I haven’t really given much thought to anything else.  Even writing down those words seems incredibly selfish and while I am completely grateful and cannot wait to go, it has definitely occupied this time when I should have been focused on the previous year and looking forward to the next year.  As it is, it’s looking like I’ll be homeless for the Holidays, having not secured tickets for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur this year.  I’m seeking out synagogues that offer free or low-cost services.

After Rosh Hashanah, of course comes the Days of Awe when the Book of Life opens and Jews around the world prepare for the Day of Attonment, Yom Kippur, otherwise known as my 32nd birthday.  That’s right, I’m turning 32 years young on Yom Kippur…which I suppose will make for an entertaining break fast.

I’m not one for looking back, though I believe that we can learn a lot from the past.  In my opinion, looking back can sometimes stunt your growth, stunt your future.  If your thoughts and actions remain stuck in the past how can you ever expect to grow and change in the future.  I’m also not one for making resolutions because they can set you up for failure.  Instead, I’m going into 5772 with fresh eyes, with Jewish eyes.  I could rattle off a list of ways that I want to be a better Jewish person in 5772; observing Erika Kosher, giving more tzedakah, creating positive change in my community, working towards creating a diverse Jewish community, observing Shabbat in a more-traditional way, trying to figure out what modesty means to me, becoming more prayerfully active…I could keep going on and it seems like a lot, almost too much for just one year.  I can’t try to tackle it all at one time and I have to remember that that is okay.  Baby Steps are the key to success. 

I’ve been reading Jewish Wisdom on my Nook Color for months.  It’s a hefty volume, but I keep reading the same words in regards to learning Torah. Every Jews is commanded to learn Torah, whether she is young/old/rich/poor we should do this every day rather than saying we will do it when we have time because we’d never make the time.  I’m paraphrasing the rabbis and couldn’t even point to which rabbi first said those words but it makes sense.  I can’t expect to keep any type of Kosher if I keep finding excuses for eating bacon.  I can’t expect to observe Shabbat if I schedule a concert or play on Friday night.  I can’t expect to have a fully prayerful life if I forget to pray. 

Yesterday I went to Manhattan Judaica in Midtown, which is going out of business.  I hoped to find more mezzuzahs for my home (4 more to go) and found myself in a little shop surrounded by a sea of kippah-wearing men facing East.  As groups of men filed in one after the other I felt out of place, and wondered if I should leave.  I kept wondering what was going on until I looked at my watch and realized that it was 3PM, time for afternoon prayers.  I’ve seen Muslim men praying on prayer rugs next to their Halal carts on the street plenty of times and I see Jewish men and women every Friday and Saturday praying, but this was different.  There had to be at least 40 or so men facing Jerusalem davening in this store.  Their swaying and bowing and the murmur of their prayers was an awesome sight, and a little bit sad.  Why can’t I pray like this?  One reason I’m reminded is because as a woman I’m not required to observe this time-mitzvah.  Traditional Jewish woman are only required to fulfil three mitzvot; Lighting Shabbat Candles, Separating Challah, and Family Purity.  I mean come on, this is not the kind of Jewish woman I am or will ever be, though 613 is a lot.

This afternoon while walking to Mir’s house I passed our favorite nut shop and inside the Muslim man who works their was on a mat praying.  Muslim women, as opposed to Jewish woman are commanded to pray 5 times a day, just as their male counterparts.  (Or at least that is my understanding) What compels religious Muslims and Jews to pray each day?  Mitzvot is the obvious answer but is it thee answer?  We are commanded to pray three times a day and when you are born into a religiously observant family praying comes natural, it’s what you do.  Do these Jews and Muslims who pray 3(5) times a day pray to God with an open heart full of love or out of habit?  I don’t know and I’m not sure if I would pray three times a day from a place of love rather than because I’m told that I am supposed to.  I watched one of the G-d Project videos that struck a cord, “If you feel like you have to pray, don’t.”  I took this to mean that if you think you are supposed to, or if you go into it thinking I have to-you’re going about it for the wrong reason. 

So here we are, the afternoon before the last Shabbat of the year.  I’m going to synagogue not because I feel like I have to since it’s the last Shabbat of the year, but because I want to.  The other stuff, I’ll work on one day at a time.


4 Responses to "“Pushing forward and arching back…”"

Why does this article have such a powerful effect on me ?

Hmmm…. genderized things always rub me wrong. Maybe because I value androgeny and the genderlessness of the soul so wholely.

Even if it’s not required for Jewish women to do this time-specific prayer mitzvah 3 times a day, is it frowned upon if they do? I think there’s a potential for prayer to have exponentially positive effects on a person, and I do have a soft spot for rituals like that. it’s not something I would like to be left out on if I were Jewish, personally. But…. this is why I couldn’t be traditional anything, I suppose.

Just to add… I think prayer, even ‘do this 3/5 times a day’ prayer can be a great thing to get someone to relax and think about the ultimate, but…. I think people have to take care to do it fully invested in the moment. I’m sure God appreciates the investment, but I doubt it’s anything but clamor when it’s done without the whole soul of a person involved…. so, then…. habit may be easy, but I think any scheduled prayer requires more spiritual attention than some are ready to give.

@Gedalya-I’m not sure, buddy but I’m glad you like it!
@Colleen-In a traditional Jewish home I would imagine that it isn’t exactly a great thing…Unless the home is more secular. It’s thought that time-specific mitzvahs would take away from the woman’s job to run the home. It’s very 50s to me and kind of sad. I agree that the routine of prayer is a great tool if only for making something become habitual and natural rather than sporatic…”I think any scheduled prayer requires more spiritual attention than some are ready to give” So true.

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