I arrived yesterday. Mom was happy to see me. Likes my hair. A little bit longer. As it is now. Once or twice, I thank her for the compliment. The fourth or fifth or more times don’t have such a positive effect on me. I try not to take it personally, not to feel annoyed. I try. But I’m not successful. I feel annoyed. Dang. I know it’s just Mom. How she is. Nothing personal. For some reason, maybe her decades in the photography business, I don’t know, she’s pretty fixated on looks.
I find it exhausting. Especially in 108 degree heat. Pretty much everything is exhausting in this kind of heat.
Today is Friday, and as it’s Friday and as there’re some new and younger/older Jewish people who’ve moved into Mom’s senior living place there’s now a weekly late Friday morning shabbat service. Mom goes, so I went too.
There’s a landsman kind of thing I feel, which now that I know about epigenetics, no doubt the landsman thing is epigenetically-based. But, and here I digress for a second, all peoples have had their traumas and their epigenetic changes, so I’m not sure exactly what the landsman feeling actually is. Maybe it was just feeling so alone and different in my childhood, or it was the eating of bagels and lox at a time when non-Jews didn’t, and it was never called smoked salmon, only lox. Or maybe it was the visiting of my mother’s family in the shared Jewish-Black ghetto of 1950s Brooklyn. I don’t know. I feel so Jewish but it has nothing to do with the religion part of it.
I have none of the belief part of Judaism. None of the practice. I see the lineage as patriarchal. I’m drawn to the music-in-minor-key, and I can see the usefulness of some of the laws, kind of the way the Buddha had to lay down a lot of laws for the monks after he saw how badly they behaved when they moved in and lived together in the monastery. I don’t really know how badly they behaved, but I’m told that each of the Buddha’s rules was in response to problems that arose among the members. There ended up being 227 rules for the monks, 311 for the nuns… What!! Those must have been some bad-assed women that they required so many rules to contain them and make them utterly subservient to the monks. Three hundred and eleven! Having issues with things like unfairness and inequality personified in patriarchy — the willful suppression of a whole category of people, I could never be a nun!
There were about twelve or thirteen people at the Shabbat service. The person leading it is neither a cantor nor rabbi, but she did a fine job. She was kind, nice, energetic. The service mostly consisted of reciting Hebrew prayers and reading religious passages in English, turning on fake candles (I guess matches aren’t allowed in a senior home), sipping Mogen David wine and taking a piece of challah.
Toward the end, the leader was talking about how when the Jews left Egypt, they had to go through this territory called Moab and the Moabites didn’t want them so they kept them at the border, but then, I think, God spoke to the Moabites and said not to treat people like that and they realized it was wrong. (Oh boy, I’m not sure I’ve got that story right. I’ll stand corrected if someone wants to correct me. Anyway, it was something like that).
The leader asked the group if this teaching reminded us of anything. I guess I was nodding my head, perhaps more vigorously than the others, so although my hand wasn’t raised, she called on me, and I said, yes, it reminded me of the situation at the border but unlike the Moabites, our President hadn’t gotten the message from God.
Then this fellow at the other end of the table was very excited to share his bit.
He said he’d seen on the TV this morning that those four, you know, anti-semtic schfarzas, you know, the squad, wanted to go talk with the Palestinians and that in order to get to them, their plane would have to land in Israel.
And there was some question about whether Israel should allow them to, but that Israel, being the great and magnanimous country it is (he didn’t say that, but that was his point) decided they could land in Israel.
Another man sitting nearby said they’re not all schfarzas, just one of them.
The leader said briefly, softly, we’re not going to go there and we’re moving on.
No one else said anything. I thought steam must be coming out of my ears and eyeballs and the top of my head, but this was my mother’s group of friends, fellow Jews, their religious service. I was dumbstruck into silence. I hated that I couldn’t find the words. Also, I didn’t want to fuck things up for Mom.
A half hour later Mom and I were driving the quarter mile to have lunch at Olive Garden. She told me the guy who spoke up is a self-proclaimed Trumper. We were going over the conversation and I was clarifying for her the several reasons I thought it was so wrong. I was glad we could talk about it, that she was interested. She nodded some sort of agreement, but then said,
The thing that really bothers me is that turban thing she wears on her head. Why does she have to do that?
And then my fragile equanimity left me. I lectured, That is so ridiculous. People get to wear what they want to wear, or what their religion or culture or ethnicity tells them. The Chabad rabbi’s wife wears a wig in fucking 108 degree weather.
And then I invoked Rule # 312.
We are not going to talk about Ilhan Omar’s hair or what she wears on her head!
I took a deep breath.
We arrived at the Olive Garden. It used to be Mom’s favorite restaurant, but it’s been a few years since she’s been there and she couldn’t remember what she used to like. She’s 99. I don’t know how she can remember anything. But she does. A lot. She looked at the menu for a long time trying to find what had been her favorite, but couldn’t find it. Maybe the menu had changed I ventured. After consulting with both me and the waitress, she ordered the eggplant parmesan with french fries. It turned out to be a good choice. I had the gluten free pasta with plain tomato sauce and garden veggies as an extra on top, their ONLY gluten free and vegan option. It was better than I expected. Mom was happy I found something I liked.
Later my writer friend, Karen Lynch posted this on Facebook.
IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO BE QUIETLY NON-RACIST,
NOW IS THE TIME TO BE VOCALLY ANTI-RACIST
I happen to agree. I re-posted it. Now I’m sitting with the discomfort of my quiet non-racism. I’m sitting with the difficulty of speaking up when I’m filled with anger and frustration. I’m sitting with the complexity of relationships, and the seeming never-ending journey to the freedom and courage to be myself. I also tripped upon a short video by Russell Brand tonight that seems part of the mix of today’s teaching.
Please, I would love to know how everyone is practicing with speaking up.
4 thoughts on “ A visit home.”
Speaking up. Yes, we need to, I want to. And yes, it’s hard.
I’m noticing how I keep my mouth shut even with people of my own “tribe,” even about subjects like homelessness and climate change which everyone I know agrees are serious problems, but many feel are “too depressing to think about.” As if the Buddha’s advice about wise speech being “timely” means that I should only express my own fears about the state of the world with people who are ready to say, “Me too. Let’s talk. Here’s what I’m doing.” Rule 313? 🙂
Thanks Gayle for writing this blogpost. Thanks for voicing your truth in your blog, and in that round of 12 or 13 in your mother’s congregation. That conflict that occured seems so relevant. You are using your voice to be an activist and truth teller,
And therefore you are a great example for me.
Dear Paul, Thank you! I’ve always found the world mysterious in both awesomeness and terror. I’m still trying to sort it out — to hold complexity and paradox and see something true in the mix. Putting it into words on “paper” is helpful to me. I feel grateful if my musings are of some use or value to others too because connection is part of the mystery. Much love, xo, g
Hi Anita, Yes, I know it’s so hard to talk about socio-political-economic-spiritual stuff with people of differing views, not to mention food! Food may be the hardest. Before I can even breathe the word “kale”, people start looking at me like I am a personal threat to their well-being. LOL. Talking WITH and not TO others is the hardest thing! xo, g