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I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Quiet and Holy Current

Black tights.

Black knit dress.

Careful makeup, a touch of jewelry and heels. A hooded raincoat, to stave off the gusty downpour of rain and sleet. I grabbed my kippah (tastefully black, like everything else I wore) just before I shut the car door. One more funeral, after a handful of funerals in tha last month or two.

As I put the clips on, to keep it from slipping off, I heard Nate laughing in my head. Of course he would be laughing. At me. "What are you doing?" he would rasp. "Girls aren't supposed to wear yarmulkes (the Yiddish word for kippah)!" Then he would throw up his arms - dismissively, I think, when we first met, and then later, more in gentle resignation, while a proverbial "Bah!" slipped out under his breath. Or not so under. He wasn't shy about anything, especially in letting you know exactly what he thought about something.

I had no illusions about what he thought of me. I met him in my mid-forties. I was a girl to him-- not because he was thirty-some odd years my senior, but because I was, well-- a girl. My gender, the two Xs of my chromosomes declared me to be a girl forever. Not a woman. Not an equal. A mere girl.

And yet, there I was, every Saturday morning, talking Torah with the guys. And praying with them. 

And more-- I argued (in the best, most philosophical sense of the word) with them, and with the rabbi,  too. Sometimes I argued with myself. I disagreed as easily and as often as I agreed. But I was an uppity girl, who had the temerity to talk Torah with the guys, and then stay to pray with them. Every Saturday morning, for years.

It was the best part of my week, every week, for years. Me, and my guys.

They had been coming together for Shabbat morning services for almost as long as I'd been alive. Maybe more. These men, these remnants of a different world and another time-- they were the captains of industry, the craftsmen and the doctors, the scientist and industrialists, shop owners and salesmen. They were the symbol of the American landscape writ large, across the small backdrop of our synagogue: mainly second generation Americans who were taught that the rhythm of Jewish life was the undercurrent of everything else. It held them and sustained them and became the bedrock upon which they created and lived their lives.

After a while, when it looked like I wasn't going anywhere, that I was maybe perhaps a regular, they would tell me stories of what it used to be like, when the synagogue was in a different place, a grand old building on another side of town, a growing and thriving and tightly-knit community. Over lunch, they would talk of births and deaths and weddings that arced through the steady stream of b'nai mitzvah-- boys (with the occasional girl on a Thursday or Friday night) who would make their way to the bimah and stand so stiffly in a suit and tie, waiting with a butterfly stomach before leaning over the Torah, with its yellowed parchment and hand-scribed letters, while they, the fathers simply kvelled. It was a life they were making, for themselves and their families, bordered on every side by this holy place.

I don't know that they would have defined it as holy. Not then, when they were young and ambitious and feeling their way in the footprints of their fathers. Then it was brick and mortar and salaries and schools. There were rabbis to hire and committees to fill and teachers to find. There were leaks to plug and money to be raised. Lots of money-- a never-ending stream of money to fund a never-ending stream of fixing and hiring and need. They would get quiet, my guys, my Saturday morning minyan guys, and let slip the stories of the time (those many, many singularly repeated times of compassion and humanity and righteousness) when one of their group-- nameless, because that's how it worked -- who made sure that this one or that one, that kid with the patched clothes or the rumbling stomach, had tuition, or a bar mitzvah or a book. Or that his parents could pay dues. Or a car note.

They were a community. They were a family, forged by shared ties and shared faith.

For all of that, time moved and landscapes shifted. While faith might be constant, the synagogue -- and the community -- morphed, and then morphed again. From Orthodox to Conservative to Reform, moving farther west into different, newer, more modern buildings, this once large and thriving community was changing, growing smaller, more diverse. Faces changed more frequently, custom was lost, traditions changed.

But these men, this Saturday morning minyan of men, gathered together, every Shabbat morning, to study and pray and connect. And slowly, like the drift of planets and time, they let me in.

Every week, we would study some, and pray some and eat some. They taught me their rhythms, their quiet. If Friday night services were a joyous, raucous dance with God, Saturday with my guys was an inward journey, a solitary yet shared walk. It was no less joyous, but we seemed to find God in the stillness, in the gentle stream of light that came in through the windows, and the dancing of the dust motes as we moved in a slow and steady cadence through the service. They taught me to listen for God, that listening and quiet and service to others were their own kinds of prayer, and that every prayer was holy.

I was an uppity girl, but they made a place for me, right next to them. I am infinitely blessed to have been able to stand with them, these captains of industry, these men of quiet faith. Every Saturday morning,  for years, we stood together, and prayed some and learned some. We celebrated and grieved some, too. We were a family. A community. 

I don't know if I ever mentioned how much I loved them. Love them still. They brought a depth and richness and a thousand points of brilliance that had been missing into my life. I was changed because I knew them and loved them. My guys, my Saturday guys. They are fewer now. I am shocked, when confronted once more with the reality of their absence, just how much smaller the group is now.  I have had to say good  bye far too many times of late. But we come together, to grieve and remember, to tell stories of our lives and the lives of those for whom we gather. We are carried by the rhythms of faith and love, a quiet and holy current. 

Zichronam liv'rachah -- may their memories be for a blessing. I carry you with me always, and remember you in the quiet stillness of a Saturday morning, as I listen for the voice of God and find community and benediction there. Thank you for the gift of your lives, the song of your prayers and silence.

And so let us say: Amen