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Posts Tagged ‘Days of Awe’

This weekend marks the holiest time in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, when, after being called to atone for their short-comings for the year and make amends toward those they may have wronged, the year is closed and a new page in the Book of Life turns.  The time is spent in prayer and contemplation and fasting, and then, as the Shofar blows and more prayers are said, we are called to begin again…in love.

I was raised a Unitarian Universalist, but my father was raised as an Orthodox Jew by his Russian immigrant parents.  He was the one child, of six that Isadore and Tillie Weiner had, who married outside the faith, to a Protestant woman, Vera Racine.  Of all the children the six brothers and sisters had from their marriages (8) I am the one who was not raised a Jew.  My parents came to Unitarian Universalism together (they were the people whose faces appeared in national ads for UUism some years ago, saying, “We were looking for a church for the wedding.  We found a religion.”)

I love my faith tradition, and one of the things I treasure is that it allows me to bring my family and my cultural and religious history into my own faith practices.

Last weekend and this week I’ve been particularly fortunate, because several of my cousins (two of whom are Rabbis) have gathered, and I’ve had the time to be with them and celebrate our family cultural life.  That is a life that, last Sunday, included going to my own Unitarian Universalist church ingathering service, where the beginnings of the year were lifted up.  Our minister spoke of the end of Ramadan, the beginning of the new year (Rosh Hashanah), the start of a new ministry at our church, commencement of a new school year, all co-mingled, like the water we poured into one common bowl marking remembrance of our summer’s journeys.

I went home to host a brunch for my cousins of kugel, eggs, bagels and lox and whitefish, with family stories being told and re-told…a celebration of how our family of poor people, who came in search of a better life, made their way in this country and an indication that we, their children, still carry their stories and lives with us.  And at another family meal I made my Aunt Estelle’s brisket and we ate challah and honey — another family favorite — to remind us of our traditions and of the sweetness in life that we all wish for one another.

On the teak china deck in our dining room sit two photos that I look at every day:  one of my grandmother, Tillie Rosen, with her father, a Rabbi, taken (we believe) on her sixteenth birthday.  The photo was made in Russia, probably just before she boarded a ship to New York to start a new life and her arranged marriage to my grandfather.  In another small frame sits a photo of Tillie, a little older, with her husband, Isadore Weiner, a memento of their wedding day, around 1896, in New York.  I have only one other photo of Tillie – from the mid-1940’s — taken at the opening of her son Morris’ haberdashery in Newburgh, NY.  Literally nothing else of the life of my grandparents exists in my home but this…but the stories do live on.

It was my father who made these people — who died before I was born — live for me.  They were uneducated, but very, very smart, and full of wisdom.  My father’s favorite story was of his sister, Freda’s engagement party.  My father was a young boy when Freda became engaged.  His parents scraped together enough money to have a little celebration of the engagement (to Arnold Rosenberg) and my father was sent off from the family tenement with a dollar to procure a jar of mustard for cold cuts.  Arriving at the store he found gallon jars of Gulden’s mustard in the window…costing $1 each.  He bought one and returned home.  He remembers being ridiculed:  “You dummy!  Why’d you get such a big jar of mustard!  You wasted that money!  Take it back!”  He also recalled his father sternly asking him:  “Did you pay for the mustard?”  “Yes,” my father answered.  “He paid for it – we keep it!”, his father replied.  And so the maxim was passed on to me:  “You make a deal, you keep the deal…no matter what.”

Many people have cultural lives more blended than mine.  Our new minister, for instance, is half-Palestinian, half-American, raised in French-speaking Canada, with a partner who is a South African Jew.  It is this cultural richness that bubbles up from the melting pot that is America, and that makes us so blessed to be able to honor and celebrate our many traditions, and to learn the many lessons passed on from other faiths and other countries.

In these next days, as I take time to consider what the year ended has been like and to reach out to those to whom I need to make amends, I will be nurtured by the diversity of traditions present in my life, the ones that I bring to my family’s life as I pass on the stories and the celebrations.  May we all be so renewed for the coming year.

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