Friday, March 5, 2010

Weight of the World

Yesterday was my father's Yahrzeit, which is the anniversary of his death. It's been thirty-five years since he died. And since I'm a very good Jewish girl, I know this. I get a letter from my synagogue. Heck, I belong to a synagogue. I buy Yahrzeit candles, I know how to spell "yahrzeit." I've been the daughter of a father who died, after all, thirty-five years ago.

But one of the great ironies of my life is that since I was raised by atheist/agnostic Holocaust Survivors, I was given no Jewish education. I did a pretty good job of raising myself Jewish, but I have to say that, not having come to my Hebrew education or my synagogue familiarity early, I always stand there like an idiot during certain rituals in Judaism.

So there I was at the tiny morning service at my synagogue at 7:30 AM, an idiot. Anything I know, I only know by memorization, so if a melody of a prayer is changed during the service, that's it, I don't know it anymore. Yesterday morning they changed a lot of melodies. It's crazy because I know Judaism backwards and forwards, philosophically, and the history, and in my heart. But stand me in a tiny synagogue with a bunch of seventy and eighty year old men and women and, guess what, I'm just an unnaturally tall brunette Jewess with a good purse. And by tall I mean I'm over five feet tall.

So I stood there, alone. Husband was driving the kids to work, though they had come with me the night before. Tears came to my eyes, and not exactly because of my dad dying. After thirty-five years, I'm used to that thought. It was the idea that, though one of seven, I'm alone.

I used to have a recurrent nightmare when I was a kid, distressing enough that I'd wake up terrified night after night in a cold sweat and run crying into my parents' room. It was always the same thing: I was alone somehow, and the weight of the world was on my back. 

At the service this morning I realized that the nightmare had come true: the weight of the world was on my back. Or at least the memorializing of my father, the carrying on of Judaism, and writing as a child of Survivors. That's all. There was no one there who would help me shoulder the responsibility of remembering my dad, to come stand beside me in this tiny, uncomfortable service in the morning one day in early March each year. 

But unlike that nightmare I used to have, the weight doesn't feel scary anymore, or unmanageable or burdensome. It feels like responsibility and, somehow, it feels just right.

Has your family split in religious observance? Do you have a special day each year to remember loved ones who have passed away? Do you feel at home in your faith's service or do you go even while feeling ignorant? Did you ever have recurrent nightmares as a child?  


  1. Oh Linda, what a beautiful post. Sometimes it does seem that we are Atlas, carrying the world on our backs, so alone, and yet we are not. We are loved, we have families, and some things are meant to be for just us...

    As for the melodies, I got a chuckle. I am a practicing Catholic, and when they change the melodies of certain prayers for the Liturgical year, I am lost. And I was raised Catholic, so don't feel bad. I think that they do it to keep us on our toes!

    Have a wonderful Friday Shabbat!

  2. What a bittersweet post. Your longing for your father comes through strongly here, but even though you feel alone, you aren't. You have readers and sisters and family who are behind you, to catch that Earth if it falls. xoxo

    I did get a giggle about you towering over the old ladies at church.

  3. Agreed, this is a beautiful post! With a touch of humor, I laughed out loud at "I'm just an unnaturally tall brunette Jewess with a good purse."

    I often feel as if I am a person without a religion. I was raised in a very conservative Protestant Christian area. I grew up in church, but I am uncomfortable with it, because I don't believe it. When I have to go to services ( like my grandfather's funeral in December) I writhe uncomfortably. I have read and studied a lot about religion, even taking classes in college and find that my own personal beliefs actually fall very close to Judaism... but I am not a Jew. That leaves me a person without a religion. There you have it... the gospel according to Jennifer. ;-)

  4. As you know, my own household is religiously split. (I wonder if I am the only Catholic to keep a kosher kitchen...I doubt it.) I worry most when I think about the rituals that surround life events: Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, funerals. I found great comfort as a kid in the reliability and comfort of ritual and worry about my children growing up without it.

  5. This is a beautiful post, Linda. And one I can understand. Yes, to all of your questions. Yes to being the only one left alive. Yes to the mixing of heritages and tradition. Yes to the small rituals (without really comprehending), yes to the loneliness of it, yes to its burdens, to recurring nightmares (though of other things), and yes, to acceptance of all of this as part of what I cannot change. Which makes it no less painful. And some of it, in carrying forward a thread of something nonetheless beautiful, no less beautiful.

  6. Linda - a big virtual hug for you!

    I was raised by my paternal grandparents and always went to church but found myself uncomfortable in that religion in college. I became, by my choice, a Catholic 27 years ago. So we have a huge split in religious observances. My siblings do not truly practice any religion and have no idea about baptisms and confirmations.

    Although not the same as Mexico's Dia de la Muerte, the Catholic church does have a day when the dead are remembered each year - All Saint's Day is November 1 and All Soul's Day November 2.

    My comfort in my faith has been well documented. But your words here, along with your recent comments on my blog, bring me back to my lunch this week. The woman I ate with questioned her faith horribly after surviving the Holocaust. She said it took her a long time but she finally found Reformed Judaism. I admit I know little about the differences but she is happy there.

    I will, at Mass this weekend, pray for your father's soul!

  7. Linda - A big virtual hug for you.

    I had a huge comment typed up and lost it somewhere. I wonder where those words go.

    Just know you, and your entire family, are in my thoughts and prayers.

  8. Oh my! Where do I begin my friend. I feel for you in so many ways. My father died 33 years ago. He was Jewish but did not believe in organized religion. My mother was half Jewish. She was born in Germany and then her family left in 1933 for Holland. They were stuck in Amsterdam for the duration of the war. Her father wore the Star of David and my mother worked bravely for the Dutch Resistance. They were lucky. They survived.

    But, like you, I had no organized religious background. I am Jewish and am proud of my heritage. I sometimes tease and say that I got my Jewish training through all the Bar Mitzvahs I attended. I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.

    But I feel the same responsibility you do right now. All my mother's friends are dying. My Aunt recently died, tomorrow I will attend her funeral. She will be placed near my father, my sister, and my Grandparents.

    More than ever we need the world to remember. We need to teach or children and make sure they teach their children. But I feel a deep sadness for a generation of amazing people that I will miss.

    My thoughts are with you.

  9. I'm sorry for your loss. It is wonderful that you still have a way to honor him. All my siblings have stayed in the religion we've been raised in. It would be hard to have them miss out on the rituals as our children grew together, my daughter and her cousin are getting baptized on the same day this summer- we've planned our vacations to do it together.

    I don't religion is something that can ever be mastered, but is a daily journey. My religion puts a lot of emphasis on genealogy and being connected to our families. Worshiping in one of our temples always makes me feel closer to those who've passed on.

  10. I had a delightful post all written and when I his "Post" it disappeared.


    I am here listening to you words. This post brought tears to my eyes as I thought of you standing in that synagogue alone.

  11. I feel lucky that although I grew up as the only Jewish person in my class, at least my immediate family follows the Jewish traditions. I only have one brother and he married Jewish and is also bringing his children up Jewish as I am. But beyond that, most of my cousins married outside Judaism and are bringing their kids up Christian/Catholic. It's hard for me when we have family reunions to see that they all now celebrate Christmas and easter since Chanukah and Passover have always been such a big family celebration for all of us. But most of them now go their separate ways. At least I know, when the sad time comes and my parents pass on, that my brother and I will have each other to keep the traditions alive.

    Beautiful post.

  12. Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

    May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

    Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

    May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
    and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

    He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

    Although I am not Jewish...I say a kaddish prayer in my heart for your father.
    G*d sees you and your heart, and a big one it is.


  13. Maria, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for telling me it's the same in the Catholic church! Gosh, I feel like such a dunce sometimes. The only saving grace: the ignorance stops with me. My kids have had a world-class Jewish education!

  14. TKW, About the tiny old ladies - when did being 5'6 (and shrinking as I'm aging) get to be a giant. Ah, my people are a small people. That's why. You should've seen how many pairs of flat shoes I had for dating when I was single!

  15. Jennifer, It must have been very hard to come to the realization that you didn't believe in the faith in which you were raised. It's hard, no matter what, to realize you believe differently from the people you're among. I know it well!

  16. A beautiful post Linda. When this weight no longer feels so burdensome, do you think it means we're finally growing up??

  17. The world is heavy, isn't it? And yet, carrying it in your arms, and not on your back, has so many, many possibilities.

    You are a light, Linda. With a fabulous purse! :)

  18. Your Dad was a lucky man to have you. You are doing an incredible job of carrying on, maybe not his traditions, but definitely his spirit! Thank you so much!

  19. Congratulations, Linda, I am pleased to give you the Creative Blogger Award as one of the most creative blogs around. Here are the rules.

    1. Thank the person who gave this to you.
    2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
    3. Link to the person who nominated you.
    4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth.
    5. Nominate seven "Creative Writers" who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
    6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
    7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

  20. I found you from Linda's site. This was interesting timing because I have one of those letters sitting on my desk. I don't try to spell "it" - but just wrote "memorial candle" on my shopping list. That is what the label says now anyways. I am not observant, but I do light the candle to honor my dad's memory every year on the anniversary (not Jewish calendar) of his death 23 years ago.

    I will be back to read more:)

  21. Kristen, to me, all of life is an exercise in learning that there are no easy answers. Being Catholic and having a kosher kitchen is certainly one of those perfect incongruities!

  22. BLW, thanks for your comment. It is crazy to me that I, who am smart enough to learn this stuff, still stand there so illiterate during Jewish ceremonies. And I've taken many classes. I guess I'd just need more and more. One thing I know, and you've blogged about this, there's limited time and limited me, and I have to pick what I can do and I had to pick.

  23. Nicki, I got your comment, and thank you for those lovely words. I think your situation and mine are so much alike. Being the "religious" one in an otherwise "nonreligious" family, no matter the faith, makes things tough when it comes to life rituals, to holidays that you might have one conception of and they might have another. I know this well.

  24. Terry, what a fascinating family history! My parents, like your dad, have also had very little use for "organized" religion (by which I guess they meant Judaism.) So funny what you said about your Jewish education occurring at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. My paltry Jewish education, too, occurred there. I've also been giving a lot of thought to this child of survivor thing and how the older generation won't be around much longer and how we handle the responsibility of the story.

  25. Charlotte, thanks for your kind words. You are lucky that your family has stayed strong in your faith. I'm hoping that one day, some decades from now, I'll be able to sit at a Passover table and see what I created, my children and their children, the same as you say - strong in their faith.

  26. Amber, I'm so happy for Mr. B that he found a faith that means so much to him. I'm sure that even when he's different than his siblings, as I am, it's problematic only in the details, not in the faith. My faith always gives me joy.

  27. becca, thanks for your comment. It is such a quandry. I love the people in my family, no matter what religion or race, and I always feel that they should have the right to worship as they need to, or however they worked out with their spouse. But when I see how the Jewishness of our family is disappearing an inch at a time, to the point where I'm not sure why I throw a family Hanukkah party when there aren't that many celebrating Hanukkah anymore, it gets very difficult.

    I'm glad for you in your brother, and for your kids in their cousins!

  28. Chris, thank you. You are so good. I've been saying the kaddish for my dad since I was 21 and finally got the nerve to show up in all my ignorance at a Hillel at Arizona State. Thanks for joining me in it.

  29. Maureen, you're right. I feel so capable of handling this job now, of standing up and saying this is who I am. It's weird. Hey, I finally grew up when I turned 50!

  30. Sarah, thanks for your lovely comment. You're right, that's the difference. It doesn't feel like it's a weight on my back, it's in my arms. Though I wish my family stood beside me, the family I created will do so - my husband and my kids. Thanks.

  31. Lisa, thank you! It's nice to think that, although having a sixth daughter couldn't have been a THRILL for him, if he hadn't had me, there'd be no one saying kaddish.

  32. Ellen (Weighting Around), thank you for the award! I appreciate it! After being so brutally honest, I guess I'll just have to think up some good lies...

  33. Waisting Time, thanks for visiting and your comment. I know, spelling "yahrzeit" is pretty crazy because look at it! But lighting the candle always amazes me. I always feel like mine burns long enough to be a miracle!