Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's hard to know where to begin with Passover ending at sundown tomorrow and my co-op, my Jewish community, splintering at the same time. Z and L are both moving out because it's time for endings and beginnings. I'm in L's room and I've been reading Mazel and I don't know what to make of anything. Endings have never been easy for me, even when it is time, even when it happens every year, even when I acknowledge

The week of Passover also marked the beginning of counting the Omer, and this week is Chesed, love. Today is Yesod of Chesed, bonding in love. And despite the inevitable tension that comes at the end of anything, my community is attempting to bond tonight. One last time. It's not even conscious; I doubt anyone here knows this is Yesod of Chesed, or even that it's the counting of the Omer.

I am always counting. I count days, I count minutes, I count on the outrageous cycles of indescribable repairing and shattering. Tamei and Tahor. Transitions. Endings. Beginnings. For forty-nine days, starting at Passover and ending at Shavuot, I count and count. Seven attributes for seven weeks and seven days in each week, one attribute for each day.

Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod, Malchut. April. May. June. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Shabbat. Sunday.

There are names for everything.

There must be a name for someone who is always counting.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Preparing for Passover

Ten Plagues Puppets! Courtesy of my uncle, photo courtesy of my brother. Disturbing, hilarious, and AWESOME.

Slightly less disturbing: Four questions puppets, and a wind-up walking matzo ball. Wait...I take it back. The matzo ball is still disturbing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tamei and Tahor

This quarter is a lot of Jewish history and literature. I'm sitting in (finally) on Rabbi S's weekly Torah study (Torah in an academic context), taking an independent readings in Jewish Social History and a seminar on Jewish Literature (Memory! Diaspora! Etc!). It's making my brain spin.

Yesterday I spent the morning reading the memoir of a Jewish woman who grew up in a Galician shtetl, and was killed by the Nazis. She sounded like my grandmother. Every Jewish woman's memoir sounds like my grandmother. I don't know if it's the Yiddish or the way Yiddish translates into English. I don't know if many Jewish women's memoirs have similar themes, or if I only notice what's familiar. Jewish American assimilation memoirs especially read the same way: "Ve escaped ze olt country, ve came to America, abandon olt useless traditions, raise American children. Now our grandchildren want to get back to their roots, vy? For vat purpose?"

Anyways. I spent the morning reading the memoirs and thinking about my grandmother. Then I went to Torah Study where we discussed the concept of Tamei and Tachor.This is a concept I have been discussing with Rabbi S. anyways, because my friend has cancer, and is struggling so painfully with chemotherapy and whatnot. But the tamei/tachor concept was even more powerful after reading this memoir, and after visiting my grandmother in the hospital over the break.

Tamei is often poorly translated into "unclean" or "impure" but it really refers to the time when someone has come into contact with life-and-death. This includes birth, sex, menstruation, touching or seeing a dead animal or person, wet dreams, etc. Tachor is the rest of the time. When someone is Tamei, they have to ritually separate themselves for varying amounts of time. Then there is immersion in natural waters (ocean, rain). Then they must bring an offering to the Holy Temple, which has been destroyed twice. Since the temple has been destroyed, we are all, technically speaking, Tamei. We are all not-quite-Tachor, no matter how many times we bathe in the ocean. The life-and-death transition is not one we can escape. Since the Holy Temple no longer exists, it was decided that women should maintain the memory of this tradition by ritually bathing after menstruation, a practice many Orthodox Jews follow. For me, though, the main thing is that coming in contact with life-and-death transitions deserves its own space, it's own "time out," because life-and-death transitions force us to think about our own mortality.

After that, I got the call from the local bookstore found out that I won a short story contest for my story about Judaism, food, body image, family, culture. My great-grandmother (of blessed memory) figures prominently in the story. When I called my mom to tell her the good news, she was at my grandmother's house.

Then I came back to the Bunker, where I found that a friend had posted a link to a really wonderful photographer's work. It's morbid, but I think it's beautiful...he photographs people right before they die:
It's the only time, he says, when his subjects are honest, vulnerable. They don't force themselves to smile.

This, after discussing Tamei and Tachor. This, after I spent the morning with the memoir of another woman who died in the Holocaust, whose voice is inexplicably like my grandmother's and like the voices in every other Jewish memoir I've read - that of Gluckel of Hameln, and Kate Simon in Bronx Primitive. This, after I found out that my story about Judaism and family won an award. And I had only an hour to go before my Global Jewish Lit course, where we talked about Judaism, memory, exile vs. diaspora, and conceptualizations of "home."

"Vat? You vant ve should live in the past forever?"