Last fall I started Hebrew classes at my Synagogue and my goal was to have a Bat Mitzvah before my son had his so I could feel more a part of this occasion and Judaism. Growing up with a mother who was raised Methodist and a father who was raised Jewish and then a step-father was who Episcapol, we celebrated a little of this and a little of that. My most vivid memories are being extremely allergic to our pine Christmas tree and always opening my Christmas presents way too fast and doing anything I could do get out of going to Hebrew School.
Hebrew School was painful. Junebug did not feel like herself in dresses and shiny black shoes and she hated feeling like a fake. The Christmas trees and Menorahs combined with her family being new to Nashville which then was a small city with a tiny Jewish community was hard. Junebug felt like an outsider and by 6th grade had complained enough to finally become a Hebrew School dropout.
When my mom remarried my step dad, she fell in love with camping and canoeing and with that becoming her religion, it was not too hard to convince her it was time for me to quit. And when her kids began to marry, she did not pressure them or really care at all if they married Jewish spouses but ironically she had the fortune many Jewish moms wish for because five of her six kids did including me.
With Jay, I had another chance to give Synagogue a try and as a young adult, I could bypass Hebrew School. While I still did not know Hebrew or the songs or many of the prayers, I loved sitting next to Jay who was so rooted in Judaism. I knew it was where I wanted to grow roots too and sitting next to him on many Friday nights before we had kids listening to the music that brought us there again and again, I began to feel more and more comfortable in our new beloved Jewish home where together we grew roots as a family for almost twenty years.
I wrote earlier today about forgiveness. I guess it was on my mind since tonight was the beginning of the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. I have been feeling on the fence about the holidays and I was not sure if I was ready to have a conversation about faith and forgiveness. I did not know if I wanted to be seen. I was afraid I might feel like a fake and outsider in our Synagogue without Jay like Junebug did a long time ago. Up to the last minute I could not decide if I should go but finally i decided to go for Jay because I knew how much he loved this service.
And truthfully, for a while tonight, I was not ready to have a conversation and it was not easy especially as the music that we loved began. My head was bouncing from his funeral to the seat next to mine where for a second I was not sure if he was there or if it was just the vivid impression in my head of Jay's presence next to mine smiling and singing confidently.
I have always been incredibly self-conscious about my singing voice but somehow next to Jay and next to Jay only, I could sing and so when the music began tonight, I missed hearing Jay sing every single song and I missed singing softer next to him; and I felt sad that I might never feel comfortable enough to sing again without him by my side. I missed the soft camel sports coat he wore to the service the night before Zoe's Bat Mitzvah. I missed sitting on each side of our kids and looking at each other with smiles while we listened to them recite prayers and sing as well as Jay at an early age. I missed sitting close to him and how he would sometimes rub my neck.
I missed driving home with him after the service because he would often continue to rub my neck and tomorrow I will miss hearing him talk to his parents about how much he loved the sermon. I will miss hearing him complain about how hungry he is and then watch him pile his plate with kugel and every dessert at break fast and then complain that he ate too much .
And while I did anticipate i would miss him tonight, I did not anticipate how lost I would feel without hearing his voice and how much it would make me want to disappear into his shoulder next to mine. It's the feeling of grief that goes way beyond missing someone. But Junebug and I are working on hanging in there even when it feels awkward and I am glad we did because I think we turned a corner.
Towards the end of the service, the choir sang Avinu Malkeinu. It was more beautiful than ever and I found myself drifting in my head to memories of a night in December. I imagined climbing a staircase over and over and over again looking for the man who rooted me in so many ways for so many years. And while I am not sure if I subscribe to the patriarchal view of religion, I imagined our heavenly choir singing this most beautiful Avina Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King, in the background of this night and I knew my conversation had begun.
Avinu Malkeinu by Phish. Photo from the service the night before Zoe's Bat Mitzvah.