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Reconnecting

Reconnecting

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I really needed Grandma, but she's in New Montefiore. Mom joined her two years ago. Bubbeh and Zaideh (in my family that was great-grandma and great-grandpa) are in Haifa Old Cemetery. I don't know where Grandpa is.

Well, of course I know where they all are. But I really needed them here.

G‑d is here, and I haven't any doubt of that. But I didn't know where the path He was setting for me would lead, and the earthquake in my life had left a huge fissure right in front of me. I knew I'd figure out how to get past it eventually, but in that moment of anguish and despair and fear, looking at that chasm filled with betrayal and deception, I needed my family.

I needed my familyThe two loving rebbetzins who had befriended me suggested Shabbat candles. I explained carefully that for me, faith didn't include ritual. I spoke directly to G‑d all the time, I believed He was listening, and I knew He'd see right through the "I'm desperate enough to try anything" game.

What I wanted, most urgently, was to feel that connection to Grandma and Grandpa, to Bubbeh and Zaideh. They were people of deeply loving and profound faith expressed through the rituals and observances of a Jewish life. I don't fit into any category, no label fits me. My view of the majesty and glory of G‑d's creation doesn't include singling out any little particle as being a center of holiness. Prayer for me is so personal that I just can't use someone else's words.

I remembered the magic of metaphor.

I'd said the Shema for the first quarter of my life, and then I'd stopped. It seemed too exclusionary a prayer. G0-d is the G‑d of all creation! I prayed every night in my own words instead.

And then that wake-up moment. "Israel" is a metaphor for all of creation.

I started saying the Shema again, remembering that Grandma and Grandpa and Bubbeh and Zaideh had said it all their lives. However they thought about it, however I thought about it, in the end, it all meant the same thing.

I began to understand that my own little family hadn't shattered--it had just become smaller. I had done, with G‑d's grace, a holy and sacred thing--I had raised a wonderful child to healthy manhood, in every sense of that. I had held off the demons of profound destruction long enough to see my boy nearly through college, living an independent and happy life. I had refused to allow destruction from my past to defile what G‑d had enabled me to create.

Faith is real, but sometimes we need something tangible, to hold or to see. So I decided to affix a mezuzah.

What is a mezuzah? It's a scroll on which the Shema is written. What does it do? It sanctifies the home, declares that this is a place where G‑d's presence is honored and remembered every moment of every day. It makes a place where the souls of the righteous feel welcome.

I began to understand that my own little family hadn't shattered--it had just become smallerWhen I affixed the mezuzah to my bedroom doorpost, I obliterated the shadow of illness and defilement that had poisoned what I had held sacred. When I affixed the mezuzah to the doorpost of the den, I affirmed that what is created in this room, what is thought in this room, is free of lies and deception. Only truth is spoken here.

The mezuzahs went up on a Monday. Friday afternoon, I had the uncomfortable feeling that something remained to be done. I had purified my home. But I needed to sanctify it.

I wrestled back and forth as the minutes passed. I could do it next week, or the next. It didn't have to be today, did it?

It did. You can't half-consecrate something.

By the time I made it back to the dining table, having checked the timing posted on the Chabad.org website one more time, my eyes were full of tears. I could hardly speak the blessing. I understood, for the first time in my life, what a holy stillness is. I thought, as I looked at the flame, that now my Bubbeh and Zaideh and Grandma and Grandpa would feel at home. I wouldn't have to feel that I had asked them in to a place unworthy of them, a place that would cause them pain. I knew they had always been with me, ready for me to discover this moment at the right time and for the right reason.

Sarah Akhtar lives in NY. Retired from outside employment, she enjoys writing, gardening, and thinking about the tough stuff.
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