Walking through Target the other day I looked longingly as the clerks set up the back to school sections and the “moving into your dorm” sections. This time last year Seth and I were launching our eldest child into the world as an adult. He was headed off to college. Much of that work meant getting him all ready for living in his dorm. I was particularly concerned that he had all the first aid and medical supplies he might need with him in his dorm- bandaids and cough drops, tissues, and cold medicine. We had no idea that he would go off, enjoy his first quarter, only to loop back around and move home when the pandemic erupted last winter.
We thought our family was moving in one direction only to find ourselves totally off course. All of our plans, hopes, ideas of what our lives would look like with three at home instead of four: dashed. And for our eldest? He thought this year would be about greater and greater independence and creating a new home, a new life at college.
Today all four of us are back in our little house. Making it work and tolerating the misdirected year we have found ourselves in. No need to buy our eldest anything to prepare for another year at college- it looks like it will be college from home next year. And for our younger, we, like all other parents out there, we have no idea what if any school supplies he will need this year. Directionless. What are we even getting ready for this August?
Living in a time of great unknowns, where plans are derailed daily and visions of what the near and far future might look like being blurry at best, is be terrifying. Unsettling. And leave us, leaves me, feeling unbalanced and anxious. We seek assurances only to find ourselves empty handed. Assurances. What are we sure of anymore?
Our ancestors knew this uncertainty. They knew this feeling of being spun around by world events, left disoriented and astray. We are fortunate (many of us, not all) to have lived in a predictable society where our health care, economy, educational and political systems have been stable. Yet we are moving into a different era now. One in which we can empathize and identify with instability and uncertainty Jews have lived with for hundreds and hundreds of years.
The truth is that even in the midst of the greatest upheavals we did have direction. We did know where to turn. We were able to recapture our balance and move forward-the only true direction. We always knew what direction to turn, to turn our hearts, bodies and spirits, even within the context of chaos, even within the context of terror and even within the context of pandemic. We knew where to turn.
Judaism is a path of survival. It gives us fuel to keep moving and most importantly, a direction to move towards. If the practice of Judaism-prayer, meditation, study, celebration-have not previously been active parts of your life and you find yourself struggling for direction please consider further rooting yourself and your day in the ancient ways of our ancestors. There is great power in the traditions of our people. We do not practice Judaism so we can keep it alive for future generations. We practice Judaism so that WE might make it through right now,so that WE can pass wisdom and love and a path for living to future generations.
This Saturday night I am leading a workshop in making your own Mizrach. The Mizrach is all about direction. It is a piece of religious art you hang on the eastern wall of your home. It is a sign and symbol within the home of the direction we are all moving as Jews. This “direction” will not give us answers as to when and if schools will open up or when and if college students will ever be able to return to communal living. It won’t tell you when a vaccine will arrive. The Mizrach will only give you one answer: which direction to stand and face when you pray and meditate. The Mizrach gives you direction ONLY when it comes to taking time to open yourself up to the unknowns and walk right into it with courage and fortitude.
We have not survived as a people for thousands of years because things were easy for us. The world did not conspire to make the path of the Jewish people clear and safe. Quite the opposite. We survived within the context of chaos and uncertainty. Therefore we turn, again, towards that which has kept us and will continue to keep us: strong, resolute, life affirming, courageous. Spiritual and religious tools like the Mizrach coupled with taking time to direct your mind, heart and body towards the Divine, towards the East, towards the Jewish people, towards the sacred is what has kept us moving in the right direction, the only direction that matters: forward.
It is hard to imagine forward right now. It is hard to grasp what Thanksgiving or Hanukkah might look like this year. I have no idea if my own younger child will need school supplies. I have no idea how to prepare him for what is ahead. So I prepare myself. To be able to weather whatever it is life throws at me. I seek spiritual direction when all else looks hazy.
This Saturday night I invite you to join me in finding our spiritual direction in the midst of this storm. Bring out your colored pens and pencils. Any crafting supplies that make you happy. Attached are templates we will be using that night together. We will be learning about the Mizrach, it’s history, power and different artistic styles, and then we will make one or two for our own use and maybe to give to a friend or family member.
Judaism is full of practical and inspiring spiritual tools for making it through life. It exists to give life to those who walk its path. It is indeed a fruitful tree of life.
The Mizrach is but one of these tools but it is particular import during these times because it gives spiritual direction and focus within your home. It makes the home a sanctuary and it invites, in the most visible way, for you to turn yourself towards God, Judaism, our people, towards yourself when you are struggling.
All ages! All stages! Get family members to zoom in and do it together. Everyone is welcome this Saturday night-no last experience with art necessary. Print up template in advance.
Kol Ami is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Havdalah Cafe: Jewish Arts and Culture
Time: Jul 25, 2020 08:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 811 1742 8168
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