I took a painting class at the C.G. Jung Foundation a while back. The teacher, the great Maxson McDowell, lectured the first class about organized religion, about how if it worked for you, that’s awesome, but if it didn’t, well then, as Jung said, you were on your own, forced by your own faithlessness, to create another story.
Sadly, I related. I remembered as he spoke the great skepticism I felt listening to the words of the Torah growing up. It was a good tale. It was maybe even a great one.
But it wasn’t true.
My whole life I’ve been impaired by this concept of truth. It is a challenge. Especially when it comes to parenting because, as I’ve come to realize, there are very few real truths. There are just myths and theories and theorems and things we choose to believe so that we can have a model for this thing called life.
Every year around this time surrounding the Jewish New Year and the concomitant Days of Awe period of introspection, I feel the same sense of shame that I have not given my children an easy model to follow for their life. I have not given them a set of specific guidelines. I have not given them the Torah. They are grossly unfamiliar with Talmud.
But then I have to remember that this is no accident. It’s not like I just forgot one year to dress us all up and take us to temple. It has been a process that has unfolded for years, a slow weaning from my reform Jewish upbringing. It has, as Jung might say, been part of my own individuation, this separation of my self from a collective universal whole. And that is the hard part, the guilty shameful part. I can hear the “tsking” of the Chasidic man in the park Rosh Hashanah morning who sought out us wayward Jews on the dog hill with his shofar, with the ram horn whose blasts Jews believe wake one out of spiritual slumber and reconnect them to their divine mission.
I can hear his silent judging questions, “So, you are giving your children nothing, no belief?” “So, you have made them part of nothing?”
I wrestle with myself. I pull all around, twisting in my bedclothes in the dark of night in the days preceding the High Holy Days I once observed. I think maybe, maybe this year I’ll look for a new synagogue, one that fits us. I’ll buy them nice shoes and blazers and bring them along, make them mind me during services. And then, sadly, I remember. This is not a story I can fully stand by. It is not a story I choose to pass along to my children in total. It doesn’t fit my version of the truth. Seemingly, no single tome does, not even French philosopher Montaigne’s “Essays.” Not even Jung’s “The Red Book.”
I still wish my friends and family Happy New Year around now. Fall feels to me the right time to do that. When school starts and the trees shed their leaves, it forces us to think anew on what we want for ourselves and our kids, Jewish or not.
At the last minute, I had a few friends over for the holiday and served them a round spiraled Challah bread, meant to signify the continuity of creation. I gave everyone apples with honey, for a sweet new year. These are traditions I can stand behind proudly and pass on. I am modern in that way, picking and choosing what to keep and what to shed according to personal preference, the way technology allows us to be these days, the way the world has evolved, for better or for worse.
My poor kids will have to put things together piecemeal. They will have to chart their own course with wisdom gleaned from so many sources, from universal signs such as the dragonflies that dart and dodge around us during their brief lifespan. The dragonflies remind us to live and love while we can. I point them out, how beautiful and free they are, how beautiful and free life can be.
That’s all I can do.
Happy new year.
©2013 Community News Group
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