Fall, not religion, rings in the new year for Steph

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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.

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Reader Feedback

Guide for the Perplexed from Island of Lotus Eaters says:
Deep. But why rely on Jung? Nietzsche pretty much said the same thing - actually more forcefully - about setting out your own path in these matters.
Sept. 13, 2013, 6:13 am
Old time brooklyn from Slope says:
You should be ashamed denying yor kids their heritage. The slope has always been full of self centered vital women and you fit perfectly in
Sept. 13, 2013, 7 am
Barb from Brooklyn says:
Old time brooklyn from Slope should be ashamed of being judgmental, intolerant of other people's points of view, and historically inaccurate about Park Slope.
Sept. 13, 2013, 1:24 pm
John Wasserman from Windsor Terrace says:
Pardon me, but Old time brooklyn from Slope seems to be a really nice and down to earth fellow. Haha! NOT!!! Get it??? Did you happen to see what it was that I did there!?!?! Of coarse this is only one mans opinion.
Sept. 13, 2013, 6 pm
Janus from Rome says:
Odd title since the secular New Year is in January.
Sept. 13, 2013, 6:09 pm
Jerry from Dyker Heights says:
"Janus from Rome says: Odd title since the secular New Year is in January."

It's not odd at all, since she's contrasting the tradition she was raised in with her own adult beliefs, and (one way or another) those around her remind her of the religious New Year.

Personally, I think of Sept as the new year because that's when school starts. I've been out of school(s) for eons but still can't shake that feeling.
Sept. 13, 2013, 8:21 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
we make judgements ever few seconds - a mother to deny heritage to her kids commits a karmic crime - I don't give a —— about book worship opposed to dead guy jesus/shneerson though my formerly orthodox wife does - so please provide a full description how am I judgmental, intolerant of other people's points of view, and historically inaccurate about Park Slope. with specific evidence other that you got your panties in a knot
Sept. 14, 2013, 1:04 am
old time brooklyn from slope says:
barb - I did my student teaching in slope in 1974 - when did you?
Sept. 14, 2013, 1:06 am
Shmolo from Cobble Hill says:
Better to give them something, than nothing.
Sept. 14, 2013, 6:59 am
bkparent from South Slope says:
Thank you for a thoughtful reflection on living and parenting without the shaping force of religion. Your kids will be fine. They will not be alone.
Sept. 14, 2013, 9:17 am
Leviticus from Sinai says:
Why did Moses even bother to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt in the first place, then.
Sept. 14, 2013, 10:31 am
o3 from bk says:
well there's always the alien colonization to fall back on...or was it a metorite containing microbes slamming into the volcanic green slime?

regardless who's to say any of it wasnt God's plan in the end?
Sept. 14, 2013, 12:40 pm

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