God in the Hallways

I don't know why, but I don't expect God to show up so much in Hebrew School. Even though it's my job, and I spend 6 hours a week with young Jewish minds, I sometimes think we've only come to consider this type of education to be supplementary and perfunctory. Not inspiring or life-changing or even effective. This really doesn't do the kids any real service. But I still hope they'll take something away from our classes, and by some miracle, I happened to have a really big God week with several of my students in different classes.

First, was just the standard Torah study variety. It's hard not to study that book without having certain issues with the character of God in the text. In fact, my students are pretty well convinced that the God of the Torah is a real jerk. To the point where one student said, "Isn't it kind of douchey of God to put the Jews in slavery just so they can thank Him when He takes them back out again?" Marah 1, God 0.

Then, sometime during that same class did another student wisely compare God to a baker of pies. You have to experiment with the pie to get it right, and sometimes throw it all out, and even then not everyone is going to be happy with it, because not everyone likes blueberry pie in the first place.

But the big event was with my high schoolers. I think it is what you'd call a real teaching moment. I've been doing a mini course on Jewish fiction and creative writing. I just pick an excerpt from something Jewish, read it, and have the kids do a writing exercise on that topic. This last class we did Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

It wasn't that serious a selection, but what I wanted to know was how the kids were taught to believe in God. Most of them reported that they hadn't been, but were still expected to. And one kid said, "I'm an atheist because my friend died last year and I can't believe in God after that."

I can relate to that. Who can't? Also, if they've only been taught that God rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior, it's really hard to rationalize why bad thngs happen to good people. I'd stop believing in God too if that's how I thought divinity worked. And it's not like I haven't had my ups and downs with this relationship over the years.

But we went on to talk about the other options and images in Judaism about God. That God is a judge, king, shepherd. We ask to be protected in the shelter of God's wings. God is a potter (which always sung to me) and sculptor in one of the more beautiful Yom Kippur prayers. The options are endless.

I also talked to them about how the word Israel literally means, "struggles with God." We're supposed to struggle. It's right there in the very name we identify ourselves by. God isn't easy. The relationship isn't supposed to be. Only the difficult things are really worth it. Isn't that always true?

Then I had the kids write their own Dear God letters. And at the end of everyone's writing and sharing (if they wanted to), the young atheist asked if he could say something. And when I said of course, he said, "I'm really glad I took this class. You've made me start to believe in God again."

I am still weepy just thinking about it. For more than one reason.

Man Plans. God Laughs.

I really think it's tacky to announce a lot of life's major events and milestones on Twitter or Facebook. Like, if I ever tell you I'm pregnant that way, I should be banned from ever touching a keyboard again.

Likewise, I think it's pretty unfortunate to see status updates about people who have died. And I kind of cringe at all the "my prayers are with you" messages that pop-up. The intentions are there, and I appreciate that, but they are usually riddled with emoticons and/or spelling that hurts me.

But in this day and age where a good chunk of my connection with people, including some of my closest friends, happens in those forums, I can't really avoid it. Though there's probably a better way of making those announcements than I've yet to come up with.

All this is to say that life is fucked up. And weird. And stuff always happens at the same time. And there's no good way of telling people. Hence this blog post. Here's this week:

  • My sister's wedding invitations went out, and I helped write the announcement that will hopefully make it into the New York Times. (This will be hilarious.)
  • My step-aunt died yesterday at age 68.
  • My grandfather (other side of the family) turns 92 today.

Saba, just a few weeks ago, with my brother Reuben. It's strange how these things happen in close proximity, and in such stark contrast. Almost as if someone (God?) is making a point. Not that I'm so up on God these days.

Example: one of the first things my sister said to me when we got the news about Aunt Mary Jo was, "Oh, E, the wedding invitation will show up at her house tomorrow."

Yeah, funny, huh?

But...it's life.

And even when bad things happen, that's just how it goes. It's better to concentrate on the good stuff, like 92nd birthdays and weddings. And even just remembering a really cool lady, who was really happy to add more nieces to her brood when my mom married her brother. And thinking about how happy she'd be to get that invitation.

Mary Jo and her son Matt at his wedding.So, here's to the good stuff.

Saba, here's to you. 92 and still going strong. You kick ass. And won't approve of my language, but probably won't see this anyway. (Unless someone shows it to you. Please don't do that, family.) But just know that I'm smiling like you always give me a hard time about.

And here's to you, Aunt Mary Jo. You always had the funniest, under-the-radar, sarcastic lines at family meals. And you understood more than anyone that family has absolutely nothing to do with genetics. I'll miss you.