“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~ Buddha
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.” ~ Stuart Chase
I wanted to thank all of you who so sweetly wished me a happy Chanukkah/ Hanukkah (however you like to spell it... I could never get the spelling right) from the last post.
I kind of feel like a heel. Part of me wants to just to revel in your lovely wishes because I know it made you happy to wish that for me. And it made me happy to receive your wishes, your blessings. You are all so very very kind. But the other part of me has to come clean and say I don't celebrate Hanukkah (or any other holidays) anymore. I fell off the wagon quite a while ago.
I think I first started to fall off it around the age of eight or ten. It had to do with me reading the story of Abraham and the Sacrifice of Issac, in a book I used to really love called The Children's Story of Israel. It was a really interesting book. I remember loving to read it, not only for the vivid stories, but for the smell and feel of the paper, and the stark black and white illustrations. I think they were engravings. The paper was incredibly silky and smooth. I remember just running my fingers over the pages because they felt beautiful. It was odd. I've never had another book quite like it. I have no idea where that book went to, but it was old.
Anyway, I used to read that book a lot. And then one day it dawned on me what was really going on in that story of Abraham and Isaac. I understood that it meant that Abraham might actually kill his own son because God told him to. And what would that say about any father who might get a message from God. That scared the piss out of me, to be quite frank. I never read that book again. I remember feeling betrayed. And it made me wonder exactly where these stories were coming from and why I read them.
This post isn't to rain on anyone's parade (I don't mean to do that in the least) or to expound what I believe or don't believe. But what this holiday wishing made made me think about is Tradition. Why we believe what we believe.
Like the Buddha says in that quote above: How much of our beliefs are our own? And how often do we question ourselves and our own minds? What is the relationship between our individual identity and what is forged by the traditions and beliefs handed down to us?
But she said that's what made them taste so good and she was right about that. I've just come to realize that I'll never have that particular taste in my mouth again.
And then there was my Grandma Annette. In her being absent for most of my life now, I think she's come to make a greater impression on me because I didn't know her well. But she represented Tradition to me in a way I craved. She came from the "Old Country" (the Ukraine) as she called it in her heavy accented English, and I still vaguely remember her stories of village life and her brothers and sisters and escaping the Cossack raids.
She knew all of the Sabbath blessings and kept kosher. She was tiny and also very formidable in a quiet, fragile way. I used to watch Fiddler on the Roof a lot as a kid, because I imagined that her vanished village with no name was just like the one in the movie. In a way, I was probably right.
Unfortunately or fortunately, life in the 'burbs just isn't the same thing as life in the shtetl. Of course now I'm grateful that I ended up where I am, but for many years, I really felt I was missing out on something very subtle and very important. But my world is a lot bigger now. And I'm not so scared of it anymore. I'm not scared of not being what I thought I was going to be when I grew up, either.
Now all these years later, I felt like I finally had my chance. I had to ask him what was up with the Abraham and Isaac story. I told him what it did to my kid psyche and I could see on his face that I wasn't the only one who had a problem with the tale. He looked pained as I poured my heart out to him. He explained it to me, in what the metaphor of the story really meant, and apologized that no one was there to tell me that when I was young. I tried not to cry. But I did and he gave me his beverage napkin so I could blow my nose. His explanation was calming in its way, but still did not erase the savagery of the act that almost was.
I don't know why it affected me so, to have some closure on that story so many years after the fact. I mean, I could have gone to any temple around and just asked someone. But that was the right time for me. It was the right time, and at the same time, it was too late.
The rabbi and I kept in touch for a little while via email but whatever tradition I felt I should have had just wasn't inside me. I think some things you have to be exposed to at a very young age for them to take hold in your heart, otherwise the roots are just too shallow.
But I don't feel too badly, because I also realize that there was a little eight or ten year old girl who read something and then had an opinion about it and took a position. Above all else, I appreciate that little Julie who reads and thinks about what she reads. And wherever that tradition came from, I'm most grateful for that of all.
More and more, I'm fine with where I'm at. It's a journey though, and I'm still working on it. But I'm not as worried so much about not having all the answers.
“Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.” ~ George Carlin
"One fine day... as my mother was putting the bread in the oven, I went up to her, and taking her by her flour-smeared elbow I said to her, 'Mama ... I want to be a painter.' " ~ Marc Chagall