Want a Fan Club? Buy This House in Our Neighborhood!

There’s a house for sale on our street, and it’s not just any house, nor is it just any street. If you buy it I (can almost) guarantee you will gain an immediate fan club. Talk about a fringe benefit! Your new neighbors will likely come up to you with big smiles and greet you, some perhaps bearing gifts, welcoming you and thanking you for taking on the project. They will tell you about our great block parties, the progressive dinners, and you will feel loved and appreciated.

Our street is in the historic part of town, graced with many stately and charming homes that owners seem to take a particular pride in restoring, and where you can sense a palpable awareness of the value of maintaining older homes. It sits there on the corner of our block ­­– once a stunning pale yellow colonial with white trims and charming eaves, neat and lush laurel shrubs lining the white picket fence – but over the last few years it has been uninhabited, and now looks forsaken and sad, as if its soul once walked out the door and never returned. As the fence has peeled, the shrubs have became unruly and the shutters drooped, we, the neighbors, have watched with sinking hearts while the unforgiving players of time and seasons have made their marks on this former bright pearl of the neighborhood.

But like natural pearls that lose their luster, this unique house too can regain its former splendor once it receives the right care; a clear vision coupled with the will to restore a once graceful home, and some good old TLC. And I bet once a family moves in and breathes its energy into the walls of this house, the dailiness of life will quickly bring about the long needed transformation. Surely, there will be a supportive troop cheering on the metamorphosis, no matter how long or slow it will be. Maybe we’ll will start a fan-page on Facebook and follow the process with encouraging comments and inspirational quotes. But hey, no pressure; welcome to our neighborhood!

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Bursting at the Seams

As I am swiftly approaching my 49th birthday, I’m bursting at the seams in more ways than one. In a figurative way, I am bursting out of the 40s, hanging on (by my claws?) to this last precious year as a “40-something” which I plan to relish to the fullest. I so want my 40s, all of them, to have been fabulous. But the truth is, they haven’t been.

The other bursting is taking place down here on the battleground, where the dailiness of life happens, where I am literally bursting out of the seams of my clothes.

Four years ago, while going through my divorce, I was thin as a bean. “Wow, you look great!” I heard from left and right, and so in a manic attempt at convincing myself that it was all happening for a reason, I created a mental connection between the skinny me and the “a-okay.” Funny thing is, I was miserable, of course. But it felt great to be slender, even fitting back into my wedding gown from 23 years prior, which I wore to the Purim Carnival that year with the sign “mail order bride” dangling morosely from my neck.

Today, shimmying into my stretchy jeans, cursing under my breath at what I’d like to call the shrinkage factor of the dryer cycle, I’m puzzled at the bursting. I am happy, I tell myself. I have come such a long, long way, I confirm, doing a quick mental inventory of all the self-improvement, mindfulness, yoga, hypnosis and therapy sessions I have been part of in the last four years. I am doing what I love, my children are healthy, I am loved. Breathe in, breathe out. My bra feels tight, damn it.

True to form, in my over-thinking mind, I begin to ponder: Maybe I’m not happy. I may be telling myself that I am, when in fact, I may be faking it. With all the awful recent world events that social media brings too close, too often, it’s enough to make the most balanced Zen chick weepy, compulsively pouring the scotch and piling on the French cheese on those gluten free organic crackers. And then there are all those lingering haunting thoughts about one’s past: “what it I had just…” Maybe in this life of mine, bursting as it is with goodness, blessings and possibilities, I am also lying to myself?

However, deep down I know that what I am bursting with, is not just empathic pain for the exterior world, but also, still, the emotions of the slow and arduous path to my own emotional recovery. I also recognize that, like the glistening and plump seeds bursting forth from the cracked open pomegranate, the traditional fruit of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, from which yields a glorious nourishing elixir, I have the ability to feed my soul with the stuff of my bursting.

If I only put my mind to it.

Fortunately, I don’t have to wait until December 31st to make my New Year’s resolutions, because the Jewish New Year is right around the corner. Moving forward, I want to be compassionate, not to bear down too hard. The resilience and enthusiasm I know is part of my temperament must carry me forward, and I will burst ahead with more gratitude, and less tears, at what truly seems a sacred life.

Bursting Pomegranite

Fifteen Religious Jews Jumping in a Lake

“Fifteen religious Jews jumping in a lake” sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?

But it isn’t. It’s what I saw one day last summer in Hanover, Maine. Despite the almost 6 hours it takes to get there from my house in Connecticut, this small recreational town in of 238 inhabitants is not even in a far-off part of the state. Relatively speaking. Just in the southwest corner, really.

Imagine you’re taking a walk along a remote dirt road on the south side of a small secluded lake. You notice it’s green everywhere, the air is fresh; it smells of moss and moist earth.

Suddenly you hear a car approaching, the way tires sound on a pebbly road, and you prepare to step over to the side as what you now notice is a van, no wait, two beaten up vans with New York plates approach.

As the vans passes, you see that they are full of young, religious Jewish dudes, with their payot or side curls flowing freely, and their black kippot or skullcaps propped loosely on their more or less shaven heads. The driver, a pimply, blond, round faced guy leans out of the window with a cigarette between his lips.

They slow down and ask us if we know of any public access here; they’d like to swim. My friend, who is also Jewish, but to them looks like just a “regular” guy (jeans, t-shirt, a cap) walks over to the window of the car, leans in and assesses the peering dark eyes, the cramped in young male bodies, and says “Shalom Aleichem!” This startles the driver greatly, who exclaims, incredulously, “You’re Jewish!?”

They think they are the only Jews in Maine.

After a few introductory remarks, and just to eliminate all doubt of imposture, my friend leans in again and says, in the tone of loving zayde or grandfather, “Come out here guys, so I can see you!” whereupon they begin to pour out of both vans amidst giggles and “c’mon guys!” and begin to gather chaotically around us. Some have towels slung over their shoulders; they are all wearing tzitzit, the required fringes that hang down from their everyday undergarment, casually and loosely worn over white t-shirts. One guy is wearing a dark, blue terry cloth bathrobe.

There’s laughter, questions, some light up cigarettes; others pace nervously between the cars, some smile at me while yet others shy away from my gaze when we answer their inquiries about where the best spot to swim might be. They tell my friend to come join them for davning – prayers – at their camp in the next town over, and stick a note in his hand with their phone number scribbled on it.

We know well where a great spot for swimming is. We direct them. We point and explain. As they climb back into their vans, they thank us, and we hear laughter and excitement as the drivers struggle a bit to turn the vans around on the narrow dirt road, and then they honk as they drive off.

When we approach the turn in the road about half a mile down, on the other side of the lake where we had suggested they give the swimming a try, we hear them; shrieks of joyful sounds cutting through the woods, splashing water, and loud music. Religious, up-beat music blasting from the speakers in the vans.

The sight was worth a million dollars. There were the fifteen religious Jews having the time of their lives swimming, basking, splashing, jumping, dunking and diving. A couple of them had swum out to an orange, plastic, floating pier and were dancing on top of it. Holding each other’s arms and dancing the way you might see religious Jews dance at a simcha or a celebration.

Fifteen religious Jews jumping in the lake; it was such a great and refreshing vision to see them enjoying themselves freely and wholeheartedly, basking in some of God’s finest natural surroundings, far away from their native Monsey, New York.

And that’s when it dawned on me why they may have been especially happy: With a solemn Jewish day of morning just behind us; Tisha B’Av had ended just a couple days before, and the Sabbath was coming the next day, the young men were using the spring fed lake as a mikvah, or a ritual bath. Getting ready for the holiness of the weekly day of rest, and perhaps marking the possibilities born from new beginnings after the fast day, they were indeed rejoicing.

Fifteen religious Jews jumping in a lake. And that’s no joke.

Two male friends jumping off dock into lake in mid air

My Day of Mourning

Starting tonight, I will observe the Jewish day of mourning called Tisha B’Av, or the ninth day of the month of Av, in my own way. I will appropriate the significance of it –– commemorating the many tragedies that have affected the Jewish people throughout history through fasting and prayers –– and I will shape it to make sense in my historical context.

I will light a memorial candle for ALL the victims in the current crisis in the Middle East. Just before sunset, I will eat a hard boiled egg dipped in ashes as a symbol for the mourner, then I will fast for 25 hours, and I will read from the traditional Book of Lamentations. I will continue my prayers for peace, although much more intently, because I will know in my heart there will be millions of Jews around the world who will be crying out at the same time as myself for an end to this suffering. To all suffering.

One way to help me achieve this spiritual time out will be to NOT open Facebook for the duration of Tisha B’Av. For whenever I do, I get tempted and find it impossible not to dive into the glittery, colorful ocean of graphic and verbal debates and accusations about who is at fault, who started, who is using too much force, or the wrong or unfair weapons or tactics. I get sucked in. Like a well meaning, peace seeking California dude surfer, I get sucked into a vortex of bad karma stuff that leaves me feeling like I am suffocating. Drowning. And I need to breathe to live. I need hope.

I will try to be yogic about it: to seek some kind of transcendence, if only momentary, for something that does not make any sense at all: human suffering as it is inevitably brought on in wars.

Where did all those great yoga sayings go, anyway?

 

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