This Is The Ritual, Hanukkah version


© Trisha Arlin



This is the Ritual:  Bowing during the morning blessings.
I used to refuse to bend my knee
and bow
during the Morning Blessings.
Baruch Atah Etcetera
Thank you for Etecetera….
Who was I bowing to?
A male king?
That’s not God.
Screw that.

But then I thought,
What if I bowed anyway?
What would that feel like?
So I tried it for a month.
As an interesting experiment,
I bowed deeply for a month.

And
It was  mechanical, pointless.
And then one day, kind of without warning
Each time I bowed, I found there was a reason.
I bowed to history and tradition,
I bowed because my ancestors bowed.   
I bowed to everyone who has ever been forced to bow,
I bowed because everyone else in the room was bowing.
I bowed to my fear of the future,
I bowed to my regrets of the past.
I bowed because I am not the center of the universe.
I bowed because I do feel God’s presence, somehow.

This is the Ritual:  Wearing a tallit.
I never wore  a tallis during the Shabbat morning service
When I was little.
It’s cause I was a girl,
Girls didn’t do that.
I sat next to my Daddy in services and played with his tallis fringes
But they were his, not mine, never to be mine.
And anyway, do I even believe in the kind of God who would care?
How dare you tell me how to be a Jew!!
And anyway, navy blue stripes, so boring.
So screw that

But then I thought,
What if I wore a tallis anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore it for a month,
As an interesting experiment.
And
I felt dramatic and self-aggrandizing, very look-at-me.
And then one day, kind of without warning,
Each time I put on my tallit I found there was a reason.

I put on the tallit because it was winter and it kept me warm.
I put in the tallit to wrap myself in the memory of my father, sometimes I even wore his.
I put on the tallit because I can and you can’t stop me.
I put on the tallit because it covered the vanity of whatever I was wearing that day.
I put on the tallit because I found one that matched my outfit.
I put on the tallit because it draped me in Torah.
I put on the tallit because God apparently has a thing for fringes and who am I to argue?
I put on the tallit because women who wear tallit at the Kollel, the Wailing Wall, get yelled at by people who claim to be religious.

This is the Ritual:  Wearing a kippah.
I sometimes wore a yarmulke when I was young,
The flimsy lacy kind,
Stuck on with a bobby pin,
A trivial thing,
A girly affectation,
Stupid.
A real kippah was for boys,
It fit their short hair.
But it flattened my lovely curls
So screw that.

But then I thought
What if I wore a kippah anyway?
What would it feel like?
So I wore a kippah on my head for a month,
As an interesting experiment.

Immediately, each time I put on my kippah,
I found there was a reason.
And it was amazing!
I put on my kippah to make a feminist statement.
I put on my kippah because it shows respect for the synagogue and the prayer leaders.
I put on my kippah to announce to myself that I have entered the shul and I must be mindful.
I put on kippah because I can have a lot of different ones to match my moods and my earrings.
I put on my kippah because everything underneath becomes a capsule of kadosh, of holiness.
I put on my kippah because it reminds me to connect to God, however I understand God that day.

This is the Ritual:  Lighting the candles on Hanukkah
I loved Hanukkah when I was young:
Eight days of presents, what’s not to like?
But then I grew up.
I lived alone.
Who was I lighting the candles for, not me,
I didn’t care.
The Chanukah menorah was for families
And I don’t have children.
And it’s a fire hazard!
So screw that.

But then I thought
What if I did the hanukkiah thing anyway?
What would it feel like?
So one year I lit the candles every night, for eight nights,
As an interesting experiment.

And every night, each time I struck the match,
I found there was a reason:
I lit the candle as an homage to my childhood.
I lit the candles because if pagans and Christians can celebrate the winter solstice, why shouldn’t I?
I lit the candles because a friend was having a latka party.
I lit the candles because fire is pretty.
I lit the candles because I used to have a crush on Judah Maccabee.
I lit the candles because really, why shouldn’t I get to have Hanukkah even if I don’t have kids?
I lit the candles because, well, it was the seventh night so I lit the candles.                                                                   
I lit the candles because of all the other Jews all over the world lighting candles.

These are the rituals:


When I need something bigger than myself, 
I bow.

When I need to separate myself from the mundane but not my community,
I wrap myself in my tallit.

When I need to place myself in kesher, in connection,
I put on my hat of holiness, my kippah.

When I need to see in the darkest of times,
I light candles.

Brucha At Achat, 
Baruch Atah Echad, 
Bless the One-ness, 
Giving us the ability to encircle time and space with meaning.  
Amen.
  

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