Sprinting toward the self

I have a reoccurring dream where I’m frantically running to catch a plane to Israel. The dream is vivid and pulsing, as I try to get to the place where my relatives live – a place I’ve been to over thirty times, beginning with summers at my grandparents’ house when I was a child.

The dreams started about three years ago, a few months after I met my Christian boyfriend (now husband) – when things were getting serious. The dreams unfolded as follows:

I’m in a car on the way to the airport and I realize that I forgot my passport at home. I make the car go back to retrieve it, and I miss the flight. And, I’m in the terminal, all checked in and on my way to the gate, where again, I realize my passport is missing. I approach a woman in the duty free shop, a clerk selling chocolates, and begin speaking to her in Hebrew, asking if my dad can fax her a copy of my passport to fax ahead to Tel Aviv. No go.

One evening, while at my parents’ house in New Jersey for Sabbath dinner, I told my Rabbi brother-in-law about these dreams. I was attending the dinner without my boyfriend, not yet ready for him to meet the Fockersteins.

I told my brother-in-law that I assumed the dreams meant I was trying to get to Israel – my safe haven – the place that represents my home and sense of belonging.

He nodded in agreement , but then looked at me with a knowing twinkle in his eye, indicating there was more to it.

“Your missing passport,” he said.” It represents your misplaced Jewish identity.”

“It does?” I asked, bristling from the implication that I’d lost my grip on my Jewishness, even though he was right. Reinforced by the fact that I was in a relationship with a non-Jew.

“Yep,” he replied. “Do you know who has your passport?”

“Uh…no…” I said, my mind going through all the options. Did God have it? Was he testing me? Or, maybe my ex-husband took it! (that was back in my blaming the ex for every feeling phase).

When my husband and I got married, I noticed that the dreams stopped. And a few months later, we planned on going to Israel to celebrate the holiday of Passover with my family. It would be his first time in Israel, and my first time seeing the country from a new perspective, touring the Christian sites and the place of Jesus’s birth. My parents and relatives were excited and embraced our plans with the same wide-eyed excitement that we did. My mother even Googled “Holy Land Christian tours” and forwarded me links.

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, passports in hand. I smiled to myself, remembering how just a few months before, I had mentioned to my brother-in-law that the dreams had finally ceased.

“Can you tell me now, who had my passport?” I implored.

“You did,” he said. “You had it the whole time. You just weren’t willing to take it out and use it.”

It made perfect sense. My Jewish identity had been reclaimed; my faith in God and in my religious and ancestral roots restored. It made so much sense it almost felt like a cliché in retrospect. But I was glad I had put that mystery and its anxieties to rest.

Until last week, when the dream came back.

I’m running through the terminal, clutching my passport, but I can’t find the gate: Gate #11. The signs are hidden; the passageways to the gate a narrow labyrinth crowded with people I have to weave around. I rush down stairs as people rush up, like at the subway. This time, my husband is with me. I keep looking back at him, lagging several yards behind me. At 6’6”, he does not charge through crowds. But also, he is burdened by our belongings – carrying all of my baggage (how’s that for a metaphor). So I forge ahead, calling to him, my heart beating. When I finally get to the gate, a steel fortress hidden in a dark corner of the airport, the door is closing. Almost made it, but not quite.

As I explored in my last post, my husband and I are in the process of leaving our one bedroom apartment and its associated life stage (my post-divorce refuge), and moving to a more spacious home – our home, that represents a new life stage we hope to grow (even older) in. It’s no wonder that this dream has resurfaced in a slightly different form. Passport and Jewish identity are intact, but clearly I am sifting through my personal identity as it shifts from a divorcee, a phase I was in for seven years before I met my now husband, to one of a wife and mother.

I am seeking to connect with my self; my personal sense of belonging and comfort, represented by the place I grew up in called Israel. But I keep missing my connection.

But at least I’m getting closer. And hopefully, the next time I have the dream, I will finally arrive at the gate on time, with my husband beside me, and all my identities intact.

And a light carry-on for baggage.

When a Good Jewish Girl celebrates Eastover

Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover, steeped in tradition, song, and food, has always been the most fun. Our regular kitchen was closed for the week, and we had a special ‘Kosher for Passover’ kitchen in our basement where we would convene around a long table with extended family and friends, surrounded by seventies furniture that hadn’t survived the upstairs renovation – a sectional leather couch, a massive television set, and a treadmill. I was allowed to drink wine and my sisters and I would sing the songs by heart while our cousins performed a who-could-eat-more-horseradish-before-burning-your-face-off competition.

We would go around the table and read a Hebrew passage from the Haggadah in the order in which we sat. Except when we arrived at the section about the four sons: the wise one, the wicked one, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. Even though it wasn’t my turn, my mother would slap her hand down on the table and call out my name to read: “Oritte! The wicked one!”images

It probably should have upset me to be called the wicked one (the bitch?) but instead it filled me with some perverse pride. Yes, I was the middle child, tomboyish and stubborn, but mostly, to me it set me apart. It meant that I was unique in my mother’s eyes. Besides, I was too young to be wise, too much of an over-thinker to be simple, and too curious to not ask a million questions, so perhaps I was just wicked by default.

And so I would read aloud in Hebrew: “What does the wicked son say? What does this drudgery mean to you? To you and not to him. Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism.”

I never thought about the meaning of that passage and its applicability for me until this year, when I celebrated Passover with my family on Friday night at my sister’s home, led by her husband who is a Rabbi, and then celebrated Easter at Church with my Christian husband on Sunday. I’d attended Easter services with him before, and Christmas too.

When I happened to speak to my mother on the phone Sunday morning, she asked me, “What are you doing today?”

Three years ago, when my goyfriend and I were just becoming serious and my mother had asked that question on Easter morning, I didn’t tell her the truth. Why upset her unnecessarily? Why cause conflict or try to explain my position, when I couldn’t explain it to myself? I didn’t really understand the meaning of Easter; I was going to support my husband and honor his faith, just like he honored mine.

This time, I answered her without hesitation: “It’s Easter,” I said. “We are probably going to Church.”

“What?” she said, not hearing me.

And then I said it again, this time removing the apologetic word “probably” intended to spare her (but really, me) of discomfort. “It’s Easter,” I repeated. “We are going to Church.”

A brief almost imperceptible pause followed by, “Okay, have a good day.”

Progress is an interesting thing and reveals itself in unexpected moments such as this one. It made me think of how, back when I announced to my mother that my goyfriend and I were discussing a future together, that our relationship was healthy and we communicated about everything, she said: “If you talk about everything, have you talked about him converting?

We’ve come a long way in a short time. My parents have embraced my choices and love my husband, but mostly, they love me and want me to be happy.  And slowly, I am learning about and embracing the meaning of Christianity, my husband’s faith. If I really want to understand what makes my husband tick; how he thinks, sees the world, and how he loves (including how he loves me), I need to understand the root of Christianity. If I really want to know my husband, I better get to know this guy named Jesus. And it helps that Jesus was a Jew. The night he was crucified, he was hanging out at a feast surrounded by other Jews and eating matzah, just like we were doing in my family’s basement. the-last-supper-godefroy

But in doing so, by learning about Jesus and the Christian meaning of Passover, by getting more comfortable with it all, was I cementing my persona as the wicked child? Was I excluding myself from the community by doing so, by denying a basic principle of Judaism?

Except it didn’t feel wicked – it felt good. And three nights later, my husband invited me to a Passover banquet organized by some Christians he knew from Church. My heart leapt with excitement and identification. A Christian Seder, hosted by a woman with a Hebrew name, hosted by my people! It sounded welcoming, a place where both my husband and I could honor each of our own faiths, but at the same time – together. I was fascinated.

The banquet took place at the Yale Club, in a large ballroom that must have held countless Jewish weddings, I thought to myself, as my husband and I sat down at our table. It was adorned with the familiar Seder plate and goblets for wine (which to my dismay were later used for Manishevitz grape juice). An older grey haired man – a Rabbi – got up on the podium. He was dressed in a kitel, a white robe worn by traditional Jews during sacred events, like my Rabbi brother in-law wore when he married my sister, and on the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur. He resembled most of the Orthodox Jewish men I grew up with.

“I am a Jew raised modern orthodox,” the Rabbi said as he welcomed us. “And I believe that Jesus was the Messiah.”

The Rabbi was a Messianic Jew, I realized with a start. I was at a Messianic Seder. Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 7.06.17 PMIn my ignorance and superficial recollection, Messianic Jews were bohemian types, “Jews for Jesus” holding signs in public squares. But this, the warmth in the room, the welcoming smiles, the young professionals sitting across from me and the elderly couples at the other tables were nothing of the sort. The blessings and chants were identical to those I sang at home.

When we arrived at the “time to eat” section of the Seder, I began talking to two women sitting beside me, both Christians in their thirties, one of whom worked in advertising like I did. She asked me how my husband and I met.

“I was on my way to Brooklyn for a Hannukah party…to meet Jewish guys,” I said. “But I had to make a pit stop at a bar for a friend’s work party, where he happened to be. I never made it to the Hannuka party,” I smiled. Come to think of it, seems like whenever I am Jewish holiday bound, God offers up an alternate route.

“You’re Jewish?” she asked. “That’s so great. It’s so great that you’re open.”

“Open? What do you mean?” I asked.

“That you’re here,” she said.

I laughed, pleasantly surprised. Being here – partaking in a Christian themed ritual had become so natural for me that it didn’t even occur to me that it might be unusual. It wasn’t something I was making an effort to do. I wasn’t trying to be open. It had become something I just did. That I wanted to do.

We began talking about dating in NYC (an endlessly amusing and frustrating topic, as I’ve blogged about ad nauseam). They were both single, hoping to meet a Christian. Another woman at our table spoke of a recent break up to a Jewish man whom she almost married.

“We were together for two years…we were so in love,” she said. She had started the process of studying with a Rabbi, considering conversion. But in the end, they couldn’t surmount their differences. More specifically, she said his parents could not.

This filled me sadness, and I looked at my husband, our eyes meeting in a shared moment of gratitude that he and I had been blessed enough to allow our faiths and shared belief in God to unite us, rather than divide us. That we had found a way to integrate our faiths, converging on this very holiday of Passover, be it the Jewish version or the Christian one. And that our families, rather than inserting a stumbling block in our path, had found a way to embrace it too.

The Seder concluded with the traditional chant, “Next year in Jerusalem!” which commemorates our exodus from slavery and into freedom, into the land of Israel.

I thought about the freedom that I had been afforded, to commemorate the rituals of my religion freely, and my husband’s too.

And I recalled how last year at this time, my husband and I were actually in Jerusalem, touring the Old City’s Jewish and Christian quarters. Celebrating Passover in the Holy Land – both mine and his.

In the cross-fade: As one phase disappears, a new one begins...

My husband and I put our Chelsea apartment on the market about 2 weeks ago, right after we found an apartment we liked on the upper upper west side. Since the sellers weren’t in a rush, I figured we weren’t either. I had until at least August to chill out in my current one bedroom, the one that I had moved into when I was single, before my husband and I started re-dating. I had some time to enjoy the roof in the summer time, and my eleven-year-old dog Gemma could chillax in the dog run too. I had some time to acclimate to the life stage shift that comes with moving to a bigger space that can accommodate a family, and all the psychological and emotional adjustments that come with it.

So we cleaned and de-cluttered our apartment. Showings began immediately, and fortunately I am able to work from home and can be on call to de-dog the apartment beforehand.

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As in, removing her dog bed from the floor, the sheet from her chaise lounge, and taking a lint brush to the couch and comforter on the bed. It’s her house, we just live in it. (and the rent aint cheap).

Around this same time, I had put the finishing touches on my memoir proposal, and my agent decided it was ready to go “on submission,” which means she puts together a list of publishers with names you may have heard of such as Random House, and submits it to them in the hopes that they buy it. Saying that I had butterflies is an understatement. My story, in a way, my baby, which had been gestating for years was going out into the world, and I was worried and excited. I had written a novel several years ago that had also had a shot at publication, so this wasn’t my first book barbecue. I knew what to expect in terms of process, patience, and the inevitable rejections. But this, this was different. This was not – and is not – fiction. This is real, this is true – or at least my experience of what is true now, and in my memory. With this book, the butterflies had blown up into monarchs that needed to chill the ef out. The book also represents my very own gestation, from young, self-absorbed, and clueless twenty something through the disillusionment and identity crisis of a single divorcee, and then to the third act of me – finding myself and subsequently my true love, my husband, whom I marry at the wizened age of forty.

On the morning my literary agent hit the proverbial “send” on my memoir, my real estate agent emailed my husband and I to say that an offer had been made on our apartment, and they wanted to move in as soon as possible – in no less than four weeks. This would mean we might need to find a temporary housing solution in the interim.

Luckily, I was in a taxi with my best friend and colleague, Kelly, because I burst into tears. “Isn’t this good news??” she asked, looking at me with compassion and confusion.

I nodded at her, as tears streamed down my face. “I feel like I got shot out of a canon, ” I told her, aware of how dramatic that sounded. “It’s a just a lot,” I said.

But tears? Like this? This was indeed good news. My thoughts immediately went to Gemma, who had just turned eleven, and this only made me weep more. I thought of her then, curled up on her throne in her palace, white face tucked into her lumpy chest – my furry baby with whom I had moved close to ten times with in the last decade, from multiple temporary homes after my ex-husband and I separated, to NYC in various sublets. Who had been my companion through all my joy and pain, and the thought of moving her yet again undid me.

But that couldn’t be the reason. Her new apartment would be so much bigger, with more territory to mark.

A few days later, the real reason dawned on me. My current apartment represents and is the last tangible vestige of the “before me.” It was an apartment that suited me when I was single and unsure of what my future looked like. It was the apartment that my husband joined me in. And now, soon, that proof of this stage of life will disappear into the past, and we will move in together to our new home – our home. This was unequivocally a joyous and momentous step and one that I had yearned for, but I don’t believe that we are able to look forward, to move forward both literally ad figuratively, without looking back at where we have been.

And Gemma represents the me that I had been. She is the one remaining thread that links me back to my former life, when I lived in LA with my former husband in my former house, and on my thirty-second birthday, I drove to the breeder’s ranch in the valley to meet her, on a mission to have a puppy. I named her Gemma because I’m a Gemini and she’s a gem and that’s the kind of cheesy shit you do when you fall head over heels for a floppy eared animal. I needed to have that dog. I needed her love.

The timing of all of this and the inherent and prominent markers of the cycles of life are not lost on me. I am getting older – transitioning into the stage of being a homemaker and a mother – as my furry child transitions out.IMG_0036

The pain and anxiousness I am experiencing must be growing pains. Or a shedding of skin. Like a caterpillar hanging upside down, getting ready to be a butterfly.

Or like standing in a crossfade. One stage of my life is fading out, and another is fading up. And I am standing right at it’s plexus, where the frames on the end of one film strand begin to darken, and a new strand, a new scene – a new life – begins to brighten.