Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chapter 13

Israel awakened my spirit. I was there during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. I really felt I was on a mission to encourage the Israelis, but what I got was so much greater than anything I gave. I remember one night, a bunch of giggly young new recruits, mostly girls, were working late. I was intrigued and wanted to meet them, so I asked their commanding officer if I could help out. I sat down with a table full of fresh faced Israeli girls a year or two older than my girls and we sat, packing small packets of pills. It was Cipro, in a dosage for infants, in the event of a biological attack.

The girls.

On that visit , part of our work was to ready the emergency kits which would be distributed to all Israelis, and put in their sealed rooms. Many Israelis had no idea there were volunteers who came to help, and almost everyone I met was near tears when I told them why I was there. One young soldier told me "Today you changed my life. We complain about this work, but you came here for to do it for nothing, and from America!!" That is when I knew that what I was involved with was bigger than me, the soldiers, everything. I knew it was about God. I was embarrassed that the Israelis made such a fuss over me. After all, what is the big deal about taking time out of a nice comfortable middle class life for a lousy three weeks when these people live with this fear every day?

Its so easy to live a Jewish life in Israel. Everywhere else, being Jewish is like a "special condition", but in Israel the rhythm of life flows from the Jewish perspective. Even if you are the most secular atheist, you still live according to those rhythms. The weekend starts on Thursday night, everyone buys flowers for Shabbat, and many things close before sundown on Friday. All the Jewish holidays are the secular ones too.

I was there during Chanukkah, and Chanukkah was what it ought to be, a national festival celebrating an ancient military victory, not a shadow Christmas. You'd walk through the street and you'd see the chanukiot, menoras, outside, where they are supposed to be, lighting up the streets. The next day many of the little glass oil lamps would be laying broken on the pavement the way pumpkins lie smashed after Halloween. All the restaurants have menoras out front, and when you drive through the hills around Jerusalem you can see enormous menoras atop some buildings, lit with gas flames....beautiful.

Chanukah concert for the soldiers on the seventh night of the festival.

I knew how much I loved Israel, and my heritage and culture, but I also knew that if I were to live the Jewish life I wanted, I would have to go it alone. My husband's heart was not in orthodoxy, and I myself didn't know how I could ever learn to keep kosher, and follow all the rules. I love spending Shabbat with my observant friends, but in order to have that life, I'd have to leave the one I have worked so hard at. I'd have to sacrifice a wonderful marriage to a man I am still in love with, and I would have to alienate my children. Why would God want me to destroy these precious lives? He wouldn't.

And then there were my other issues with Halacha, Jewish Law. I won't go into a long discussion here, because I am not a theologian, but there was one issue that really bothered me. In Jewish law, there is an issue that rarely gets a mention, that of the mamzer, the illegitimate child. Now, Jewish law in this regard is not like modern law, in that illegitimacy is not the same as "out of wedlock. In Jewish law, a child born of adultery or incest is considered to have an inheritable spiritual defect which follows through all subsequent generations. A mamzer can only marry another mamzer. This isn't a rabbinic interpretation, its right there in in Deauteronomy 23:3. Leaving modern sensitivities aside for the moment, we've been around as a people a very long time, and most of our records are lost. How would anyone today know if they had this "spiritual stain" in their background? This is a very tough issue in the observant community when it comes to the children of an adulterous relationship. "Adultery" can happen very easily if one partner ceases to be religious, and gets a secular divorce. If the religious partner remarries and has children, those children are considered mamzerim.

So who has the power to remove this strange spiritual defect?( "mum" strange; "zer" defect").
Two words: Jesus Christ.

More tomorrow........
p.s. strange and funny thing: when I did the "spell check" the word manger came up as a replacement for mamzer!