This is part 1 of the 11 part series on the writer’s journey back to Judaism. For the other parts, read this.
Casey Kasem played on the radio. His smooth voice announcing this week’s Top 40 hits on the New York radio. It was the 1980s and Madonna and Michael Jackson ruled the airways.
The countdown was always left on a cliffhanger as we pulled up to Reform Temple, my Long Island congregation where I attended each week with my big sisters. Styled in the poshest outfit my mom could dig out of my closet that week, I went into the sanctuary. My sisters and I had joined the Temple later than the other kids that attended there. I had yet to learn the ropes.
A little back story . . . my mom had realized that my oldest sister was nearing Bat Mitzvah age. They had yet to prepare her for her Jewish coming of age celebration. Feeling a mix of religious obligation and perhaps a little “Jewish guilt,” they enrolled us in Hebrew school and became members of the Temple. We did not have much room for my big sis’ to spare as she was almost a teenager! Gulp!
Temple and I did not mix well, to put it mildly. I have a keen memory of sitting on a bench and the other kids in my class joining me. Scoot, scoot, and I was pushed off the edge of the bench with a plop. I guess I did not fit in with the cool kids, who had been going to Hebrew school much longer than this “new kid on the block.”
My one light at the Temple was the Temple Cantor. She was a kind soul that tutored me so I can say the “ch” sound like the Jewish, Long Island pros. I remember her playing contemporary Israeli music for our class. I recall keenly realizing at that time that Israel was an actual, real place! It might sound silly, I know, but somehow I thought it was an imaginary fantasyland until her record brought it to life!
She gave me a special gift before my Bat Mitzvah, an Israeli coin. She told me one day, if I ever went to Israel, I could use this coin. In a world of braces, and fluorescent sweaters, it stands out to me as a special moment in time.
That coin would be an inspiration for me many years later in my search for myself and my people.
How would I know that my journey towards my G-d and my faith had only just begun and would make many twists and turns before I found my home . . .