In a time when anti-semitism rears an ugly head far too often, I want to use this space to celebrate my life within Judaism.
I am Jewish. I was not born into Judaism. I was raised in a very liberal (both politically and religiously) Protestant church. The services, which were very much oriented around community action, lacked ceremony, and were emotionally bland. I did not soar in that setting (although, the beautiful organ in the sanctuary gave me chills when joined with the choir, from time to time.)
I knew something was lacking, and I “knew” my true identity when I was rather young. I think this background has led me to a deep spiritual comfort within Judaism. I did not have to go through the mandatory Hebrew school. Laws for Kashrut and for maintaining the Sabbath, and other Jewish practices were never a part of my life. I have had nobody ever tell me what it meant to be Jewish, I have “invented” it as I have gone along.
Also, I did not have parents who were traumatized by their Jewish faith. So many of my friends were children of Holocaust survivors. Those people, who had seen the scary devastation as a result of their faith, and continued to practice Judaism openly, those are my heroes.
I have a number of friends who decry organized religion. I do not see my practice of Judaism as “organized.” Perhaps, my spiritual practice is organized more as the twelve-step, “Take what you want and leave the rest” belief in a Higher Power with a deeply moral code to help me decide how to negotiate the world.
One of my most treasured possessions is my tallit (prayer shawl). This was made for me when I took on my Hebrew name—Alona Tszipporah. My name means “bird in an oak tree.” I named myself after my Aunt Allie, the strongest woman I ever knew. That was the oak tree. When I contemplated the “tree”, I immediately knew trees were too sedentary. I became the bird in the tree, blessed and nurtured by it, but able to fly beyond it.
My tallit, made by Shana, a wonderful, creative friend in Virginia, features the tree, the bird, and the wings of God. I can, and do, wrap myself in Her wings when seeking further strength, or solace.
I am deeply proud to be a part of a community which honors moral standards and learning.
This is the poem I wrote to commemorate my conversion, honoring the bird in an oak tree.
Prayer of the Oak Tree and the Bird
Let me grow straight and tall
my roots deeply grounded in the Earth,
my arms reaching up toward the bounty of heaven.
Let my skin grow as tough as bark,
Let my resolve become as strong as a tree trunk
Let my beauty be a reflection of all creation.
Let me provide cooling shade on days that are hot,
shelter within my sturdy limbs for those in need
as Love envelops us all in her gossamer wings.
Let me dance to the music of the wind.
Let me drink in the cooling waters of the rain.
Let me nourish my hunger in the warm glow of the sun.
As Spirit provides us
with all we need for a life of fulfillment,
good deeds and peace.
Let my soul soar through the skies,
resting on clouds of rich, white velvet
riding across azure oceans on gentle breezes,
flying over glorious sunsets
and quiet purple moon-rise
in search of Everlasting meaning,
a glimpse of paradise,
an encounter with eternity,
a journey to sacred space.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"