She is in sea-foam green, a mother-of-the-Shabbat-bride color. There are a thousand people in the sanctuary – not a sight we see but for the High Holidays. There are several wheel chairs, a therapy dog, some crutches (physical and emotional), clergy of different faiths/colors/genders, and children. Children everywhere – the adopted ones, the new born ones, the newly out gay ones, the mixed race, the Asian and the Latinas – the toddlers dance to the music. Good hearts everywhere.
Tonight we are all Jews, one big people of the book. We celebrate, pray, mark time. A first-ever. A woman takes the pulpit. She follows in her own footsteps. She was our first ever woman Rabbi; and now she is our first ever woman Senior Rabbi. (She told me to bring my own toilet paper to the hospital when I gave birth – only a woman Rabbi could know.) And maybe you say, that this is no big deal (though trust her on the toilet paper), that there are women Rabbis everywhere, but her daughter tells the story of a street in Israel – heckled, judged, and threatened to be banned from prayer for showing the skin of her arms.
The daughter, she raises her voice, honoring her mother, as if rhetoric is her blood – a southern-Baptist-preacher –like-cadence, a New York City spoken word poetry jam rhythm. They say trauma can be inherited, so why not the morning light-steady regularity of sun-in-your-eyes-brilliance? Why not spirit-moving word and a voice that demands a reach into that one something usually too high up to see in yourself? “Mom,” she says, “Can I ask you a question? Were you ever afraid?” A throbbing good heart.
Before tonight I had never been to an installation. Well, there were the kitchen appliances, but that is an installation of another ilk. (Terrible joke. The word made me do it.) Not so different from a Bat Mitzvah – circling her to root her – she the center of our communal compass – as the Torah passed from generation to generation. We proclaimed, “These are the stories of our people; and you and us, and together in this Temple, we are its keepers.”
“Yes, I am with you,” she said to us, her congregation. “Yes, I am devoted to this place, to these teachings, to this time in our lives together.” The little boy who used to play with the wheels of his stroller while I was huge and pregnant is there – he is now fourteen. The little girl brought home from another country and named under the eternal light in the sanctuary is up and down from her seat a hundred times. Her body is visibly more a woman’s then a girl’s. My own son is helping with the little ones downstairs, a Bar Mitzvah’d boy, old enough to give that which he received.
This installation – this public declaration of our faith in her leadership; our commitment to praying with her; our recognition of the learnedness of this Rabbi, this mother, this wife, this sister, daughter, friend, boss, colleague – this declaration is a claim on our home. We may not cook and clean and pay bills in this building, but, look. Here is the traipsing forward of our lives – from unmarried to married to remarried to the grocery store and then on to death, birth, high school, career; to yesterday, tomorrow and today. What was chased is found: belonging. These toddlers dancing, this sea-foam-Shabbat dress, they will be passed on and on and on. This home forever made up of these good hearts.
© Gabriella Strecker, 2016
photo courtesy of http://img.auctiva.com/imgdata/6/6/4/2/3/0/webimg/736515785_tp.jpg