From Generation to Generation
Dor Va Dor -
Dor Va Dor - Our Transitions
Our lives have changed from generation to generation, as have our identities. We love our Jewish traditions yet we want to move forward and be the best we can be, the best we can have and to think with our rational, our scientific mind (if one there be). We cling to what was, the beautiful Schabbes, the chicken soup created with mother's loving hands, the spic and span home which ushered in the Sabbath Bride, the well known Zemiros after meals, the Kiddush before. Our nostalgia returns us to the past and the tranquil happy times we had together as a loving family. We remember the synagogue services where the men prayed together and we, the distaff side, looked down from the balcony or peered from behind the cloth partition to experience their actions, their performance, while we “schmused” a little with the women sitting near us or closed our eyes in reverie of the moment or prayed and sang along with the Nigunem that reached our ears from below or from behind the “protective” curtain. We did not worry about much during the peaceful Schabbat or what might await us. We enjoyed and sometimes were bored but we knew what to expect and what was expected of us.
We knew about the Mitzwot and what was acceptable and what was not. We did not turn on the gas to cook our meals after the candles had been lit, nor did we answer the telephone or engage in business after Schabbat or after Yom Tovim had begun. We did not drive automobiles (most of us did not have them) nor did we take public transportation until three stars were in the heaven.
As women we did not step up to the Bima, did not read from the Tora, or lift those holy books. We learned to pray but did not know what the prayers meant. We only knew that prayers would help to keep us from harm whatever that might be – from the Reschoim (the evil anti-semites), from diseases, pestilence and other undesirable life occurrences. Especially as children, we believed in our unseen Haschem, the kindly, powerful G’d with his long white beard above us who could see and hear everything that everyone did, felt, thought and believed. As women we accepted the phrase in the prayers that avowed that men thanked Haschem that they were not women. We somehow believed that we were an inferior breed of beings and that this was a reality, the truth, and we could not alter this “fact”. We knew that physicians were men, as were rabbis and all other people where intellect and brains were needed. We were to be cherished as pets, as cooks, as feeding and supporting our men with all of our being, “bechol, levovko, bechol nafschecho, bechol meodecho”.
Re: Love, sex and marriage. Women were forever expected to search for love and security, mostly to have children, satisfy their male partners, to be unclean/”tome” and untouchable during our menstrual period, to observe the Nide (a period to refrain from intercourse during and after the menstruation). The wet dreams / emissions of male sperm were not held in the same light and were not discussed re cleanliness or otherwise. There were no illegitimate babies in the orthodox Jewish family and sex prior to the marital bond was strictly forbidden. Children were our future, they were to carry on our traditions, our Judaism and our beliefs. Children were expected to respect their parents lest they not live long on earth.
Men and “boys” over age 13 were expected to say Kadish for their deceased parents. This seemed to be the remembrance /blessing to keep or send the departed one in the gan Eden (the Garden of Eden or heaven). This is an excellent way of keeping the parent at peace during his life, knowing that his, or her, children will always remember and keep the love for their parent eternally alive. This is a healing process for both parent and child. For the child this takes place after his or her proverbial roots have been plucked out.
Looking at current practices, realities and occurrences that have taken place and that make our former practices and beliefs not as authentic as they once were, are scientific findings, inventions, values and mores of today and their application to today’s world and especially our Jewish world, transitions and traditions. The kosher laws had many meanings. Kosher means clean to us. Pork, for instance, carried diseases and was strictly forbidden, hindquarters of animals were considered traif (unclean, not edible for the believer). I am only skimming the surface here. Kosher also keeps us separated from our non Jewish neighbors. If you can’t eat together you allegedly won’t marry or mingle seriously with outsiders. It sets the kosher Jew apart from the common, ordinary folk – the “strangers”. Keeping the kashrut laws also teaches the observant person restraint. Self control is such an essential part of all of our being. It keeps us from violence, from allowing our Id to carry out unacceptable impulses.
In the yesterday “Handarbeit” (work done by hand – or manual labor) was considered a blessing since all of clothing had to be self constructed and sewn, woven, knitted. Today we have machines that do most tasks for us re suits, dresses and other items of necessity. So too is it with times that Sabbath begins and ends. Now most everything is computed electronically, a scientific “miracle” which did not exist a few years ago. Science has changed our lives and almost all aspects of our existence.
As for sex: One reason, in addition to many others, that people restricted their conjugal activity, is that birth control did not exist as it does in our modern age. Now marriages are not common as they once were. Women have gained a great deal of equality, can support themselves and are able to learn as little or as much as their male counterparts. Muscle power is no longer absolutely essential, as everything is mechanized.
Transitions are with us but our traditions are essential to keep us emotionally and spiritually alive. We can run but we can’t hide. Anti-Semitism is unfortunately still here. We are a shrunken population. We have hidden by becoming non-persons without identity by marrying non-Jews and abandoning that which has made us brothers and sisters with common goals with uniqueness, with qualities that are specific to our heritage, our very being. It separates us and our lives from the humdrum of every day, drudgeries and from the ordinary and mundane. We have forgotten our roots, our values and the qualities that make us unique and give us a specialness that cannot be restored. We are a minute fraction of the population of the world and we are shrinking day by day. Let us keep our roots, the beauty and specialness that we were born into; the values of our forefathers and mothers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).