Monthly Archives: November 2010

Big

My big girl's big shoes. School shoes directly above; basketball shoes at top. I like her style. November 2010.

Remember the movie from 1988 (I checked, I did not remember) called “Big”?  A 12-year-old boy, probably a Jewish boy, judging from his name which was Josh Baskin, wished he was big.  Josh awoke the next morning, (played by 22-years-younger Tom Hanks) with the body of a grown man, a 30-ish looking guy.  

And since he is “big” he ventures out into the world.  His heart and mind and understanding of the world is still that of a 12-year-old boy, but he is “big” and goes out to navigate the world, with the world understanding him to be a grown man.  As I remember, (I looked on the internet but did not re-rent the movie) there are funny scenes; he gets a job, he decorates a New York loft to suit his interests as a 12 -year-old boy.  The movie is a fantasy with some very funny scenes.   But it is fantasy–not only the premise– that someone could wake up to find themselves fully grown, but the emotional plotline.  Over all Josh is not frightened or lonely as a 12-year-old would be, to be in those situations.  Fun, but total fantasy.      

My girl is suddenly “big” with feet that can practically make do with my adult shoes.  She often wants to dress like me (this flatters me) and wants me to dress, at times, just like her (this stymies me, though we do figure out some version for me sometimes, of her amazing outfits, conceived of entirely by her– the things she wears and wishes I could truly replicate). 

I was late to grow as a child– and until mid-high school was considerably smaller than many girls my age.  My mother recently brought two dresses of mine from when I was young, for my daughter.  One is a floaty, aqua blue drop-waist dress with a knife-pleated skirt and a large sailor collar that I chose for my eighth grade graduation.  I was very small and skinny.  The other, a simple grey wool jumper that I sewed and wore a lot at about the same time in my life.  Although she hasn’t actually tried the dresses on, I can see that they are either just right for my daughter or maybe a little small.  As a 9-year-old, she is about the size I was when I graduated from junior high.  

On two separate outings recently we’ve bought my daughter two pairs of necessary new shoes, pictured above.  One pair to start her career on the 4th-5th grade girls basketball team where she will play for the first time.  Coached by her mommy, my partner.  The other pair, a knock-off of Converse high tops, which I love, but cannot believe are now a style she loves.

She is big, but so needing the things that young people need; closeness, gentleness, lots of laughter and contact through rough and tumble physical play.  The rough and tumble play, she needs– like every day, which is reasonable, though often hard to squeeze in.  She is interested in all kinds of things– writing a blog, baking things, and she wants explanations of the many, many interesting things in this world as well as the terrible and the weird (like sexism and for example, the bizarre presence of implied sex and weird portrayals of women to sell endless merchandise, “why do they put a picture like that to sell….?” she asks).     

Despite all this growing-up-ness, she often wishes I could still pick her up and carry her– a nostalgia I must admit I share.   And a desire I cannot fulfill, but that I think is emotionally reasonable on her part.  

Two things come into my mind.  One is that she was days old when we went to Texas where she was born, to meet her and to bring her into our family.  Very early one morning, sitting with my baby in my lap in the “living room” of our Embassy Suites hotel room, while my partner caught a little sleep, I called a close friend back home in the midwest.  Happy to connect with this wonderful woman friend, also a mom, I cried, for the joy of having my new daughter in my life and in my lap.  My friend said to me, “you can be this close to her, as you are right now, for the rest of your life.  It is possible.”  Her words have been among the words that have been like a north star for me as a parent. 

Four years earlier than that June in Texas, before my daughter was born, we had a visit here from my sister and her two sons, when my younger nephew was just 11 weeks old.  My partner, sister, four-year-old nephew, and new baby nephew and I were out on a very hot summer day, on the outdoor plaza of a museum.  I got separated from the other three for just a few minutes, my 11-week-old nephew in a sling nestled against the front of me, sleeping.  A woman about my age stopped me so warmly, assuming he was my baby and peered in and asked how old he was.  “Eleven weeks” I said, proudly.  She gestured to a boy, to my eye, a huge boy, across the plaza and said, “they’re just as wonderful and delicious at 11 years old, as at 11 weeks”.  I loved her tenderness and have never forgotten that exchange between us; two women, one a mother, one still to be. 

My girl is not 11 yet, but it is coming faster and faster and faster, and though I have a powerful nostalgia for the days when I could pick her up and carry her in my arms (which I did well into toddlerhood and beyond), big amazes me, but it does not, as my friend promised, mean the end of close or tender or full of love.  And the replacement of tiny feet you can hold in the palm of your hand, with feet that are big, is nothing but the good, growing passage of time.

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Women writing, NaNoWriMo 2011, blogs and blogs, and our old feminist bookshop

 

 

One of next year's two NaNoWriMo writers--at our house!

NaNoWriMo. Google it.  Read about it.  I can’t date the beginning of my relationship first with zines, then blogs to the day, exactly, but I know roughly when I started finding each one and hungry for more, looking for the next.  It began about five or maybe six years ago.  For me, the entrance of zines and then blogs into my world, zines and blogs mostly by women, mostly by mothers who were interested in writing and other art, was the re-entry of the possibility, followed by the more regular practice, of my writing.  Not legal briefs, not grant reports, but writing.  This kind of writing, and a few poems.

The zines and blogs I found when I first started finding them were almost all by women.  Mothers.  They created a kind of hopeful excitement and enthusiasm for me that I had felt at other times at feminist cultural events, concerts, poetry readings, and very often at gatherings and events at my partner’s old feminist bookstore.  Her wonderful little shop, now gone to give way for things that cannot even begin to replace what her bookstore was and did and offered.

I have said it before; I am a loyal girl– the first blogs I read were these; Ariel Gore, Susan Ito, Vicki Forman.  Now, two women, MamaCandtheBoys and Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser are part of my weekly nutrition.

Susan Ito, I think, took the NaNoWriMo challenge at least once a number of years ago and wrote on her blog about it.  I read with interest about her adventures with this challenge.  Other blogging women whose names I do not remember, but who read or were linked to or commented on Susan’s blog, did too.  So through her, and other women working on the same project with her, I learned of NaNoWriMo.

I have never given even one thought to writing a novel.  My very literary friends, my less literary but book-group going friends–many are puzzled by my overall lack of deep interest in the great form– the novel.  I don’t actually read that many of them.  I don’t have a philosophy about this, I don’t defend it.  I write poetry, short stories, this blog, other prose and for now at least, that is it.  I read the same; poems, essays, short stories, journalism, things now called creative non-fiction.

Novel writers have enormous, inventive imaginations and I wouldn’t say longer, but very different attention spans than mine.  They must have both longer attention spans and a lesser need to hold a whole piece in mind and understand every part of it intimately.  Or an ability to hold larger pieces of work in mind all at once, than what I can hang on to.  I like something I can practically memorize.  I can read (and have read) the same poems, the same short stories or essays literally dozens and dozens of times and still return to them, over and over and over, wanting what each has to offer and learning something new with each read.  I don’t have that relationship at this time, with novels.

As I began moving around through the blogosphere, I learned about many outlets for writers, many things about what is currently going on in the writing world, with great interest.  But as I came across other writers in subsequent years who were working on NaNoWri Mo I never gave it the slightest thought for myself, for all the aforementioned reasons.  For a writer and a poet and lover of poetry, and a very avid reader of poetry, I am rigidly, strangely literal about some things.   I couldn’t do it because I am not a novelist nor am I would-be novelist.

Recently, I have been reading Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser quite regularly.  In the past several days Sarah has been writing a lot about how overwhelmingly busy, exhausted-to-the-bone she is.  For me as a reader, I met this with  sympathy and concern.

Last night, later at night, I finally had some time.  Not a lot, but a little.  And I sat quietly and read carefully Sarah’s blog post about doing NaNoWriMo with her son, the same blog posts I have been skimming at breakneck speed before I shut down the computer.  She described some things about working day and night or whenever she does work, on 50,000 words of memoir for NaNoWriMo about her family’s open adoption of her daughter, her youngest child.  She describes some of what she is learning and thinking as she writes– about adoption, open adoption.

I called my partner into the room.  For starters, I wanted her company.  I also thought she-who-reads-no-blogs would get a kick out of learning about NaNoWriMo.   Because Sarah’s piece was not only about NaNoWriMo but also about adoption, a subject dear to us, I read it aloud to my partner– who is both a reader and a truly outgoing person, and likes to know who my blogger women friends are and what is up with them and what I am reading.

My partner, as I have written before, ran an important feminist bookstore in the 1970’s and 1980’s and early 1990’s.  She ran it with a love of women’s voices, the work of women, the ideas of women, a love of and commitment to communal spaces for women to share these ideas.  Many now well-known women writers found an important venue and welcoming home for their very important work, in hers and other bookshops like hers.  May Sarton, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Dorothy Allison, Adrienne Rich, Cheryl Clarke, June Jordan, Evi Beck, Sara Paretsky,  and many, many others read, drew women together around  them to hear their words, and found engaged and welcoming audiences in that bookshop.  I fell in love with my partner there, but also away from there, when she wasn’t working at making the place run, but could tell me and I could listen to what she thought and what doing what she did meant to her.  Her store was a very special place.

Social media and the internet are amazing ways to build connections that couldn’t happen otherwise.  This post is all about what I have found in this relatively new way.  There are new cultural spots for young women inventing themselves and their own cultures now.  But while the presence of the internet and social media have brought us connections we could never have made without them, they have also replaced to some extent, what they cannot possibly replace;  people coming together to think and create together in the same physical space, in real contact with one another.  My partner’s store was never a profitable place; she wanted and insisted on too many things with too much integrity and she served too many women with too little money, for it to succeed in that way.  It was more like a community center, and ultimately her need to make a living made it impossible to continue.

For years I have tried different tactics to cajole, coerce, pressure, help, support, entice or otherwise convince my partner to write the stories of her shop and its amazing history and life.  I want her and many others for that matter, to write and to preserve what happened there, which is important.  I also know, which she does not, that her particular voice is critical to preserve.  Sometimes she has even agreed, but she has never done it.  But last night I read her the description of NaNoWriMo and then most of Sarah’s blog post.  I looked up at her and said, we are too deep in November to start now.  What do you say, next year I will work on something for NaNoWriMo if you take the month of November and write 50,000 words about your bookstore?  To my surprise she nodded, walked over to me, gave me a high-five, a fist bump, a big smile and her enthusiastic agreement.  And a kiss.

Stay tuned.  And thank you Sarah, for the hours of lost sleep and aching neck and back or whatever happens when you work too hard for weeks on end.  One good work begets others.  I cannot wait to read more of yours and my partner’s new work, coming next fall.

Dreams of Talleisim– once more on my Bat Mitzvah

 

This is a piece that was mostly written on the date below, before the Bat Mitzvah.  Now I have completed it.

my tallis, purchased for Bat Mitzvah, October 2010-- the photo doesn't fully do it justice...

October 12, 2010. A tallis or tallit is a Jewish prayer shawl.  Tallis and tallit are English transliterations of a Yiddish and also a Hebrew (Sephardic) and Ladino word.  In my growing up, and traditionally, only men wore a tallis.  A tallis is a tallis by virtue of one feature– the tallis has special twined and knotted fringes known as tzitzit attached to its four corners.  And there is one prohibition set out in the Torah; the tallis can be made of any materials except a mixture of wool and linen (shatnez) interwoven which is strictly prohibited by the Torah.  There is generally a collar piece sewn onto the center of one of the long sides of the shawl, with a prayer of some sort embroidered onto it.

Traditionally men also wear a head covering called a yarmulke in Yiddish and a kippah in Hebrew (Lest there be confusion, I am supplying the name in two different languages for the same thing).  A yarmulke is a skullcap that is worn, if you are less observant, in a synagogue, and if more observant, all the time.

As women have taken more active roles in Jewish religious services, many women choose to wear a yarmulke and a tallis, and many women who do not wear a yarmulke still do choose to wear a tallis– which has, for me at least, a very female feel to it.  It is after all, a shawl.  I will wear a tallis for my Bat Mitzvah but I do not yet own one.   Traditionally, you do not wear a tallis until you are a bar or bat mitzvah– but that doesn’t actually mean until you have celebrated– it means until you reach the age of legal responsibility in Judaism. For boys this is age 13, and for girls this is age 12.  So theoretically I could have been wearing a tallis since I was 12, but I have not and I have always felt, I think, that for me, I didn’t want to do so unless and until I celebrated a Bat Mitzvah.  But I decided that I will wear a tallis for the Bat Mitzvah itself.

Because I don’t want the Bat Mitzvah to emulate the ways I have often studied or prepared for something in college and law school– with a huge, frenzied rush at the last minute– I have been trying to figure out what tallis I want and where to buy it.    I like beautiful handwoven shawls and looked to find weavers who weave talleisim (Yiddish plural of tallis).  I have also looked online at a web business from Israel that sells nothing but talleisim.

The other night, I dreamed of this task; shopping for and choosing a tallis.  The dream was amazing and also made me realize how nervous I am about this upcoming event.  The dream was — the way dreams can be, seemingly very realistic but fantastic when considered later and awake.  I dreamed that I was at my synagogue– as often am these days, at a time not for services, but doing something.  These days I spend time taking my daughter to and from religious school, hanging out while she is there, going to meet and work with my Hebrew tutor, waiting for her or waiting for my daughter.  I wander around much more than ever before and I know the building better than I used to.

In this dream I was at the synagogue, but everywhere I went, there were stacks of carefully folded talleisim– and displays up on screens and on the walls of talleisim hanging on display.  They were really everywhere and all were for sale.  There were more talleisim, I think than the supply needed to supply the whole metro area with talleisim.

They were in the halls of the religious school area– piled up in stacks on the end tables of the Rabbi’s office, in stacks in the office of his assistant, on display and in neat stacks in the halls of the religious school and in the social hall.  Wherever you walked there were talleisim.  In the dream, I looked at and tried on many of them.  And what was amazing was that my own former quilter’s and former weaver’s mind, invented in the dream, the fabrics, colors and patterns of dozens of them.  Raw silk and organza, heavy woven fabrics, traditional cream-colored fabrics and more modern designs with backgrounds of blues and greys.  In the dream I tried on tallis after tallis, looking at them, feeling the feel of the fabric and its weight on my shoulders.  I awoke before I chose one.

Later in October. In real life I looked at dozens of them online– over the course of about 3 days– but I was bothered by the idea of making such a purchase online.  It seemed, well, weird–not personal enough a transaction for such a personal object.  This was to be the kind of purchase where if possible I wanted to know the weaver , seamstress, or at the very least the shopkeeper.

Our synagogue has a very neglected and almost never open, little gift shop.  Peering through the window, of the semi-dark, always-closed shop, I could see that there were at least four and maybe more, talleisim.  So one evening in October, while my daughter was at Hebrew school, I asked them to open up the shop and I spent about 35 minutes in the empty shop, looking at and trying on all the  talleisim. While no one would ever consider me a high fashion girl, I do have a good eye and I am very particular.

It was easy to rule out almost all of the talleisem in our little shop for one reason or another.  A couple were just way too expensive.  A couple were fussy in a way that didn’t appeal to me and still a couple of others were made of fabric so stiff that I thought the tallis would fall off if I wasn’t actually holding it and so would likely fall off while I was reading from the Torah scroll.  I came upon one though, that I liked and it grew on me later, after I went home that night.  Made by a woman, of a very traditional cream-colored fabric with some very traditional silver stripes woven into the fabric at the ends– but with a beautiful either batik or hand painted silk fabric in blues and purple– at the ends and neck.   Blues and purples in waves– like mountains in the distance, dusk, night, peering far, far away into the night sky.  Or the ocean at night.  Or the desert.

I went back a few days later with my daughter and partner and purchased it from our little neglected store at the synagogue.   My mother and partner then asked me if they could pay for it– buy it for me, though I had selected it.  I loved it more and looked forward to wearing it.  It also happened to work well with the dress I had bought a year earlier for a wedding and had planned to wear.

Late at night on Wednesday before the Bat Mitzvah, when my sister and her sons were getting ready to leave, it began to dawn on me that although I miss my father often– it is rare that I feel like it is practically impossible to do something in the present, to have life continue, without him.  But it began to feel so strange, not right, to have a Bat Mitzvah without him.  I had not thought about this much, but it came into sharp focus as the time drew close.

It also dawned on me that my older nephew had worn my father’s tallis for his Bar Mitzvah a little over four years ago.  I texted my sister very late at night and asked if she could find his tallis and remember to pack it and bring it with her.  Miraculously (you understand this as a miracle if you have worked a day job and gotten two children ready for a trip anytime recently) she texted back in minutes that she would bring it with her.

When they arrived, I looked at it closely– the tallis I had seen my father wear all of his life to pray.  I had seen him carry it in its beautiful velvet pouch, so many times, for services, funerals, celebrations; his shoes shined and shirt and suit and tie impeccable.  His very curly, short, black hair in place.  I realized that he had been given this tallis for his own bar mitzvah.  I did the math.  1939 is when he would have become a bar mitzvah.   The beginning of the Holocaust.  His birthday, and the likely date of his Bar Mitzvah, one day close to January 31, 1939, was just 2 1/2 months after Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. I thought about being a very small (he was) dark-haired, Jewish boy, standing before a congregation, proclaiming his Judaism and about what was happening in Europe at exactly the same time.  What was still to happen to his people.  My father; the man I knew.  My father; the 13-year-old Jewish boy.  Instead of the beautiful, carefully chosen tallis, I chose to have my Bat Mitzvah wrapped in my father’s tallis, now our tallis, our close and complicated life together, our shared past.

Above, my father's tallis, close-up of the neckpiece with the blessing of the tallis embroidered in gold color thread, and at bottom the deep purple, velvet pouch in which he kept it. Given to him for his Bar Mitzvah, winter, Chicago, 1939.

Jail

I am auditing a law school class on Juvenile justice and Special Education– and the link between them.  Special Education issues were prominently at the edges of the job I’ve just been laid off from (if you know what I mean by prominently at the edges) which was doing advocacy for adults with developmental disabilities.  When I was laid off, a friend/colleague of mine who teaches and runs a clinical program supervising law students to provide representation on these issues, offered me the opportunity to audit his class.  I jumped at the chance, because so much of what captures my mind and heart has to do with the circumstances of young people– all young people.

On the Tuesday, before my Bat Mitzvah, an overcast but beautiful fall day, I drove to our jurisdiction’s jail and met a small group of my fellow law school class members and my three professors for a tour of the facility that houses young people and a tour of their inside-the-jail school.

This will not be a long essay on any aspect these subjects. But there is a link that no one can miss between racism and incarceration in the U.S.  This is true for adults who are incarcerated and true for youth who are incarcerated. Among youth who are, in some form or another, incarcerated– there is a connection between unmet special education needs and incarceration. Although it only takes a certain kind of exposure to know these things in a common sense sort of way, there is quite a bit of research and academic study demonstrating these connections.

Here where I live, like in all of America, a greatly disproportionate number of young people of color– young black people– are incarcerated.  Of these young people, many have previously unmet or undiagnosed needs for special education.  How to get the school system and jail to provide the appropriate, legally mandated education to these young people who, hopefully will make it out of these systems is, in part, the subject of the law school course.

I have spent time, not as an inmate, but as a lawyer, inside the jail before, though it has been a very long time since I did.  When you tour a jail you never really know whether you will be touring parts of a facility that are empty of people at the time (generally the preference of prison administrators) or otherwise.

When our small group finally made our way in (“getting processed” always takes forever– the showing of i.d., signing in, etc.) we were met by nearly as many jail personnel as there were among us who had come for the tour.   Literally.  We walked a hallway, took an elevator and then entered the day room where the young men who are incarcerated there– 37 of them was the count on that day– were hanging out finishing their lunches and talking, playing cards and ping-pong.

I sucked my breath in and looked around– looked at these young men– boys really– the age of my older nephew.  The young men on this unit are 16–18 years old.  All in the unmistakable orange jumpsuits of our jail system here, all with white standard issue slip-on sneaker-style shoes.  All young black men except for two or maybe three.  Some of them truly beautiful young men.

On the outside, in the phone book and for professionals they do not actually call this jail– it has a fancier name with the word “treatment” in it, because as a result of some of the litigation my colleague/ professor friend and others have done, things are better than they used to be, and there is a greater focus on rehabilitation for these young people and a lesser focus on punishment.  I don’t know what the young men who live there call it.

I do not make light of the things that have landed them where they are.  The things they have done or are alleged to have done; armed robberies, armed car-jacking, murder, other violence– are things that I too would be terrified and would never want to be on the wrong end of.   (Well on any end of, actually.)  I also know enough about some of the individuals there (because they are clients of the legal clinic) to know that for most, there is a story that would break your heart, of the things that have happened to them in their lives prior to landing where they are now.  Things that no one could ever argue were their responsibility or doing.

As I said hello to one or two, my thought was, “you should be home, home with your mama, going to school, trying out things that interest you, shooting hoops, hanging with your friends.”  I could see them as boys, just boys.  Boys just the age a boy would be if I had had a son at the very beginning of the time I started trying to become a parent.

The noise on the unit was mindbending.  Cinderblock and no carpet, no upholstery, nothing soft or cloth coupled with so many noisy, talking, laughing boys, and the wide, wide open, easy to observe spaces of a day room in a jail.  The noise just bounces off the walls and seems to reverberate indefinitely.  And it was hot and stuffy.  They were lovely to watch.  I have been, as I said, around other prison populations before but despite the horrible circumstances, and different from adult populations, the room had the feel of many rooms full of young people– alive and even hopeful in the way young people are.  Playing, kidding, smiling big smiles, laughing and talking.

I was touched by them, heartbroken, and liked them all at once.  I could see in many of their faces, the faces of other boys I know and love.  And since I am on a quest to figure out something about what kind of work would fill my heart– I wondered– would I like to be a teacher in the schools these boys attend before they are in prison?  Would I like to actually be one of their classroom teachers in the jail?  A social worker listening to their stories?  A lawyer, litigating their special education claims?

Although I was touched while I was there, I was also very glad to walk out the door onto the relative quiet of the street and the movement of air.   I hope each of them gets that chance too.  I hope for each of them that they can walk out into the same beautiful world we all live in, unbroken.  And soon.

 

Bat Mitzvah

I have been gone awhile.  I’ve not actually been far away, either in reality or in my mind, though if you open this blog several times to the same post that was there two weeks ago, you have no way of knowing that I’ve not gone far.  I have begun several things I wanted to write, but have not finished and hit publish.  The Bat Mitzvah that I have been first studying for, then later trying to imagine and then finally preparing for with determination–is over.  

Yesterday at our synagogue, gathered a big group of women and men and young people.  My people (those there for me) were people I love and have known a long time.  They came for me and for this event and to be with each other.  That was lovely.  My family and friends sat, not front and center, but most of them on the far left side (from the vantage of the bima where I sat) in our wide, semicircular sanctuary.  They were positioned so that I could look and smile right at them during all the times I was not working up front, and watch them– their good, good faces.  I loved that so many of my people were there. 

I and each of my four Bat Mitzvah sisters read from the Torah and gave what is called a drash or a drush (short for Midrash– which means story or commentary)– a short speech about our interpretation or our findings of current meaning in our ancient portion.  These are also called Dvar Torah, which I think means literally “Torah thing”– or something about the Torah portion you have read.  I will write more about this experience in the coming days–as well as about other things that have happened recently and which are on my mind.  But for now here is the Dvar Torah that I read from the bema on Saturday:

D’var Torah II
Parashat Chayei Sarah;
October 30, 2010
           

I will be reading Genesis 23:7-11.  The verses describe Abraham, who is living among the Hittites, seeking to purchase a piece of land for a gravesite for his wife, Sarah.  This section begins with Abraham in the land of the Hittites “bowing low to the people of the land”. 

Abraham wants not just a gravesite, but a specific piece of land.  He goes to  Ephron, a Hittite, who owns the field and the cave of Machpelah and asks Ephron to sell it to him as an inalienable gravesite at the market price. Ephron says “Land worth 400 Shekels of silver—what is that between you and me?”  In so saying Ephron names his price. 

Abraham pays that price and, the reading says “Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre in the land of Canaan. Thus was confirmed Abraham’s acquisition from the Hittites of the field and its cave as a fully owned gravesite.”  There is additional language signifying that this was a carefully executed sale in accordance with the law of the land.  It is believed that all of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs except for Rachel were buried at this site.

Commentators on these verses generally agree that the price Ephron set and was paid was, for the times, an inflated price.   Reading the commentary I thought about the consensus that Abraham paid more than the “fair” price.

 Abraham wants, after all, to ensure that Sarah’s burial ground will remain intact and in his family forever.  Abraham is older than Sarah, and one would assume that he is contemplating, not only a final resting place for Sarah, but also his own mortality and his desire to be buried alongside his wife in the future.  

I thought about the question– what is a fair price for something?  Whether the price Ephron sought was fair or not, I don’t know.  But I believe Abraham paid a fair price.  Abraham acted with integrity, paying what was asked—because he could apparently afford that price and because he knew he wanted a future that would rest on having made a business deal with integrity.   Perhaps the lesson of the story is about Abraham’s integrity.  Each one of us can always act with integrity; we have control over our own integrity in any exchange.   

I also grew interested in another aspect of this reading.  Rabbi F.  explained to me that the name of that land and cave—Machpelah, comes from the same root as the word Kaful—which means “to double” or doubling.   The commentator Rashi says that the cave was called Machpelah, because it contained an upper and a lower chamber and that because of its size and structure, was suitable not only for one person’s burial, but for several couples to be buried there.  Abraham was very specific in his negotiation with the Hittites.  He did not want just any land; he wanted to purchase the “field and the cave of Machpelah.”

 I am interested in what might be significant to us about this idea of doubling.   In Abraham’s insistence on the large cave of Machpelah he sought a burial site that would be suitable for many couples. The idea of doubling, of growing in numbers can be drawn from the name of the cave, as well as from what we are told is the structure of the cave of Machpelah—a cave with an upper and a lower chamber. 

We make much, in Judaism, of lineage, but we grow as a community and maintain our community not only through our children but through our chosen family as well.  Traditionally adults marry. In my life as well, I have built my family with a wonderful partner, M.  Whether married or not, if we have a life partner, we form a fundamental partnership specifically with someone not a biologic relation.   We form family by “doubling” but not through biologic relation.  We “double” and grow, through friendship and community that become family to us, as well.

In Judaism there is great emphasis on the questions;  Who are you descended from?  Who are your descendants? 

I am very proud of the people from whom I am descended.  I am proud to be a Jew and proud of my Jewish foremothers and forefathers. I am also blessed with a wonderful daughter.  N.  Not born to me and not part of my biologic lineage, and yet fully my daughter, and fully a Jewish girl.  I am my daughter’s mother and through me, she is a Jew.  And she too has a lineage, of which I hope she will always be proud.  And her lineage is now part of me, as mine is part of her.  Thus my own family is not one solely of biologic relations, but a family of “doubling” of adding to our Jewish life and community.  We are a family not through lineage but through love and partnership, as are each of your families, however they are configured.

 I think that Abraham’s absolute insistence that he own the field and the cave of Machpelah, a cave large enough to be a gravesite for his wife, and daughters-in-law as well as his sons is a reminder to us that the bonds of choice, of chosen partnerships and chosen children, are also the backbone of our communities and are sacred.  Inalienably sacred.  We are reminded by the cave of Machpelah, that we double, we grow and we forge life sustaining bonds of love and commitment. 

My great-grandmother Rose, and my grandfather, Louis, taught me nothing about Torah or study.  Neither of them had much formal education.  But they each taught me a lot about how to love and be loved, which is the message of our Torah.  Thank you all for being with me.  A special thanks goes to Rabbi F. and to my tutor, A., who have both been extraordinary tutors.  Finally I want to explain that my partner M. and my mother bought a beautiful tallis for me, for this day.  But when my sister and nephews arrived from the midwest, they brought me the tallis which my father wore at his Bar Mitzvah in 1939, and which I am wearing today.  So I have him with me as well. 

This Torah reading – a direct continuation of the previous one — begins on Page 41 of the JPS Tanakh.