When I was little, my grandmother would tell me about her family and how it was when she grew up. She told me her mother was born in Germany, that her mother and her mother's family all spoke Hoch Duetsch (a very formal form of German). They were taught to respect all religions, but never to do anything that might make someone think one was Jewish. My grandmother's generation was the first to be born in the US. Her generation only learned English. She told me about how her grandmother had a wonderful, large wedding certificate hanging on the wall. That was how it was done in the old country.
When I went to college, I studied German to try to get back my heritage and my culture. It had been lost in English Only. My grandmother would ask if I were learning Hoch Duetsch. Yes, Gramma. Then she would tell me something her grandmother would say and how her grandmother spoke Hoch Duetsch. Not like that, she didn't! Gramma's German was horrible. Was it my grandmother not learning the words right?
I remember my grandmother talking about her siblings and saying from their names: Sydney, Benjamin, Esther, Harold, Alfrieda, Naomi, they sounded as if they were Jewish.
I started to wonder. Then I started to search. First, I discovered my grandmother's mother was born in Dittersdorf, East Prussia. The name of the town is something else now, but it's in what's now Lithuania. Hmmmm..... I wonder if the big wedding certificate was a ketubah.
By the time my mother was born, the family really was Lutheran. And I was raised Catholic. But I never fit in well. So I tried an assortment of Protestant churches. Didn't fit in there, either.
After I graduated from law school, I decided it was someday and I went in search of a temple where I could learn Hebrew. To my surprise, I fit in better in the temple than I had in any church I had ever gone to. About this time, my friends started asking when the conversion was going to be. Nope - not going to convert.
A few years ago, I was reading one of Faye Kellerman's books and made a startling discovery. There was my grandmother's German - but it wasn't German. It was Yiddish. And who spoke Yiddish in 1890 in East Prussia almost in Russia? Not Lutherans. There's a direct female line from my great-great-grandmother to me. I'm Jewish.
I started celebrating the Jewish holidays. I started going to the temple in Las Cruces. I'm Jewish, but I wasn't brought up that way. I still had one hurdle to jump.
Tomorrow, May 1, I jump the final hurdle. The rabbi calls it "mutual adoption" or conversion. I call it reversion. As a friend of mine put it, I'm going back to a home I never knew existed.
To celebrate, I made my tallit. I decided to put five rows of fancy stitches all in assorted shaded of purple. Purple is a color of healing and also the color of the tassel you get when you graduate from law school. Life, at least my life, is a long process of healing and working for justice. The stitches are different and the colors are different because healing and justice frequently take forms different from what we expect.
The Hebrew on the collar piece is the first line of Psalm 139 - my favorite psalm.
The tzitzit are made from different color cords. The white is traditional, the blue violet is also traditional but to me it symbolizes Israel, the green is for the Arabs, and the gold is because I like sparkly things. With all my heart, I wish for peace between Israel and the Arab nations so I put my prayers into my prayer shawl.
The peach thread that I use around the borders is thread that was a gift from a friend. I used simple stitches because simple stitches are the foundation of all sewing and friends are the foundation of life.
Rather than use a grommet for where the tzitzit go through the tallit, I used a buttonhole stitch. I used my favorite fancy thread and I used a button from my grandmother's button box to make the size of the buttonhole. My grandmother never threw away a button and I remember seeing that particular button when I was a little kid.
And so wrapped in my prayers, tomorrow I'll step on the bima and go home. If you want to join me, at 11:00 AM MDT, think of me and smile. I know you'll be with me.