Last week I returned from a five-day trip to Minnesota. I was fortunate to participate in Bais Chana's Jewish Women's Retreat for single mothers.
Am I Jewish enough? This is not the typical question women ask when heading towards an all-woman gathering. Usually our minds are layered with questions like…
Will I fit in?
Am I dressed all right?
Am I good enough?
Will they like me?
Do I measure up?
I know this is sad. It sounds like an uncertain fourteen year old entering the ballroom for the first time. But this is how women think in our culture. Our society has become so competitive, one to another, that the very essence of women connecting to each other has been severed.
Today we play the game of life on opposite sides of the net, comparing, sometimes even criticizing and judging. It is worse than daunting and self-defeating—it is a pity.
The wonderfully odd thing about my Jewishness question was not the question, but the direction behind it. I was not coming from the typical place of I-hope-I-qualify attitude that I far-too-often have come from. Instead, this question was meant solely for me, directed at me.
A Jew is a Jew. There is no measurement stick, no comparison of Jewishness, one against another. You have a Jewish soul, therefore you are a Jew. Whether or not you study Torah, speak Hebrew, recite your morning blessings or observe Shabbos is irrelevant. These deeds do not qualify you as more Jewish.
I knew that the place I was entering I would not just be received—I would be embraced. See, I was already invited. To me, there is no other circle of women like the circle formed with Jewish souls.
The question I asked was of myself, regarding my own walk. I’m a Beginner Jew. I have a Jewish mother, a Jewish grandmother and a Jewish mother before her. I am Jewish, but I’ve only started reciting my morning prayers and the Sh’ma. I’ve just begun saying the Modeh Ani consistently for the last three of my 45 years. I’m a Baby Jew at best.
As I arrived I was concerned whether I would “get it”; whether I would be able to absorb and apply the workshops, classes and stories shared at the Jewish Single Mom’s retreat.
After all Hebrew and Yiddish are, well, Hebrew and Yiddish—foreign languages to me.
Thank G-d my level of Jewish observance had zero impact on the richness of the experience I was about to embark. I was indeed Jew enough.
The women in the group varied in appearances, demographics, status and age (23 to almost 60). Regardless, we danced, sang, swayed and prayed, holding hands and standing apart—together and interconnected.
One night, we kept Rabbi Friedman awake until almost two in the morning—the majority of us starving for answers, for guidance and for light. We yearned, collectively, to learn how to date again, parent correctly, live instead of exist and forgive mostly ourselves.
Every course throughout the weekend was interwoven in me on a cellular level. It would be small of me to say that I loved one class over another – Understanding Men, Forgiveness, Mystical Movement or Getting Your House in Financial Order (to name but a few). This retreat was like no other. The categories disappeared and bled into one another, so what began as a physical endeavor soon turned into an emotional and spiritual encounter as well.
At one point, during Laughter Yoga, I found myself head-to-head, lying face up with 15 other women laughing aloud when suddenly my giggles transformed to heavy sobs. I’m still not certain what rose from the core of me and onto the surface, but I do know that it needed to make its way out for me to continue to heal, let go and begin to live.
There are two things every Jew knows for certain regarding Jewish women at a women-only event – you will be nurtured and you will be nourished, whether you like it or not! It felt as if 100 mommies were hugging me while handing me a second bowl of chicken soup.
Which reminds me, the food – OY! The food was incredible, the new friendships unstoppable and the wisdom imparted undeniable.
I felt that I left equipped with a new tool kit and a game plan of practical ideas based on the solidity of truth – The Torah. With that, I would humbly like to share one idea that can truly apply to anyone, regardless of their spiritual path—one simple lesson that I felt ended up engraved on my heart:
Live your life, the life you want, as a life that brings you joy.
(read the above sentence three more times please)
For living is far different than simply existing. The trick is, as mothers, we need to know two things to effectively practice this bit of knowledge:
1. We need to know the kind of life we want.
2. We need to know the kind of children we want to raise.
At the end of the weekend, we exchanged phone numbers and Facebook identities, scrambling to stay connected. We hugged long, genuine hugs goodbye and I realized the group departing was not the same group who had arrived, including myself. At the start, the women had appeared, alone, one-by-one. Some with matching luggage and some with mismatched socks.
At the end, we were taller, stronger, clearer. We left the retreat with a sense of direction and centeredness. We left with each other, supported, lifted and in a sense, carried.
And for many of us, healing tears rose from our very soul and washed away years of limiting beliefs – we were the luckiest—we left with a whole new paradigm.
Devorah Leah is a free- lance writer, author, motivational speaker and life coach. She lives in Meridian, Idaho with her three sons, dog, guinea pig and two hermit crabs. Her books and services can be found at www.inner-element.com.