Spokes of a Wheel
Every moment has cosmic potential. The most tired mundane tasks, boxing a home and moving, for example, may contain the seeds of something magnificent yet to come. As the Dead put it, “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” What matters is the willingness to see, listen, feel, to be open always, and lean into intuition. Let accidents, coincidences, kismets lead. It happened to me this week.
At the end of a stressful summer, finally, we were taping the last boxes of our home, along with the help of a moving company Zivar had found through a listserv. Zivar has many gifts, among those relevant to this tale, she is excited by and asks after the stories of others, and people tell her everything! I went downstairs to put a box in the truck, and the next thing I know, Zivar has learned that M’s wife is pregnant and due in a month or so, and they could use a rabbi for a brit.
The move was a breeze. Between boxes, sweat, tape and stairs, M also mentioned that his wife wanted to convert, but they’d had less than pleasant experiences with some other rabbis, and weren’t gonna push for it before the birth. That’s when I leaned.
A and I spoke a few days later, and I encouraged her to join us for Yom Kippur. She did, and we met the following week to talk conversion. A told me her whole story -- from eco-trade shows to deserted bunker jam sessions in Puerto Rico, love lost and found, unexpected miracles. I told her I thought “conversion” wasn’t really a great word for it. She said, we’ve been calling it a “re-birth.” I said, “That’s it!” I asked her why. She said that her mom had explained religions like spokes on a wheel, but none of them had ever felt right to her, until now. And that in this moment, before creating a family with her partner, she can feel the power of giving her child a story, a community, a tradition to belong to.
(Pause -- As we move into The New Shul’s 20th season, a time of expansion and commitment to the uniqueness of our approach, I am actively considering the areas in which The New Shul can contribute to the evolution of Judaism. I think “re-birth” is one such field. Precisely at the fringes of the Jewish community, the places where others are most anxious, and rabbis “disappear” at someone else’s most significant hour -- this is where we can live and teach. We’ll begin sharing the principles and long-standing precedents for our method, that others may learn and grow.)
Yesterday we met at the mikvah -- A, M and his parents. We speak about the Hebrew name her father had given her at birth, and the minor addition we will make to it. She is under a white tallit, clear face round belly. I read her a poem on water, identities, essence. Tears ready her for water. From behind the door we listen to the sounds of water, immersion, the meaning of splash splash splash.
Outside in the rain she glows alongside her beloved, her face radiant clear like a child’s. Reborn, a mother ready for birth. We celebrated the occasion with Billy Crystal at Katz’s. I had a matzo ball soup. She had one too, and a half reuben on rye.
Rabbi Zach Fredman