I know I’m late. I’m always late. (Heck – this blog post is late.) The High Holiday blogs have long since been published and Passover matzah but a dry and pasty memory, but and still, as someone who’s always late I am OK with my writing being slightly less in the news of the moment. (And I have no interest/ability in tackling the Ebola “pandemic.”)
So indulge me for a minute, as we go back in time, (literally/figuratively) to the High Holidays …
My parents were coming over for dinner to break the fast. During the High Holidays, my parents were (as usual) absent from temple services. The kids were angling (as usual) for future exemptions because, (insert annoyingly whiney voices) “Grandma and Grandpa don’t go! We never learn anything! Wah!” (Not factoring in of course the other grandmother, past president of the temple etc. etc.)
My kids have asked me several times why my parents didn’t attend services and they were very unsatisfied by my repeated answer of:
“Papa thought about being a rabbi, but became a psychologist instead, and Grandma felt she got a lot of mixed messages about Judaism when she was as a little girl, so she does it in her own way. They just don’t go to temple.”
I have to say as unsatisfied as they were with my explanation, I was kind of unsatisfied with it myself. But so many years had gone by; it seemed kind of late for me to bring up the topic. So, in turn, I decided to empower the kids and throw the Grandparents to the wolves. I mean, the big scary Book was already written and closed for the season; if I was in trouble with G-d, it was too late anyway.
I prompted the kids after we had all noshed a little.
“So? Don’t you have a question for Grandma and Papa?” I prodded. “Ask them.”
My parents perked up and braced themselves simultaneously. My kids are rarely focused enough to ask their grandparents questions (that are not horrendously inappropriate) and/or attentively listen to the answers. My second oldest (worst offender of inappropriate everything) surprised me when he simply asked, “How come you guys never come to services? Do you believe in G-d? I’m not sure.”
He then sat quietly and patiently for an answer. The siblings followed suit. It was unusual. They seemed serious about listening. The vibe in the air changed. Things got serious.
My dad looked at the eight pairs of young eyes staring expectantly at him and he took a deep breath. He then began a story – his story - about being young and hearing, seeing, and experiencing horrible things and wondering, “where was G-d?” He remembered asking two rabbis at his mother’s Shiva why G-d had taken his mother – who was so good and so kind – away from him? The rabbis, my dad said, gave the worst answer he could have possibly imagined. They simply both answered, “We don't know.”
In the process of finding his own way of believing and understanding the world and life, he found his way back to believing in G-d. He found that G-d was just a beginning and how humans lived their lives and made decisions – to be good, to be bad, to heal, to harm – were just that – human decisions in a world that G-d had made and given. He ended by saying that although he doesn’t attend services, he is still Jewish and he still believes in G-d.
It was very quiet. Then my middle guy said, “So really, G-d is a teacher – not a king.”
My dad teared up (hell, so did I) at my kid’s profound summary of a very difficult concept.
“Yes. A teacher,” my dad responded. “G-d is a teacher. Not a king.”
This may not bode well for next High Holidays (“Papa believes in G-d but doesn’t go to services!”) but I am so glad the conversation happened. It took a long time to happen and it almost never happened because so much time had passed. But an incredible thing came to fruition: an experience was passed, a perspective was shared and something was learned. It’s never, ever too late.