Our mega-family reunion has come and gone. Getting together with persons I may have heretofore passed on the street but not known that we were related has proved the following.
I have a cousin through marriage who is a union organizer and another, also through marriage, who is a gun toting NRA member. (Alright, they’re not my same blood, but can I lay claim to the social justice genes from the labor guy?) I have a previous generation rabbi cousin whose volumes still fill shelves in Jewish bookstores and whose picture has a place of honor on homes of his loyal followers. And I have a cousin, one generation younger than me, who is an expert Israeli folk dancer and practices Messianic Judaism. My head wants to align with the inquisitive Talmudic mind, and my dance-therapist feet want to jump in with the dancer, regardless of what faith approach she espouses.
Is this what’s required if one wants to claim membership in a family, make room for all disparities and find a way to amalgamate everyone? So, we have the same gene pool, and as it turns out, everyone’s forbearers at some point owned a Mom and Pop grocery store. (Just think, if we had really united, we might have opened “Giant”!) Does this really make our veins run thicker than ordinary and clomp us forever together as ‘mishpacha’?
True, many of these people I would never have chosen or even run into as friends, much less those with whom I now share life cycle ceremonies. And yet, W-E A-R-E F-A-M-I-L-Y with all the nuances of meaning that can have. Must we put a cord around our tribe and siphon ourselves off from those ‘unrelated’ others? Are we really that different or special from those who did not have the same exact antecedents?
Isn’t the emphasis on differences ultimately what keeps us locked into suspicion and distrust of our human kin? And isn’t this just what the currently highlighted process of Teshuvah is to help us eradicate?
Teshuvah, repentance, is a return from our missteps to the central ore of whom we are supposed to be, of how we were originally created. I think God meant for us to be part of the Family of Man and Woman and to regard all humans as our Divinely created brothers and sisters, not just those with the same last name.
But how can we really digest these sentiments and learn to accept, like, maybe even love those who are so different from us, even gun toting cousins and those who practice a form of the religion widely varying from what we hold sacred?
We are told that we need to recognize their humanity and realize that none of us is the ultimate judge. Spiritual beings come in all manner of human form. This, of course, is most difficult to get for those who have done us wrong. My being treated inconsiderately, even malevolently, by someone automatically excludes them from my circle. I would NEVER treat anyone THAT way. I am ‘better.’
And yet these folks still walk the earth, endowed with breath from God. Hmmm….somewhere in the recesses and byways of the decades of becoming an adult, now living in the middle, I SHOULD have learned how to process this, to walk through the valleys and to come out into the bright shining light of full Teshuvah. But it is hard. I struggle. I’ve even reached for the Buddhist notion of equanimity, regard of everyone and all experience with the same light detachment, caring and feeling but not getting ‘stuck’ on the story of my malaise. Still hard.
No answers here. Just a very humbling appreciation for the years of traversing this territory and to realize with all the changes in my physical and psychic being that have occurred, this central core keeps demanding attention. So I go, from Elul to Elul, in an internal wrestling that apparently needs to go on for all our measured days. Now wouldn’t it be something, if after all the stretching and accommodating, through the fire of hurt and the alienation of differences, I came back, but this time bereft of judgment, to fully embrace, with all the idiosyncrasies, FAMILY—MINE, YOURS, OURS.