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Jewish Journal

Building Your

by Linda Feldman

October 23, 1997 | 8:00 pm

My years inSanta Cruz are measured by the Jewish calendar. Through a coincidenceof dates, I arrived in 1995 the night before erev Rosh Hashanah. Butit was no accident that I joined Temple Beth El by fax from LosAngeles. Murray Baumgarten -- a man whom I had never met but whosename was given to me by three people as someone to contact once Iarrived -- told me to join the temple and come to his house for erevRosh Hashanah dinner.

My little rented house was a mass of corrugatedboxes. Wear white I remembered. Don't carry a purse, no money. Wasthe temple Reform? Conservative? Orthodox? A hat? Which box? Forgetthe hat. Never visit someone's home empty-handed. What to bring?Flowers? Not unless they're potted or my grandmother wouldn'tapprove. Honey. Can't go wrong with honey. Organic. Only sold inquart containers. I'll take it.

The second Rosh Hashanah was calmer, settled. Irecognized some faces. People welcomed me by name. Rabbi Rick knewme. My daughter had my granddaughter named in shul -- Chaya ShulamitTzipporah. We attended the tot Shabbat together. We had made a ritualof Friday night dinner together. We held hands and recited themotzi. I blessedthem. I sang louder during services. I sinned very little that secondyear. My life was solitary, excruciatingly self-involved, the workwas not going well, the deadline to deliver my book was closer. Ifasted with no headaches. I broke the fast alone listening to theRachmananoff Piano Concerto No. 2.

This year my son, Jason, came home. I made kashavarnishkas, mushroom barley soup, honey cake. We celebrated hisbirthday, the birth of my book. In shul I sat with my children andgranddaughter. Tears of joy, of apprehension, of the blessing that weare here together still liking each other after all these years,after all that we have been through. How beautiful the Torah readerschanted -- mostly young women. I saw a mother kiss the hand of heryoung daughter as she went up to the bimah. The Torahs were carrieddown the aisle and I held my granddaughter up and she took themakzur, touched the torah and kissed it. Everyone around us smiledwith love in their eyes. I missed my father and his blue eyes thatnever lost their innocence.

I prayed less this year, yet I felt the mostburdened. During the break on Yom Kippur I went to sit by the outdoorwaterfall and I watched as a new couple named Nanas was introduced toRichard Nanas, husband of the cantor Paula Marcus, and I listened asthey named the shtetls of Russia as they tried to figure out if theywere related.

The rabbi's sermon mentioned how an Israeliteenage girl visiting the United States said she prayed for the firsttime. She had to come to America to pray, to feel Jewish. He urged usto stay closer to Israel, not abandon her now when she is in periljust as a parent loves a child more, not less, when there'strouble.

My friend Art Lerner, the son of orthodox rabbis,called to wish me l'shanatova. He, too, went to shul. He wasworried about Israel. "Judaism is too valuable, too important to beleft to the fundamentalists who rule out people while we're alltrying to huddle together," he said to me.

Novelist A.B. Yehoshua said recently in theSeptember 13 issue of the Jerusalem Post: "Jews abroad can play atJudaism as a hobby. Israel will remain central because its peoplelive a total Jewish life. A Jew in America can hear a sermon onIsaiah but then he goes home to an American life in which Americanpolicy determines what happens. Here I am making Jewish decisionsfrom morning to night -- do I sell weapons to a South Americandictator in order to keep military industries working, do I payunemployment insurance? This is Jewish reality and this is the placefor shaping Jewish values.

"I'm not looking for God," he added, "I'm lookingfor the Jews of the past -- what was good in them, what was bad inthem, what was special in them, so that I can build my own paththrough them."

Next week I will be in Israel with a group ofAmerican journalists sponsored by Histrudrut to see the good inIsrael. And just in time so that I can begin to rebuild my own paththrough to the Jewish reality now that I have found a Jewish life inSanta Cruz.


Linda Feldman, a former columnist for the LosAngeles Times, is the co-author of "Where To Go From Here:Discovering Your Own Life's Wisdom," which is published by Simon& Schuster and now in bookstores.

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