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February 8, 2017 by Lisa Greene
I stood in front of the mirror talking to my father and my grandmother, debating what to wear.
Grandma Ruth said, “You need pearls with that, dear.”
Dad reminded me to put on lipstick. “Look like a million bucks! What about an elegant black suit?”
I argued, “I can NOT wear black!”
It was a remarkable conversation since both my father and grandmother are dead. Yet it was as if they were standing with me that morning, in front of the full-length mirror in my linen closet. And thank goodness for Dad and Grandma’s guidance, because no one tells you what to wear to get divorced.
There I was, immersed in the mundane of getting three children out to camp. My focus ’til the day before had been simply getting to the day, physically and emotionally. I had moved from shock and anger into a place of strength. At last, the divorce I didn’t request or want would be final, and I could get past legal documents to embrace summer and a new decade, since my lawyers graciously made certain that this court appearance happened before my 50th birthday.
As that day in court approached, I focused on what to wear. Did I go for the elegant suit—“I am accomplished”—statement? The casual—“I don’t care about you any more”—capris or shorts? Or a strong statement of style? In the end, I chose a sleeveless, bold blue dress and added pearls and lipstick, thanks to Dad and Grandma.
I picked my ensemble with more challenge than anticipated. Who was I really dressing for? Myself for sure, to strengthen my resolve, and, ironically, for him, as if to say, “I am a beautiful, confident woman. This will not knock me down.”
Later, it hit me. No one talks about this! We spend great amounts of time planning what to wear to our weddings. Even a low maintenance bride takes time to decide traditional or not, long or short, and perhaps even what color to wear.
But, who talks about what to wear for divorce? Who tells you when to stop wearing your rings?
Who tells you what it will feel like to not only lose a friend and partner but how to now negotiate against him? Or how to learn to say “my ex-husband” without biting your cheeks to avoid crying.
Who tells you how it will feel for you and your children to do any number of things you have done previously as a family? How to answer the tough questions of sad children in just the way they need? Where to find the handbook for experiencing upset and sadness about things unimagined? Clothing against that new backdrop was a small dot in a larger Pointillist picture.
The spiritual impress, on the other hand, loomed large. As a rabbi I live in the realm of liminal moments—it is my job to make ritual and meaning for others. Now, how could I journey from technical legal settlement into a ritual that spoke the voice of Judaism and brought peace to my soul? Both a get, a traditional Jewish divorce, and a ritual of my own making compelled me.
A get is a writ of Jewish divorce granted according to traditional Jewish law by the husband to the wife in a precisely scripted ceremony. It is enacted by a beit din, a rabbinic court of three Orthodox rabbis. The wife is a passive party in the ritual, accepting the granted document.
Over the years I had counseled folks that traditionally without a get Jews could not remarry after a divorce. But, this was about me. I am a Reform rabbi who believes in the teachings and importance of the law, but adheres only to that which is meaningful.
My Jewish practice and belief are clearly about gender equality. A document accepted by Orthodox legal arbiters handed to me by my ex-husband felt antithetical to my being. Yet, I felt a need to have a get, and wasn’t ready to ignore this pull.
I struggled and dialed for advice. Many knowledgeable friends urged me, “Just do it. Get a get. It’s protection.”
Eventually, I contacted a local friend who’s an Orthodox rabbi. He called ahead to the beit din. While I am certain that call was unnecessary, it gave me comfort nonetheless.
What happened? The get was granted. The experience proved educational to me, a student of Jewish ritual and history. I checked it off of my list. But getting a get did not touch my soul.
Again and again, I had made meaning and order for myself and others through ritual based in Jewish tradition. A friend and I had even created a new Jewish divorce ritual for her, reimagining the Jewish practice of tashlich—ritually casting off our transgressions. But this wasn’t my ritual. I too was affirming wholeness, but differently.
I struggled. I read prayers and searched books and websites. I reached into my soul. I called rabbinic friends and mentors. Nothing felt right. And, frankly, I was exhausted. Finally, a wise friend told me to trust I would know what I needed.
What did I know? Water is my ultimate Zen place. I needed to be surrounded by people who had journeyed through the last year with me, and who knew our tradition enough to support me. I needed to be surrounded by loving trusted friends, my own beit din—not a court, but a representation of my community.
So on a beautiful summer morning three women friends accompanied me to Lake Michigan. I immersed with my prayers, and emerged energized and whole with a powerful Shehechyanu—a Jewish prayer of gratitude. My friends embraced me with song and meaningful words.
The pain wasn’t gone. There was still stuff to do on the newly divorced front. But, I had listened to my soul. I made this divorce happen on my terms. What did I wear? A bathing suit.
Rabbi Lisa Greene is a rabbi and mother of three. She has served as a rabbi of North Shore Congregation Israel in suburban Chicago since 1999. Lisa is ever open to marking sacred time through ritual, traditional and new. Her blog, Intersections, can be found at www.ordinaryandsacred.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.