House on the River: A Summer Journey

To be grown up implies a state of arrival, but i am a work in progress, humbled daily by what i cannot accept, or even grasp. Here, my children have been my teachers. They frequently hear the words “I don’t know” and, alas, “I’m sorry.” And they understand—I hope—that although I have many unwavering principles, the interpretation of those principles may be surprisingly porous: In the house of Israel that my husband and I invent daily, a teenager’s sound argument can undo the fiat. Rather easily!

Having attained a half century, I know that I grow closer to meeting my Creator, which makes me feel less completed than ever, thankfully. ‘As God is merciful, so be you also merciful.” I try to amplify my compassion, as I seek the shelter of God’s compassion; I will need it when my deeds are weighed.

What sustains me increasingly is the wisdom of women. I have grown even closer to my astonishing sisters and friends, whose profundity and grace fill me with delight. My latest spiritual goals are to know a tarnished human being when I meet one, instead of too many years later, and to laugh. (The clearest distinction between my young self and my current one is my capacity to laugh at just about anything.)

The other attainment I celebrate is my embrace of my family and my past. I was one of many who fled the city of her birth; I will not return. But I have returned, within, to a pure thanksgiving for what my family bequeathed me—and to an expanding forgiveness for whatever went awry. My husband and I can shepherd our children because of the gifts and sacrifice of those who came before us.

Nessa Rapoport is the author of Preparing for Sabbath, one of the first novels of a young Jewish woman’s spiritual quest; A Woman’s Book of Grieving, a collection of her prose poems; and, most recently, House on the River: A Summer Journey (Harmony, 2004).  She is married to artist Tobi Kahn.

So Much for Certitude by Nessa Rapoport

Mother: No, you can’t pierce your ears; I’m against it Jewishly.

Daughter (age 11): Mom!

Mother: In the Torah, how does a slave show the world he’d rather stay with his master than be free? He pierces his ear!

Daughter: I’m not a slave.

Mother: You’re a work of creation.

Daughter: You streak your hair.

Mother: But that’s not permanent, like tattooing or piercing.

Daughter: I promise I will never get a tattoo. Now can I have pierced ears?

Mother: I don’t have them, Dad’s sister doesn’t have them, and neither do your grandmothers.

Daughter: All your sisters do.

[Consultation with father, who is adamantly opposed but agrees that It’s not a moral issue and that we do not want daughter’s adolescence dominated by argument over pierced ears.]

The united front: When you’re 18. [Ensuing and endless discussion of pierced ears]

Motherand father: After your bat mitzvah.

After bat mitzvah, mother accompanies daughter on P-day. Mother acknowledges to herself that, concession made and deed done, she can no longer invoke principle. Daughter Is ecstatic. Mother expresses her own ecstasy that the issue of pierced ears will no longer govern the domestic discourse.

Daughter: Can I have a dog?