Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Middle Babe surprised me with a confession:
"It's so hard to believe in God. D'you know what I mean?"
So moved was I by my child's cosmic musings that I immediately wanted to accompany her in her place of doubt.
But as someone who doubts the existence of just about everything except for God, I had to make a confession of my own. I told my daughter that although I knew exactly what she meant, I have always felt God by my side.
No matter where I roam, Hashem is my home.
Still, formal prayer has always been a bit of a challenge for me. Recently, at a launch event for the publication of the new mahzor Lev Shalem, published by the Rabbinical Assembly* I caused a bit of a stir by alluding to my own experience of DADD: Davening Attention Deficit Disorder...a condition where one finds oneself drawn to the experience of prayer but unable to sustain interest in a traditional synagogue service or the printed page of the siddur, especially on the High Holidays when davening assumes the form of a vast sea, with no shore in sight.
Which is not to say that I have never had transcendent davening experiences within the confines of a sanctuary or haven't felt a path to God or been warmed by the presence of community or buoyed by the bond of Jewish peoplehood and the tragic and triumphant course of our history.
Indeed, some of my deepest and warmest memories reside within the walls of a shul, specifically, the Marathon Jewish Community Center in Douglaston, New York, where I grew up as the daughter of a charismatic and caring rabbi. Far from being a cynical PK (preacher's kid) I felt fortunate to be surrounded by an entire community that watched out for me and my siblings. My father was Kennedyesque and a commanding orator. I loved our Shabbat and holiday services with their quaint decorum, hazzanut and responsive readings in English sprinkled liberally amid the traditional Hebrew and Aramaic prayer service.
(Of course, there is much more to say about the experience of growing up as the first family of a tightly-knit Jewish community -- especially in the sixties and seventies -- and I have, in other venues. There were personal style restrictions, especially when it came to hair and clothes, meaning that I never looked quite the way I wanted. My siblings and I were kept apart from the kids in our community in the manner familiar to kids of the aristocracy. I had a secret rebellious life, which grew more complex as I entered adolescence. To this day, I am simultaneously drawn to and harshly critical of clergy.)
Though I didn't have the negative religious experience that people often recount when discussing their adulthood aversion to prayer, I do find myself struggling with the details of davening: the synagogue, the length of the service, the siddur, the choreography of prayer.
Which is why what I did this morning is so thrilling and shocking to me.
Heavy of heart, troubled of soul, I wandered aimlessly through the empty rooms of the Urban Bungalow until my eyes lit on the Koren siddur, sitting next to a Paul Auster novel on a shelf in our dining room.
I opened up the prayerbook and started to read the Shacharit service. I thanked God for restoring my soul. I praised God for giving strength to the weak, for clothing the naked, for giving sight to the blind. I stayed with the proscribed prayer for a bit, then, as if animated by a force outside myself, I walked into the living room, located the velvet tallit bag that bears my husband's Hebrew name in golden thread -- my present to him on his 60th birthday - withdrew the majestic garment, pausing in awe and terror, and then wrapped it tentatively around myself, over my head, obscuring my gaze.
Once enclosed by the wool, I shut my eyes and rocked. I do not know how long I stood but I knew before whom I was standing.
I stood and rocked, stood and rocked, stood and rocked, surrounded by the soft, sweet smell of the garment. And when I finally ceased my prayer and removed the tallit from my shoulders, shaking it out on my bed to figure out the folding, I was transfixed by the new mark it bore: a blotchy tear stain, Rorschach-like, smudged with grey-black kohl, unmistakeably that of a woman.
* full disclosure: I represent the Rabbinical Assembly and mahzor Lev Shalem.