The Mystery of Being Jewish #1

I almost didn’t make it to service on Shabbat because of the crazy rain and excessive flooding around this area, but due to a tiny miracle… it kind of stopped raining so hard and I made it, even though I was late. I’m glad I went because part of their summer services is giving a little lesson in between. They talked about Broadway musicals that have the Jewish undertone to the music due to the Jewish musicians/writers themselves. They played a little bit of the musical tune then what the tune was based off of in Yiddish. I was sitting there–practically in awe–because my favorites of favorites are actually songs based up on Jewish/Yiddish tunes. I haven’t studied that far in about music yet. But I have known for a while….that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to my love and recognition for the Jewish world. Wow. All I can say is wow.

With having said that, Friday’s service lesson actually inspired what book I was going to read next (instead of what I originally picked out). So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be dropping some writing here from: The Mystery of Being Jewish. After the first chapter today, it lists 19 famous influential Jewish people. After I read a few of the chapters about the book, then I’ll talk about whatever comes to mind, so I’m going to treat and share it like one of my studies/personal lessons.

To get started… Tonight I read the first chapter which is titled “The Mystery of Being Jewish.” What a chapter to start with because I nearly want to type/comment on everything.

Sigmund Freud once said “Only to my Jewish nature did I owe the two qualities which had become indispensable to me on my hard road.” (1) Free to question all things & (2) Standing his ground in the face of all opposition.

“It is something inside the individual that makes him a Jew. Something infinitesimally small yet immeasurably large.” – said Franz Rosenzweig.

“We Jews are a community based on memory.” – Martin Buber. Memory meaning giving you shoulders to stand on that helps you see beyond your own personal view.

“They know that the key to life is learning and that the word lechayim ‘to life’ sometimes make their voices thicken with a strange unfathomable emotions. Jews look upon each newborn as a human filled with promise. In the Jewish way of thinking, no one comes into this world filled with sin. It seems only right to be more concerned with what happens in this world than the next. … they should help make this world a better place.”

Obviously, these are some of the things I have learned earlier on in my journey, but it’s always nice to be reminded. It’s always nice to be reminded of how things were before becoming Jewish… like my heart’s thoughts aligning with Judaism and the feelings I had after finding it out. And how I still want to burst into flames (good flames, if there’s…such a thing) and allow my soul to cry all at the same time.

The last paragraph…. ‘key to life is learning’… I have never wanted to stop learning. I remember freaking out when I stopped going to school, because it was like, how am I going to learn next? I was a very, very, very serious nerd. Still am, actually. When I fell in love with something I was learning, I would go beyond the normal, and go on that endless find of researching about the subject… that kept me busy for a while. Still happens often, actually. Learning is one of my inspirations….and probably the reason why I am interested in nearly almost everything. But back to the point.

I literally just said a Jew’s work is never done (on my other blog). We have to be the ones to learn, do the research, work, and teach. We should always question everything, and end on why, just so we can do more. For every question answered comes another. Learning about everything: how to do the things you do better, learning about the world around you, the future, the past, learning about what’s in your soul. It all enriches your soul…. so you can be better and being better (and happy) you can help others to do the same… then the world gets better because, well, patterns. But… not everyone has learned this secret concept.

“To life” — as I’ve been looking back in some of my old writings, I have found that “life” and “love” has often come up. In a lot of my paintings (especially the ones at my 3rd home) I have “life/love” on them. That was even before I became Jewish. It was already there, embedded deep within my soul. It has always been about living life to its fullest potential and loving as much as possible.

I may get flack for this one…but thank goodness in the Jewish way of thinking… because I have never believed in sin the way it is portrayed. How in the world can someone born from literal stardust carry so much negativity on their shoulders when they don’t even know a thing because–all that point–they just purely exist. They are a clean slate… until memory comes along, until G-d sets out their destiny when they are learning who they are… I also don’t believe in the whole concept of hell, even. I believe that once someone is done here, their souls go to one of the planets (why do you think they’re discovering life up there now?), and which planet? It depends on how much work the soul needs. Once the work is done, they are born into another body, and placed back on this earth to live out their karmic duties. Hence, my thoughts per the reasoning of reincarnation. If your soul gets recycled enough, you will begin to remember other times of being here. I have actually always believed I was one of the souls lost in the Holocaust. I don’t know who or where or what age or anything, but it is the way I see how my soul was Jewish but I was born into a gentile family. Apparently, due to finding out what I’m finding out and experiencing what I’ve experienced, it was a part of my own karmic journey to learn what I did to become who I am now: Ahava.

Being Jewish, talking about being Jewish, reading about it, and my moments of how I keep finding out about how I’ve always loved the Jewish world…. it really truly does set my soul on fire. In a good way. Like, so much. So very much.

Enough writing for today. My hands are going to fall off. Until the next chapter.

Love Always,
Karen Maeby (Ahava)

[Book Review] Anne Frank’s Tales From the Secret Annex

Sometime around my conversion (before/after, can’t remember), I picked up this book, and I finally had the chance to finish it today. It’s a collection of short stories, essays, personal narratives, fables and other writings that are a lot less known than Anne Frank’s diary. Even with me knowing about Anne since I was a teen, I didn’t even know about this book until recently.

I will say this much: it is really, really, really crazy how similar we write. It actually kind of gives me the shivers in a way. Her essays / personal narratives are written in such a way that I write mine, and her fictional stories always have some sort of lesson in them or is based up on something true… just like I typically write 90% of mine.

In the first portion of the book she tells true personal narratives of things that happened while in the Annex, about the people she was with, and the relationships between some of them. She wrote about their weekdays and weekends and what their behaviors were throughout the day along with the time. A few of her narratives were reminiscent to her school days before the Holocaust started happening and they had to go into hiding.

Even in her fictional stories, she wrote a lot about the war, referencing it a lot. If it wasn’t about the war, then it was characters that were working out issues with their parents or someone else in their life that they were having problems with, or wishing they had a companion or someone they could trust and talk to in their life… if you knew from reading her diary, you’d know exactly she was referring to if the characters had problems.

In one of her stories she wrote about spending time with a famous family in America, and after reading that chapter, it gave me inspiration (and ammunition–not the right word–but I think that gets my point across) on what to do about Anne Frank in a story that I’ve been working on since 2017. So, on the basis of that, I truly believe everything happens for a reason…. including finding a book and reading it at the appropriate time.

Anne Frank was surely a young girl with such a deep old soul and so much insight for someone her age. Thoughts that were well beyond her years. It is truly a shame that bad things have to happen to the truest of people with good souls that want to and could have changed the world. I do think that–in a way, even though she’s not alive–she has helped so many people and she did become a writer like she had hoped and wanted. Even though it was her legacy that got her there.

I will always have ties to Anne, as it was the first book I read about the Holocaust in my teen years, I reacted 1000% more than what the other kids did, and she’s been that thread throughout my life. When I converted on her birthday, I made a promise to her and G-d and I intend on fulfilling that promise…. of doing everything I can to help change the world, even if it’s starting person by person… by just doing and being good, and following and being the light. I owe it to her.

Please do yourself a favor and check out this book, it is amazing to see her fictional stories, and how they tie in with her diary and real life.

Finished.

I finished the book I was reading last night. “Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler.” Nearly 300 pages done in a few hours between two days. I can’t write about it at the moment because I am still so heartbroken, in awe, and so many emotions bursting out of me. I can barely see through my tears as I write this. 

Notes: Trudi still kept the hope—by working on designing her hats, and not giving up on something that made her happy. Trudi still did everything she could to save her family even if it meant risking everything. Moments of relevance: suitcases, name change(s), letters. 

Trudi inspired me right down to my core, and what will come out that? You’ll have to wait to see. I would not want her spirit to be disappointed. I shall not spill any secrets a moment too soon. 

Always, Karen Maeby 

[Book Review] The Gift by Leslea Newman

While I’m trying to unwind from the show tonight and with coffee in hand—a very terrible idea, nonetheless, at this midnight hour—I decided to start reading Leslea Newman’s short stories in the “A Letter to Harvey Milk” book. I am going to sort of do my own kind of “review” along with thoughts of mine for the first one which is called The Gift….we’ll see how it goes. 

“To be a Jew in the twentieth century is to be offered a gift…” – Muriel Rukeyser (a quote she put before the story, I felt like I needed to add.) 

The short story “The Gift” follows Rachel from age 5 to 29 through moments of her life: holidays, school, relationships—and the most important—the journey she took to return to her Jewish roots after denying it for so long. 

Rachel at 8: It’s Hanukkah and all she wants is a Christmas tree because everyone else has one—specifically for the colorful blinky lights and decorations and songs. Thoughts: Yep. After 30 years of celebrating Christmas, what was the best part? The colorful blinky lights and taking out old homemade ornaments from the past. This comes second after being with family, but nothing had been “normal” after age 16 when my best grandma died. The holiday spirit and traditions went with her. In better news, I was given my first Menorah in Dec 2018, and was so proud to light it…. I haven’t put up my tree in about 2-3 years for Christmas. It’s like I was finished with the holiday, and I had that strong feeling it didn’t belong to me anymore. There was definitely a reason for that feeling. 

Rachel at 10: Easter Bunny vs. Passover (matzo all the things). She saves her money to buys cookies then trades with a friend to eat a bologna/cheese sandwich and wonders if God will punish her. Thoughts: First of all, I’m so glad matzo is in my life. It’s like, I embrace that so hard. Secondly, I would probably give just about anything to have colored hard boiled eggs again…. because I haven’t had them in ages. I just want all the color, and I love eggs. So there’s that. While reading that she yearned to taste sin, I am reminded of my recent decision (at Hanukkah) to give up pork/ham/bacon. 

Rachel at 14: Puberty, comments on looks and weight. Thoughts: Oy vey. I finally got out of my ugly awkward stage at 31. Took a long time. I still remember yearning to be as pretty as the other girls and skinny like they were. My pictures from then are horrific. I was such a tomboy—never being adored like the other girls were. I was ashamed, awkward and definitely didn’t fit in. I was the odd bird….left alone, reading, wondering why I couldn’t be like the others. I was a nobody and it hurt. And this is going to be entirely too opening myself up but I’ve never really felt like a woman—as opposed to “girl”—like, maybe I was missing something that announced the coming into womanhood. You see where I’m going with this? 

Rachel at 18: Denies her Jewishness when she meets her college roommates. Thoughts: I get why one steps away from what you’re forced to do as a child, but as someone who is coming into this… it really hurts to see anyone denying something so deep as being Jewish, especially since everything that had happened.  

Rachel at 20: Searching for Christmas gift for her Secret Santa and goes into a store owned by Jews—a silver chai and a mention of a latke. The owners send latkes home with her and when she returned to her dorm, she ate them right up. Thoughts: I was screaming YES. YES. YES. Like, some familiarity of her past. When you’ve missed something for so long and you embrace it. I think this was the first taste of her Jewishness coming back and I was hoping for the tune of she would turn around instead of run from it. I had my first latke at Hanukah this past year, and it was delicious. Now I’m like applesauce or sour cream like the rest. Fun fact: I hate hash browns but love latkes, same with hating normal chicken soup and loving matzo ball soup. 

Rachel at 21 – 23: realizes she likes girls more than boys, so she went with her first girlfriend. She read Diary of Anne Frank and had a true fear moment about the Nazis coming back. At 23, when she asked her gentile gf to go with her to seders, the gf replied, “I’m a little Jew-ed out.” Thoughts: Oy vey (again). That comment made me want to scream “drop her like hotcakes”—who says that to someone that you love and want to be with? I remember when I lived at home, this was probably high school age, I fell asleep while watching Diary of Anne Frank for the 100th time and when the Nazi sirens went off, I woke up, and had the most terrible fear about me. It was horrible. I cringe when I hear the siren. I also had a dream in 2010 about being in a concentration camp… that was a terrifying dream. 

Rachel at 24: Was given Christmas stamps and was wished a Merry Christmas. Thoughts: this was me this December. I didn’t know how to react to either, actually, and I’m probably going to have a hard time with this for a while. 

Rachel at 25: She goes looking for Hanukkah candles and no one seems to point her in the right direction. The mention of latkes and Fiddler on the Roof. Thoughts: I had so many issues with going into stores wanting to find the Hanukkah things, only to see one or two items. It was so disappointing…. to see so much Christmas from October to December. As I had my first true taste of it this holiday season, I completely understood what it meant to be the minority. 

Rachel at 26: Finds a tallis while shopping at a used clothing store. Thoughts: You find exactly what you’re looking for when you’re not looking for it at all. Everything happens for a reason. Just like timing…she wasn’t really ready to embrace Judaism again until this moment… and just like I shouldn’t question my timing with finding Judaism when I did. The right time just happened.

Rachel at 29: is with a 3rd gf—not Jewish—but she wants to learn. It’s Rosh Hashanah and she is going to shul—reflecting on the year like you’re supposed to at this time. Last sentence: Rachel has come home. Thoughts: I was so happy that Rachel decided to come back home and embrace Judaism. From a future Jew, deep down I know how important for true Jewish-blood to continue the traditions, going to shul, celebrating the holidays… all of the things. We must never give up or forget where we come from. 

Overall, what a read. Only 20 pages and it hit me in all kinds of feels and moments. As odd as it is—since I couldn’t have done any of these things because I didn’t grow up Jewish—I related and I felt it as it was happening. The moments-the holidays and when she was insulted by some off-hand comment about being Jewish….I felt it. Hard. The mention of latkes, chai necklace, Fiddler on the Roof, ‘shul’, Rosh Hashanah… all hit me like I know what they are, seeing those words make me excited, and I just want to embrace it. I’m truly trying to make sense of why I feel so deeply about all of this as the way I do. I can wonder and think about it but may never know, just know that I’m here for the journey now and whatever happens will happen. Maybe I was originally born to a Jewish family and was one of them that was killed in the Holocaust and my soul had enough time to come back around from reincarnation to being born in a gentile family just so that my journey would include finding my way back to Judaism to help the Jews who have lost their way about them, or to lead other gentiles in the proper direction. Maybe that’s why I’m partial to being gypsy and I have some kind of pull towards suitcases.…if I came from that time…..you know, if I were to be one of those that had to pack only one suitcase. It would fit in with always moving around and having to figure out what to take with you if you had to leave fast. As tragic as that may sound, it is also beautiful in my mind because I feel like I actually belong somewhere—to a group of people—and having moments to truly appreciate and embrace as whole heartedly as I am……and the life I am living after wearing my chai necklace for almost a year, my Star of David necklace and now my hamsa. My singing to Shabbat every Friday. My yearning for matzo ball soup. The smile on my face when I hear Yiddish words and actually know what they mean. I’ve traded in more than half of my past, likes and bad habits all in return for what I’m seeing and doing now which is so much better for me, anyhow… And, knowing that I found an author—Leslea Newman—who I can count on for those things, for more feelings after reading her work….I just can’t express how I’m feeling right now. So many, too many feels. 

Always,
Karen Maeby