Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

10 Years In Remission

10 years ago today I was in my oncologist's office.

"It all looks good," he says. "Chemo is over, the tumor has shrunk. We just have to do the radiation for good measure."

"That's good," I answered, but had a question. "When exactly do we start talking about me being 'in remission?'"

He stared at me blankly for a moment, taking in how little I knew about this and choosing to forgive my ignorance.

"Now," he said. "Arwen, that's now."

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Simchat Torah 2013 (Awesome!)

It was on the heels of some very nice feedback for my Hoshanot Article that I tried something new and out of the box this Simchat Torah. I'm far from the first to find this the most challenging holiday of the year. Alongside my article appeared this one by Alexandra Benjamin in which she, like many other women, talks about some of the challenges of the holiday.

Last year was a bummer for me on two levels. For whatever reason, in my own shul, kavanah was just at a low that year. Enthusiasm was minimal for unclear reasons. Whatever it was, the atmosphere was uninspiring.

On top of that, only one or two other women stuck with me consistently to try and dance in the women's section, even with the Torah we are handed each year. There were a few teenage girls trying to help too, but we were getting nowhere. I felt we were setting a terrible example for them.

I considered staying again this year and trying to be a leader, trying to make things really happen again, but I decided against it.

Instead, I trekked 3 miles to Netivot Shalom in Teaneck for the nighttime hakafot. I had heard ahead of time that while it is a traditional Modern Orthodox shul, the women were active participants in the dancing. It was that and more. Prior to the hakafot this shul has the tradition of auctioning off aliyot and honors. One of the honors they gave was to pass the Torah to the women's side. Read that sentence again and think about it.

It was an honor to pass the Torah to the women's side.

Remember... in many Orthodox shuls no Torah goes to the women's side at all. In those that do there is often a grudging feeling as they hand it over and then take it back. None of that was present at this shul. Instead the Rabbi and Rebbetzin worked together as a loving and friendly team to get dancing and singing happening on both sides of the mechitza. It was fun. It was lively. It was in control and for the sake of Torah.

Such a pleasure.

That night I slept at a friend's house. That too was lovely and I want to highlight one small part of it which was that when she led me to my room, it had everything I needed. It had a Shabbat lamp, a nice made bed, even a box of kleenex. I felt appreciated and welcome.

A good metaphor for how I felt at Netivot Shalom. There too I felt welcome and cared for.

The next morning I walked another mile to the Teaneck Women's Tefilah group. This group, I understand, has been going on for some 30 odd years and meets for events such as Simchat Torah, Megillah reading at Purim and of course, Eichah which I've previously written about attending. It's a serious group, thoroughly halakhic -- no kaddish without a minyan for example. It was a complete Shacharit and mussaf service rather than just a Torah reading as we have as a splinter group from my own shul.

I couldn't have asked for anything nicer. I really couldn't.

The voices were beautiful.

The service was fine-tuned so that one person knew at all times what needed to be happening and could direct others as to what to expect, what was needed from them and so on.

The davening was serious.

The dancing was joyous.

The leyning was inspiring.

You know in the Torah when Moshe comes down from the mountain, his face glowing? That's how I felt as I walked home that day. I felt like I loved being Jewish, that I wanted to be close to G-d, to other Jews, to Yiddishkeit in general and that I wanted to pass it on to my daughter. I haven't always felt that way recently. Often on Shabbat I'm perfectly happy to stay at home, daven read, and meditate but I feel like maybe I should want to be in shul.

Going into this Simchat Torah I had a lot of worries in mind about the year ahead, but when I was davening in that room, I didn't worry, I didn't watch the clock and I didn't wish I was elsewhere. I was fully present and read the words in the siddur in a way that I rarely do.

How is it that I've gone so many years unaware of this possibility? How can I ever go back to how it was?

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