Healing Lessons

From Healing Lessons, Chapter 17:

As a man of science, I had strayed somewhat from my Orthodox upbringing. My father, Nathan, and my mother, Sally, came from the Ashkenazi tradition of Polish Judaism. They came to this country between the world wars, escaping the anti-semitism of eastern Europe and finding religious freedom. I was raised with a strong belief in God. When I was five and my older sister died, my parents were crushed, but I saw the strength of their faith. Like Job, they wondered at life's purpose, but never believed that God had abandoned them.

They kept a kosher house. My parents, I, and my sisters sat down each Friday night to the ceremoncial dinner that initiates the Jewish Sabbath. We lit candles, said prayers, sang songs, and ate good food. I learned at the Shabbat table of my family heritage. It included musicians, chess masters, doctors, Hebrew scholars, and composers of Hassidic music. My family attended temple together on Saturdays.

They switched me to a yeshiva when I was halfway through elementary school. There, in addition to my secular education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, I studied under a rabbi's direction the Bible and its commentaries, ancient Hebrew law and customs, and my Jewish religious heritage.

I brought my faith and love of the traditions into my marriage with Andrea. Every Jew is a creature of tradition, but somewhere along the line I found that Reform Judaism offered a blend of old and new that appealed to me. Daniel, Jonathan, and Joanna all attended Hebrew school. With Andrea's illness, I had stepped down from leadership positions at Temple Shaaray Tefila, but we continued attending services on Friday nights and the high holy days. We continued, too, our regular Shabbat dinners before of after Friday services, dinners like my parents had. Andrea laid the table with a white cloth and lit candles in the silver candlesticks that came down from my grandmother. As my father had done, I led the Kiddush chant over sweet Manishevitz kosher wine, and the blessing of the traditional, braided challah bread under its ritual cover of an embroidered napkin. Together we sand the Zemirot, the sabbath songs of joy and celebration for the day of rest.

Andrea's family had come further from the old relgious ways than mine. She was not so steeped in the traditions. I had to teacher the Shabbat prayers and songs. She looked forward to the high holidays, but for her they were more about inviting people in and getting together with family than aboutr worship and prayer. Nor did she make a beeline to temple on Friday nights like I did. When the kids were young and we all went to the beach house on weekends, A ndrea would walk in the door when we got there and head straight for the piano while the kids and I scrambled to make temple. For a long time I couldn't dress for Shabbat services without hearing her play pieces from "Scenes from Childhood" by Schumann. But we believed in the same God. She supported my commitment to a Jewish upbringing for the kids and understood religion's role in my life.

The fundamental belief in God we shared before her sickness was a belief in an abstract creator, the architect and moonlight and the moments of happiness we chanced upon and created for ourselves in each other and our children. But true faith comes from a yearning to believe in more than what our senses tell us, that behind the evidence of our tangible world is a force with motive and intent.

Now, with the news of her relapse, I found I needed to draw closer to that force.

Read an excerpt

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