Judah and Tamar

With the transit strike over, I’m spending the first night of Hannukah at home. Which meant hearing my bat mitzvah portion again for what I think might be the first time since my bat mitzvah. In high school, I rebelled and didn’t go to shul half the time, and in college, I burned out trying to create an inviting kabbalat shabbat every week single-handed, and reading Torah on shabbes mornings fell completely by the wayside. (If it wasn’t for the five people who showed up week after week, two of whom weren’t even Jewish, I would have thrown the towel in, but it was still hard being the one who has to set everything up, lead or solo every prayer, bring the candles and the grape juice and bake the challah, a one-woman show. And at the time, I didn’t know how to draw people into participating more.)

The last few years, I’ve been getting more and more into rediscovering private religious practice–praying shaharit and minhah, keeping kosher, doing a quiet kabbalat shabbat on my own–but I don’t have shabbes mornings free, and I haven’t found a synagogue or minyan I feel comfortable with for Friday night. I do feel the lack, but I don’t enjoy shul-hunting and I’ve pretty much avoided it altogether. (I may be too picky, or I may be seeking an excuse to veg out at the end of the work week. It just feels like the minyanim are all meat markets or closed cliques or gospel revivals. I miss the tunes from my childhood; everyone knows each other and no one makes eye contact with me, or worse, I wander into an older minyan where I feel like the token young person on display. Nothing feels like home.)

I love my parents’ local shul, though, and this was a great opportunity to reconnect with this part of my past, and it was really special getting an aliyah. But as the shul is on a triennial cycle, the only part they read was the part I didn’t have time to learn back then: Judah and Tamar. Which led me to wonder at Judah’s calling Tamar more righteous than himself, and to see the parshah in a new light. Tamar is trapped in an impossible situation, just like Judah and his brothers were, but when she takes matters into her own hands, she only risks her own safety and reputation, she doesn’t sacrifice anyone else. Tamar’s story acts as a foil. For the first time, it made sense that her story appears in the middle of Joseph’s, and the portion came together as a whole.

And to cap off the bat-mitzvah theme of the day, after shabbes we went to see Memoirs of a Geisha. The girl who plays Young Pumpkin just had her bat mitzvah at my parents’ shul, and it was great to see how packed the theater was, even on Christmas Eve. I really hope the movie does well.


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