It is Sunday morning in Israel – which is like Monday morning in the US – kids going back to school, the rush of morning traffic, lines in the local coffee shops for a “café Hafuch”. I am in line at the post office (again), to pick up a package along with a hundred others who are paying their bills, sending mail and getting their driver’s licenses & registration. I ordered a model of a spine about 2 months ago and I am still waiting for it to arrive. By the time it does, if it does, my anatomy course will be over. Like socks in the wash, it seems that packages just disappear. You never know what you are going to get and when.
I have Hebrew class today but I want to go to the Sea. Instead, compelled to write and unable to wait, I walk to a nearby café with my laptop, itching to get my thoughts onto the page.
It has been quite an interesting weekend and I am not quite sure what to make of it. Part of me wants to smile and part wants to cry. I intentionally threw myself into a weekend with “charedim” – the ultraorthodox Jewish sect of individuals – in Ramat Beit Shemesh, an area where my brother lives, an area where everyone looks the same to me in black and white.
This is not a new experience for me. In fact, this area is quite familiar. It is reminiscent of my childhood school where I spent most of my young life in Montreal. It wasn’t necessarily a bad experience at the time, but it seems that I have spent most of my adult life trying to recover or make sense of the small and consistent feelings of fear, inadequacy, shame, oppression and inherent racism that I feel I was exposed to on a daily basis, in the name of God.
And here I was, back in the thick of it all. My sister in law’s brother is getting married and I was invited to join the festivities at the local synagogue. It was a good opportunity for me to connect with him, who I love dearly, and his extended family in Israel, which has become my new home.
But as I walked up to the synagogue in the only black dress I own that covers my knees and elbows, feelings of anxiety and mild nausea began to surface.
My hosts for the weekend were wonderful and as the husband saw my apprehension, he invited me back in the house for a shot of whiskey, to take the edge off. Thank God for small miracles and acts of kindness. But even with this little bit of help, I could not escape the feeling that somehow my life has come full circle and I had nowhere left to hide.
It turned out, unbeknownst to me, that these apparent strangers, who invited me to stay in their home for the weekend had roots in Montreal as well. I met the woman in a Yoga teacher training. She was a student of mine, an interesting woman who had gone from secular life to religious life to Yoga life and we connected. Over the course of the weekend, it became apparent to both of us that our lives were strangely interconnected on many fronts. As we talked, layers of the past unfolded and secrets that I thought I had buried years ago came to light. Her husband knew of my father’s arrest and his accomplices. He knew of the scandal that my family endured when the headline “ Local Rabbi Busted for Selling Heroin to a Cop” made its appearance on the front page of the Montreal Gazette, changing the course of my life in an instant.
Just speaking about this experience, here for the first time in my new home, made me realize that I have come to a place, by my own choice, to face the past. It was inevitable that moving here, to a Jewish state, near my family, would entail having to face aspects of my upbringing that I was truly able to avoid in California.
(The beauty of moving to San Diego from Montreal, was that I was able to take a break from expectations and judgments about who I was and start again. Living in a young town, where most people moved to from somewhere else, provided a much-welcomed feeling of anonymity. We were all starting new, in a beautiful town with beautiful people and sometimes the hardest decision was whether to go for a walk on the beach or surf.
San Diego was not only an escape, but an opportunity to rest and to find strength in who I am. It was a place where I could leave my husband and change the course of my future. I would go on to find theatre, dance, Yoga, the ocean and writing as passions that filled my soul. I created new friendships based on authentic connections as opposed to prescribed community that were offered to me by the synagogue I belonged to. I felt more complete, happier and lonelier than ever before at the same time. I learned how to love and how to accept life on its terms. I learned how to begin to let go of the control I had to maintain for most of my life as the “Rabbi’s daughter”.)
So why put myself back in the world that spit me out?
It’s a question that I have asked myself many times since moving here. I am not sure I have the exact answer, only that I know in my heart that I will not ever be at peace if I keep running away. A popular Yoga teacher once told me years ago at a workshop I attended on Yoga philosophy, that no matter what, I need to go back to my roots. That I cannot use Yoga as an escape but only as a complement to what my inner fabric already was. I was not ready at the time to hear those words and I put them away for later reference. But they never left my consciousness, as I knew he was right.
This weekend opened up the realization that I have nowhere left to hide, nowhere left to run to. For years it was travel, then exercise, then work, then lovers, even Yoga that helped me forget about the pain and loss and grief that lived in my heart. For the death of my older sister who we never talked about, for the love and approval I never felt, for the lack of touch from an emotionally absent mother and for the rejection and betrayal of a revered father. But at some point, there is nowhere, no person, no drug left to fill the emptiness. When we open the door to awareness, we invite the uncomfortable to come up and we have the choice, the opportunity, to sit with it, to face it, or to stuff it back down.
After all these years of practicing, studying and teaching Yoga (which I know is still just the beginning), I am starting to see that Yoga has been the one thing that has prepared my nervous system to contain all this and to begin to heal. It is the one truth I can keep coming back to. It is being a part of this discipline that has encouraged me to grow beyond my limited beliefs and to recognize that often my own feelings can be deceptive; that my own desires are not always in my best interest.
So here I am. Here in this country where I feel at home and also like a stranger. Where there is so much magic, beauty, hatred, disaster and kindness at its core. Where paradox is at every corner. Where there is nowhere left to hide. Can I dare to be happy with what is?