The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
On Feb. 28, 2012, 5 Adar, my entire world changed. My first child was born. My center of gravity moved out of myself and into that space that connects mother and child.
How blessed we were in those early days. Our community greeted our little girl with all the pomp and circumstance she deserved. How blessed we were when two rabbis and a rabba (Orthodox female clergy member) together welcomed her to the Jewish people, naming her in song. How blessed I was, this brand new Ima (mother), still shaking from the enormity of the experience of having carried and birthed this child, God’s creation and our creation, that I could stand on the bima, podium, to express words of thanksgiving, turning to Psalm 30, “Hafachta mispedi lemachol li. You turned my sorrow into joyous dance.”
Three years later, on Feb. 27, 2015, 8 Adar, my entire world changed again. I was close to six months pregnant and we were told our baby had died. Still very much there, inside of me, a part of me, and yet already gone. Three days later, I delivered a stillborn baby girl. The pain we have endured in the months since is a pain so deep that it fills every crevice but at the same time completely hollow, an open void. And so, I turn once again to Psalm 31 day in and day out. “Hashem he’elita min sheol nafshi, chiyitani miyardi bor… Ba’erev yalin bechi velaboker rina. God, You lifted my soul from the grave, You spared me from going down to the pit… At night there is weeping, but in the morning there is joy.” A piece of my soul is now buried deep in the ground, and I pray, I plead to God, bring me out. Bring us to the bright new morning when we can sing with You in joyful song.
And yet, we are blessed. We are blessed by our liturgy, in whose words I have found solace and refuge.
We are blessed by our rabbis. How are we to understand what this means, who this child was and is? Softly and gently they have listened and guided and given us words to express feelings for which there are no words. “Elohai neshama shenatata bi tehorah hi. Dear God, the soul you gave us is pure,” we said as labor began and again as it ended and we said goodbye. “Beyado afkid ruchi, Into God’s hand I place my soul,” we sang at our daughter’s grave.
We are blessed by the waters of the mikveh. Over the years, the process of going to mikveh has gotten less nerve-racking and somewhat more relaxed. After all the discussions, articles, webinars, and focus groups, I had learned that I had the right to define for myself what this ritual meant. I counseled brides to make their first mikveh experience meaningful. But in truth, until now, I visited the mikveh month after month simply out of a sense of duty and a desire to carry on our tradition. When the time came, I stood before the water, held up by three strong women beside me, praying for healing, forgiveness, strength, and courage. The mikveh waters did not wash away my pain, but that moment of prayer remains etched in my mind as a source of tremendous strength. I am so thankful that I had the tools — the guidance, the liturgy, the rituals — to make it so.
All that being said, Birkat Hagomel was hard for me. Birkat Hagomel is a blessing of thanksgiving for surviving a life-threatening experience. For weeks I wondered how, when, where could I say those words and really truly mean them? It is one thing to write here, it is another thing entirely to turn to God and say thank You for all my blessings, when I feel You have torn my heart in two. Gradually, the words of this blessing let me in. It reads, “Blessed are you God…Who grants goodness to those who are wanting.” I am wanting. I did nothing more than anyone else to deserve all that I have been given: health, safety, comfort, love. I do not deserve these many joys, so I try again and again to tell myself I also did nothing to deserve this pain. One day the opportunity came and quietly, more to myself than anyone else, I recited Birkat Hagomel. I prayed and continue to pray for many more moments of joyful song.
For weeks it seemed this pain would never ease. They are all wrong, I thought, time does not heal this pain. But now, months into this journey, it does feel different. We desperately wish our baby girl was still here, that we could be cuddling a newborn and watching our firstborn grow into a big sister. But the pain has changed with time. It is less pervasive, less pressing and gradually we have learned to make room for all our blessings.
Mi shebeirach avoteinu/ May the One who blessed our fathers,
M’kor hab’racha l’imoteinu/ The source of blessing of our mothers,
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
and let us say, Amen. (Lyrics by Debbie Friedman)
Click here for more information and resources about death and mourning in the Jewish tradition.