May 20, 2009

The Rosary.

Tonight while davening at shul, I had a peculiar flashback to High Holiday services long, long ago. Probably in 2005, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Was it Rosh Hashanah? Or Yom Kippur?

My mom had purchased something for me for my birthday that year, around the High Holiday season, that meant a lot to me because it was an acknowledgement of where I was going, who I was becoming -- a large black star of David on a really long black beaded chain. It was, essentially, a Jewish rosary. I forgave my mother the weirdness of its composition, put it in my jewelry box, and didn't think much of it.

And then, while I was getting dressed for holiday services one day, I pulled out the necklace. "Should I wear it?" I questioned myself, staring at the long black beaded cord, looping it around and around to a length that was doable as a necklace. I placed it around my neck, the star falling between the sides of the color of a royal purple shirt I had on. The weight of the star caused it to float downward, into my shirt, showing only the beaded black portion of the strange piece of jewelry.

I took it off.

I finished getting ready, all the while thinking about whether it was kosher for me to be wearing this Jewish symbol, especially to synagogue, especially on the high holidays. Was it sacrilegious? Sinful? I didn't have time to question the internet or call a friend, and surely there are plenty of people in the world who aren't Jewish who wear the star of David, right?

I put the rosary-themed gothic-style star of David necklace back on. I went to shul.

I remember  worrying the entire service about what if someone saw me with the necklace on, knowing that I was going through the (Reform) conversion process. What if I was accosted? What if the rabbi saw it and scolded me? The heavy star of David slipped down with its weight, slowly, and I played with the beaded chain the entire service, trying to make the star fall further away from sight. I didn't want anyone to see it. I wore it out of pride, but ended up being embarrassed and actually ashamed that I'd put it on and worn it to shul.

I remember nothing about what was said during that service -- by the rabbi or anyone else. But I do remember my exact outfit, and that necklace, and how embarrassed I was that I wore that necklace when I wasn't "officially" Jewish.

Now, I wear a star of David every day. In the eyes of halakah, well, I'm still not halakicly Jewish. But I feel naked without my star. It screams to the world "Jew here!" But it's more subtle than that one I wore all but once those many years ago. That big, black star of David done up like a rosary. No, now it's a small, shiny piece given to me by Tuvia. I have various other necklaces adorned with the magen David and other Jewish symbols. I'm no longer embarrassed or worried or frightened that I'll be reprimanded for wearing this symbol of Judaism that, to be honest, was a late incarnation of Jewish symbols.

Either way, my fear of what others think of me, how they read the most subtle of clothing choices and jewelry adornments, has changed over time. Confidence grows, worries subside, and in the end a small little star of David is but one millisecond in the scheme of things.


Ofir said...

During a recent trip to Israel, I noticed a lot of Christian Zionists wearing Magen Davids with a cross in the middle, which I found really horrendous. I know they mean well, but come on.

There is a line of jewelry for Christian Zionists online. Perhaps this rosary/Magen David comes from this line.

Mottel said...

There's no problem with any type of magan david . . . though, as you may be aware, the magan dovid isn't such a traditional Jewish symbol.

Jewish Detective said...

The star is a Zionist symbol NOT exclusively Jewish. As Ofir pointed out the xtians have adopted the same symbol. In addition, I know many religious Jews who consider the star akin to the cross. They would ask you to take it off if you were in their shul and especially if you were a guest in their house. So you cant satisfy everyone, you just have to respect the shul/community you attend. Different communities different mingagim/different beliefs about the star.

Kate said...

The line that stands out to me most is "Now, I wear a star of David every day. In the eyes of halakah, well, I'm still not halakicly Jewish. But I feel naked without my star. It screams to the world 'Jew here!'"

While I understand and, as you know, very much respect how much effort you've put into your conversion(s) & now to becoming halakicly Jewish, I wonder why you feel the need to advertise your Judaism with a magen David? I often wear one, too, but when I don't wear it, I feel OK, I feel fine, I don't feel less Jewish when people can't tell I'm Jewish. I'm interested in the thought process behind that sentence/sentiment in particular - do you feel less Jewish when others don't know you're Jewish?

Chaviva said...

@Kate What I mean by this statement is that a man can wear a kippah or tzitzit, but a Frum Jewish women does not have such visible options. I do like to "look" Jewish. So sue me, right? Is it weird to want to represent Jewishly? I am confident in my Jewishness, so it isn't me trying to PROVE something, I promise you that!

Don't get me wrong, I can live without a necklace, but I feel naked. I would wear other necklaces, but I really don't have many that aren't jewishly themed!

Ofir said...

I totally respect your Orthodox path, don't get me wrong. But when you say you want to look more Jewish, it implies that there is a Jewish look. Am I misreading you? I don't mean to if I am. I guess as a man who sometimes wears a kippah, sometimes not, has a hamsa beneath my's just not important what people think. To me, being Jewish is internal, my soul, and there's no reason I need to let everyone know. Just my thoughts, no intent to offend.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This reminds me of the responses to your post the other week. It constantly amazes me how us Jews question, question, question absolutely everything that is said and written! (And yes, I'm not Jewish yet, I don't have the certificate - but in my soul - a different matter). I was trained to question as part of my career, but in my outside the office life, not so much, until recently.

Anyway, Chavi, these are your thoughts about how you felt. I question the part of you that worried about wearing something that may , or may not, look a bit rosary-ish. For me, it probably wouldn't have even crossed my mind as I've never been anywhere near a rosary! But again, my questioning isn't really anything to do with the right or wrong of what you say and do, more from the perspective of 'I would never have looked at it like that...'. It's your journey - do it your way and please don't stop telling us all about it.

Shabbat Shalom!


Ofir said...

I think it's our Jewish nature to question, question, question, whether it be ourselves, our society, our religion. Just one more thing that makes us Jews. Shabbat Shalom!


Chaviva said...

@Ofir Thank you for your first comments, very interesting, and not at all surprising. I agree that it's our nature to question, question, question, but it is questioning an individual's path or choices that should be done with caution. I'm often accosted on my blog by the right for being to left and the left for being too right. It's a lose-lose situation. Being Jewish is very internal, it's exceedingly internal, of course, but there is also a comfort in being surrounded by those who look and to an extent feel as you do. I'm not sure where you live, but if I were in Israel, this wouldn't even be a conversation, as without a doubt you're constantly surrounded by Jews. Or Crown heights. Or Monsey. Or other very frum neighborhoods. There's a comfort in seeing others like yourself, and I don't think there is anything wrong, racist, or bigoted about that. We are, in fact, comforted by what we know. It's being able to look beyond that at the greater world with respect and awe that matters.

@Rachel I know, toots. I know. At least I'm not on the only one who sees it. Your kind words always make me smile, and thank you for the encouragement. The path is long and wrought with crap, but people like you and I were made for it :)

Shabbat Shalom!

Dunking Rachel said...

I know as a Jew By Choice there are times I am judged by a different ruler...this in not supposed to happen, but those of us who are converts know this more or less to be true, sometimes.

sometimes, for me it is a matter of wanting to be a part of this soooo much that it does get some what to the silly parts....yes I know I am Jewish...I know Jews come in all colors and shapes and cultural preferences..
but sometimes I do want to shout it out! does one do that? a woman?...and me as a conservative jew….?
it is a funny thing I go through phases in my clothing, but for a conservative Jew I dress at times on the orthodox side for services….most don’t care or at least they don’t comment to my face…but when I wear the hats!...yikes….and then my husband and I walk to services…not that usual in our congregation except on holidays, and we pass folks walking to services in the opposite direction at the local young Israel…We smile, and they clearly are confused, we actually heard them comment once after we walked by…….lol…so you can’t win ….

Chaviva said...

@DunkingRachel AMEN, sister. A-flippin'-men.

Kate said...

just wanted to say yet again that I don't question out of a place of nagging or disrespect or disdain. Most of the time, at least for me, my questions come from a place of curiosity. Rather than making suggestions or leaving comments that may end up soliciting unwanted or misguided advice, rather than misinterpreting, I usually stick with question commnts to iron out spots i'm not sure about and see whatelse is in your head behind the writing. I know you feel you've been accosted lately but I hope your readers (and you!) won't think that from now on, comments that include questions also include judgments or accosting. That line just stood out to me and I wanted to know more -your answer makes sense.

Anyway - I sorta feel like the reader comments on your blog are some sort of social experiment... Always interesting dynamics!

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