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Yom Kippur 2021

Margie Bogdanow

Good Yuntuf,

This afternoon I am going to talk to you about my Tallit. Like my Tallit, Judaism for me is pretty much all encompassing. It is wrapped around me - not separate. I have been wearing my Tallit yearly on Yom Kippur since I turned 50 and decided that I wanted a Tallit – not something that I imagined wanting or wearing growing up female in a Conservative temple in Newton. So, my own personal in-house artist/lawyer/musician/husband, with help from my sister, created this beautiful Tallit for me. I wish you could see it in person. I wish we were together. I wish, I wish...

I love being wrapped in it.

When you add up the fringes, threads, stands, and knots in a traditional Tallit, the total comes to 613, the number of commandments in the Torah. Today I will share some of the strands that make up my personal Judaism. I promise I won’t try to tell all 613.

One quick strand:
I last spoke to the congregation on Rosh Hashanah in 2010 as President. At that point I wouldn’t have thought my Jewish Journey was continuing. I used to picture that concept as something in the past – something that had already happened but I have come to understand that Judaism for me will continue to evolve as long as I live. That is a powerful realization.

Strand:
Based on my past Jewish journey, it might not be all that surprising that I am speaking to a congregation on Yom Kippur. My guess is that if yearbooks or synagogues had a “most likely to be speaking to their congregation on Yom Kippur” category, I might have been the pick of some.

I was the kid who loved and chose to go to Hebrew School 4 days a week– notwithstanding that when I was 11 (1967 for all Red Sox fans out there) I tried to convince my Hebrew School teacher that I had gotten a hearing aid when she caught me with a transistor radio in my ear listening to a late September Red Sox game. I still feel guilty about that as she was truly concerned, but the Red Sox to me are also kind of like a religion. As a child there were two places where I sat in a row of chairs with my brother, father and grandfather praying. One was the synagogue and the other was Fenway Park.

The surprise to some might be that I am speaking at a Reform Congregation and identify strongly as a Reform Jew.

Raised in the Conservative movement, I was often fighting the status quo. When I was seventeen my grandfather died and my dad went to say Kaddish most mornings. I often went with him, but I wasn’t counted, and there were numerous times that we had to wait to begin until the tenth male showed up. It made me really angry, - and yet somehow motivated me to work for change, rather than walk away. That anger, along with falling in love with Michael, a Reform Jew, led me to Reform Judaism. I love how grounded it is in the past and yet evolves, the way the issues and current realities of the world around us impact it and how it helps and guides me to live my life. It feels like a river that flows from the ocean – rooted but also going in a variety of directions.

The Isaiah community is an important strand. I have been a member for over thirty years. I have experienced many, many milestones (both the welcome and the unwelcome kind) within this community.

I’ve served on numerous committees and have held many leadership roles. I have met, not only many lifelong friends, but also others, where the word friendship doesn’t fully describe it. Although we’ve never had coffee or gone out for dinner we are deeply connected. I know, in my heart and soul, that this community always has my back. Last week at Tashlich, I found myself with tears streaming down my face as we sang and I listened to the Shofar. It took until that moment of togetherness for me to realize just how much I have missed the up close and personal nature of this community during the past 18 months.

Although serving as President was a peak, I continue to find new avenues of meaningful engagement and am learning that my involvement is not a bell-shaped curve.

My adolescence is a strong strand.
It began with Israel. The magical Israel of 1969-70 which was full of possibility. My dad was granted a Sabbatical and the Freedberg family of five packed up, spent two summers travelling through Europe and a year living in Rehovot, Israel. We took a ship each direction arriving in Haifa via boat, and arriving back in New York passing by the Statue of Liberty, like many of our relatives.

My dad did research at the Weizman Institute and I attended 8th grade at an Israeli public school. The only class that I truly understood that year was English. I was very good at that. The year was magical in many ways. We spent every Shabbat on a family Tiyyul (that’s a trip, an adventure) – exploring the country from north to south and east to west. Eating the foods, listening to the music, inhaling the scents, and speaking Hebrew as best we could.

There was one very memorable moment at a café on a hot day when my dad wanted to order watermelon and beer (“avateach v’bera” but instead ordered (“bera b’ambatya”) beer in a bathtub. The waitress was confused and amused.

I associated Israel and Judaism with adventure, with family, with fun and with laughter. I fell in love with that tiny little country, and with Judaism. I understand now, it was also in a “rose colored glasses, naïve way.” But it was real. And I was a teenager and it was first love.

Within a year or two of returning to Newton, I joined Young Judaea, a Zionist Youth Group. In Young Judaea I had my first taste of the power of teen leadership and got hooked on it. I also met Michael. Raised in Houston, he had recently started Brandeis. Lots of stories could be told but I will save those for another day. Suffice to say, these days our 1970’s relationship might be considered a no-no, but it has stood us well for over 45 years and provided us with three terrific kids (Matt, Dan and Alyssa), three wonderful in-laws (Hannah, Lauren and Andy), and six extraordinary grandchildren (Ava, Lila, Reid, Max, Ellie and Josie) (a quick Hi to any of you watching!). 

Shabbat is another strand. I don’t have rules about Saturday but I do actively try to make it a pleasant day.

Growing up, Friday night dinner was important. We always had dinner together as a family. My mom said the Shecheyanu every week. Although she frequently stumbled over the pronunciation, the meaning was ingrained in all of us. It remains my very favorite blessing. There is much power in acknowledging important moments and in realizing how many moments are special - how blessed we are to all be here, at this time, in this space, even when life is not perfect.

We continued making Friday night dinner festive while raising our children, in busy weeks with store bought roast chicken and Challah. In the past few years we have had more time, and Michael and I have been making Challah together. I make the dough – he sculpts and braids it. Even when it is just the two of us, we set the dining room table early in the day, say blessings, and linger over dinner. And I love, love, love the very deep breath I take and grounding I feel as I light candles every week.

Music is another important strand.
There is a Jewish soundtrack to my life. In childhood, it was the haunting music of ancient melodies sung by my Holocaust survivor Cantor. In Israel it was “Yerushalyim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold). As a newly Reform Jew in the late 80’s it was Shalom Rav. I have sung Adon Olam off key in every tune imaginable. For the past many years, it is the weekly Friday evening and Havdallah piano playing by Michael, sometimes accompanied by children or grandchildren. And so much more.

Another Strand:
Most of my professional life as a social worker has been involved in the alphabet soup of Jewish organizations. My first was HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society meeting Soviet immigrants at JFK and welcoming them to the United States. My newest venture is with JFNA - Jewish Federations of North America and my career has, among others, included JFCS, JCC, CJP, and the URJ. The work that each of them does expands much beyond the Jewish community and my role within each of them has enabled me to work towards making our world a better place, a value ingrained in me since childhood.

Lastly for today, but certainly not least, the strand of being a Jewish grandmother.
My most recent mantra is “Never doubt the power of a Jewish grandmother.” We may not be known for changing light bulbs but we are a shining, fierce and powerful bunch.

This strand began seven years ago. Our grandchildren’s relationship with Judaism will be different from mine – it will be theirs. My goal as Gramma is to be my authentic self and to share with them my Judaism, in the same way I share other things about me. And, I have the opportunity to help them uncover and discover ways that Judaism can enhance their lives. Currently it includes eating Gramma’s special brisket, dipping apples into honey on Rosh Hashanah; wearing matching frog pj’s, making mud pyramids, singing, dancing and playing tambourines during Passover, baking Challah when we are together, and sharing family stories whenever we can. I can’t wait to see how this particular strand evolves as they get older.

Each of these strands is a part of me. Together, with many others that there wasn’t time to include, they are me.

I know that this year as our community goes through transitions new strands will be woven for me and likely for all of us. I look forward to whatever new strands emerge.

Thank you all for being here (wherever you are) and for being threads in my Tallit.

Sat, December 4 2021 30 Kislev 5782