Tale of Bashert

    Share

Part One Established Traditions

Before Marti found a career in psychological counseling, she “felt like a woman without a country” (Interview Dec. 2012). Yet in a cultural sense, she always felt connected to the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Such bonding is difficult to understand, since Jewish identification can be primarily geographical or cultural (lox, bagels, and klezmer music), rather than religious. “My Jewish identity is just always there—always a part of who I am,” Marti told me (Interview Dec. 2012) . Many families in the 1940s, with World War II and the Holocaust’s reverberating memories, committed themselves to Jewish rites and rituals. In the mid-50s, Marti’s father drove her three hours each way from Palm Springs to Los Angeles every week for Hebrew lessons. While she talked about the long drive, I recalled my own father driving me from New Martinsville to Wheeling, West Virginia for Sunday school.

A highway in California along an orange grove similar to the route Marti’s father traveled.

And, he also started teaching me Hebrew long before I took classes. Although Marti’s family joined a Reform congregation and mine a Conservative one, we both went to a religious school, which was “as much a given as going to public school” (Interview Aug. 2012). Marti’s memory of her Rabbi Bauman and Cantor Brown mirrored my recollections of my Rabbi Kramer and Cantor Lang, who taught our very small and intimate Hebrew classes. Our mutual social lives often revolved around synagogue rituals and events. In my case, our Rabbi and committee visited homes every Chanukah to sing songs and judge decorations, highlighting the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks. I recall the year my family won a prize for creating a shadow box of biblical characters and hanging blue and white streamers and Jewish stars from the walls and ceiling. Although it has become traditional to give gifts on Chanukah, Marti’s family focused more on the candle lighting, commemorating the miracle of the oil in the Temple, which was only supposed to last for one day but burned on for eight—thus the extended holiday. Marti delights in a legacy to three of her granddaughters who are Catholic.  When she was around six years old, the eldest loved lighting the menorah with its eight candles. The holiday was so meaningful that she began her very own menorah collection, over which the family still says the Chanukah blessing each year. Another religious ritual that the family treasures is lighting the candles to usher in Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) on Friday night. This photo includes four generations of Marti’s family (Interview Aug. 2012).

Four generations of Marti’s family lighting the Shabbat candles.
Chanukah candle lighting at Westerbork transit camp.
Marti and grandaughters lighting the menorah.

In addition to observing holidays, Jews typically celebrate the coming-of-age ceremony called Bar Mitzvah, literally “son of the commandment.” This ritual has a long history, beginning from biblical times. Originally, it marked both civil and religious obligations to boys who were no longer considered minors. The ritualistic practices, such as reading from the Torah scroll, were primarily developed in the seventeenth century onward. When boys reached the age of thirteen, they were expected to live by a moral code and observe Jewish laws. They could possess property, become married, and participate fully in Jewish practices. Girls were not typically educated in Jewish learning and could not pray with men. Although this situation has changed in the modern period, it was shocking when twelve-year-old Judith Kaplan read from the Torah scroll in 1922. Many in her own family were stunned. This reaction is especially surprising since Judith was the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, which is perceived as a liberal movement (“The First American Bat Mitzvah”). Thirty years later the Bat Mitzvah, “daughter of the commandment,” was still an unusual event—in many synagogues, it is still forbidden. My own Bat Mitzvah, in a Conservative synagogue, was only the second in my congregation in 1956, although it was Friday night (not Saturday morning) and did not include a Torah reading.

Around the age of eleven, in the mid-1950s, Marti saw her younger male cousin practicing for his Bar Mitzvah. “When he started Hebrew lessons, I couldn’t stand that he might know a secret language that I didn’t understand—so I became the only girl in my Hebrew class! I remember being teased mercilessly—I can’t believe I actually stuck it out” (Interview  Aug. 2012). Marti said her persistence in all things was something she learned from her father. “We were both stubborn and fought all the time, but I always knew he loved me.  Along with his unconditional love, his greatest legacy to me was ‘you are what you are because of your attitude’” (Interview Aug. 2012). Marti’s Torah reading was prophetic, bashert as we Jews like to say, given the theme—“Justice, justice, may you pursue” from Deuteronomy 16:20. Little did Marti know that she would live out the teachings elaborated in her reading: “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe.” In her future counseling and teaching career, Marti treated each client, student, and peer as not only an equal, but a valued partner in life’s journey.

An artistic rendition of a Bat Mitzvh

Marti had trouble carrying a tune, so her father taught her to chant the Torah (Hebrew Bible) and Haftorah (readings from the Prophets).

He was the perfect tutor. “My father was very musical—he played the violin beautifully and had a wonderful voice.” Accomplishing this religious and musical feat inspired Marti to talk about carrying a tune for the first time, in her Bat Mitzvah speech. Marti treasures these memories for another reason—her father’s heart gave out a year later. He died eleven months after her August 1957 Bat Mitzvah, which in retrospect took on an even deeper meaning (Interview Dec. 2012).

The theme of Shoftim, justice, can be related to the idea of tikkun olam, translated as “repair of the world.” Charity, ethics, and human rights are hallmarks or manifestations of this idea. Marti grew into this obligation through a process of discovery—a journey with many twists and turns. Fulfilling her family’s directive, going from kindergarten to college, led to her future career. The Yiddish word, bashert, meaning fate or destiny, describes Marti’s entrée into the field of mental health counseling. During a period in her life when she felt restless and unfulfilled, Marti was invited to an event sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), to which she belonged.

The website’s explanation of its mission reflects the work of tikkun olam:

The National Council of Jewish Women is a volunteer organization that has been at the forefront of social change for over a century—championing the needs of women, children, and families—while courageously taking a progressive stance on such issues as child welfare, women’s rights, and reproductive freedom.

That pioneering spirit continues to this day. Informed by Jewish values—and our understanding that these values have universal appeal—the National Council of Jewish Women is nothing less than the voice of, the place where women from across society come together to make the world at large and their communities, in particular, a better place.

Attending that NCJW meeting was a serendipitous catalyst to Marti’s starting graduate school thirteen years after graduating from college and ultimately becoming a mental health therapist.  Since that time, Marti has continued to be a member of NCJW and served on the Jewish Family Service Board. She has always felt a need to “give back,” a commitment echoing throughout her life (Interview  Aug. 2012).

 

Up Next

Part Two Tikkum Olam

Marti’s Jewish background and identity often served as important teaching moments. She listens with intent, courage, and conviction and never shirks an opportunity to explain her Jewish heritage and practices. One student was stunned to hear that Marti would miss class because of a Jewish holiday. Being from a small town, never having met a Jew, and hearing only negative stereotypes, the student gradually learned about another world outside her sphere of experience. Marti said, “It opened up a beautiful dialogue, and we developed a great relationship. It was a growth experience for both of us” (Interview Dec. 2012).

Although tikkum olam usually refers to large-scale social issues, it becomes a personal and continual quest in Marti’s view of life. Being a teacher and counselor for Marti implies friendship and what Nel Noddings calls an “ethic of caring.” Marti speaks ardently