Copyright 2022 by Cindy Marcus
Beth David was always one step away from collapse. A converted house
in Van Nuys, the blacktop was more gray than black, the walls, though
loved, were chipped from wear, and the roof leaked every Winter.
my working class family attended Friday night services every week. In
the small congregants’
got Bat Mitvah’d, Shofars got blown, and every child received a
honor, bestowed upon every six year old by our rabbi, was the holiest
of holy to the under ten crowd. No longer were we relegated to the
the eve of our sixth year we were escorted into the sanctuary to sit
beside our parents. Dressed in our finery we received the blessings
of our people - in the form of a man whose wide eyes and thick black
glasses made him look more like a kind tortoise than a wise leader.
Still, it was a precious moment in our Jewish upbringing and my
mother, in her knock off pearls and pillbox hat - this was 1965 after
all - wore lace gloves for the occasion. While I, in a blue taffeta
dress bought in the May Company basement, sat beside her feeling like
rabbi standing at the bema paused long enough for we, “the
future blessed” to get situated before resuming his liturgy of
familiar melancholy songs.
Ata Adenoi,” like a melodic shepherd, guided us into and
through every Jewish celebration. Holidays, parties, even the deaths
of those we’d loved began with those three words. They defined
art thou, Lord our God…”
art thou, Lord our God…”
art thou, Lord our God…”
words were repeated like a Hebraic metronome.
my young mind, the repetition seemed contrary to the purpose.
this God was so all powerful, couldn’t
it hear better? Did it need us to keep saying, “Blessed are
you…” Was God deaf? Or just needy?
I kept these thoughts to myself as I was waited for the rabbi with
the kind turtle eyes to cease his litany and bestow my blessing upon
mother, sensing my impatience, placed a gloved hand on my knee in the
universal sign for, “Sit
how could I with my blue taffeta dress floating around my lap like
dutiful daughter that I was, I tucked my hands under my knees and
attempted to box myself in. I willed the dancing butterflies in my
stomach to cease but they fluttered to my chest, my hands, until at
last the rabbi stopped singing and announced, “It’s
time for the blessings. Cindy Marcus.”
jumped to my feet, somehow alluding mom’s
grasp, I raced up to the bema and stood before our leader.
ready,” I said.
rolled through the congregation in gentle waves.
rabbi took a step back, chuckled slightly, “Uhm
all right,” he said, “but we don’t usually do
blessings on the bema.”
of returning to my seat, I remained steadfast in my determination to
receive my blessing up close and in person.
rabbi, once again, looked uncertain how to proceed. He took a moment
to gather his thoughts, then placed a hand on my head and said a
prayer. Though no rainbows appeared in the night sky, something
shifted in me. This small prayer on this ordinary Sabbath night was
like arms engulfing me in a heritage that went back thousands of
years. For the first time since coming to this sagging religious
house, I felt warm and welcome.
returned to my seat to find…my
the frayed netting of her hat was something akin to disappointment.
flushed my cheeks. What had I done wrong? Why was she not proud of
rest of the service was a blur, a welling of sadness that threatened
to consume me. Somehow, I had done something that hurt her.
we moved into the Oneg, a gathering of food and fellowship after
temple, mom kept my reins tight. I was not allowed to go play with
the other children. The heat of shame spread to my entire body.
Dolores Udayke approached. A tall woman with a gray beehive hairdo.
Mrs. Udayke was the kind of person who always had more laughter than
candy to share, but an ample supply of both.
commented on my tiny sojourn to the front of the temple.
expressed her dismay. “No
response shifted something in my mother. “Well maybe they
should,” she said. She tossed my hair and offered me a brightly
wrapped cinnamon sweet.
released me from her vice grip, sent me off to play. And since that
day, has shared the story of my race to the bema at dinner parties
and family gatherings. And always in her voice is a thread of pride.
“Cindy just raced up
before the rabbi,” she’d say.
that Sabbath service, she never again wore those lace gloves.
it her small rebellion to a system that had roped her into a role she
never wanted to play?
too was a child of her upbringing. She grew up in a time where men
and women were separated in prayer and walls kept Jews from the rest
that world changed. Taffeta gave way to tie dye.
the grasp of that white lace glove remained.
latticed fingers clutch at my throat, squelching my voice, telling me
to stay down because blessings are for blonde, blue eyed girls, not
their olive skinned sisters with big noses.
girls are not welcome at that table and if we are lucky enough to
receive scraps we should count our selves blessed so move on.
lesson of the lace glove taught me I best devour whatever meager
blessings come my way, even if a banquet was two feet away.
I have remained steadfast in my starvation, a tribute to mom’s
values. Values my mother challenged but couldn’t bring herself
to change because at some point her mother likely placed a glove hand
on her lap and said, “Be still.” (Granted bubbe had a
thick Russian accent and spoke a healthy amount of Yiddish, so it
likely sounded more like, “Gud en oy, be schtill.”) But
the meaning behind the message was clear, to chase a blessing is to
risk shame. To run after your bliss will only bring bruised knees and
broken bones that could have been prevented if you’d only
accepted the protection of the gloved hand.
we are all children, many of us in big bodies. Exploration is in our
nature. Keeping our children safe doesn’t
serve. Self esteem comes when we rise from a fall not run from it.
Happiness follows accomplishment, and the harder the task the greater
the feeling of success.
we become blistered when we put our finger in the flame but we learn
healthy boundaries. We understand not to do that again because our
internal wisdom, and a healthy dose of pain, has taught us so. This
approach allows us to own the lesson. It becomes our own. And that is
a source of empowerment.
we shield ourselves from shame we can miss both the laughter and the
love that erupted in that tiny congregant’s
I look back, I wonder how many in that hall would have loved to run
up to the bema and stand before our tortoise wise rabbi in his black
robe with the matching yarmulke to have a one on one? He was our
conduit to God after all—
or so I
believed at that time. His direct line to the big Kahuna, the all
mighty, was a God send, pun intended. And to have that kind of
connection to the all powerful would be amazing because I got a ton
of questions and a pile of requests I’d like answered.
don’t know know who I
would have been
had mom taken that same gloved hand and placed it behind my back to
encourage me, the glove my ally and not my guardian. But playing the
what if game is another tool of the glove isn’t it? What if
takes our eyes off the prize and onto all the paths not taken. It’s
an anchor to life’s chair. And in all fairness, there have been
times when the gloved hand pointed me towards less mouth watering
appetites which saved me. When Flip and I were flush and could have
afforded a far larger home, we chose the more reasonable four bedroom
in the cookie cutter tract, because we knew we could make the
mortgage. There were desert trips I gave up for doctor appointments.
The discipline of being a free lance writer is a gift of the white
the glove has always worn me, not the other way around.
have never truly taken the gloves off, a loaded statement is there
ever was one. My voice, my desires, my closet dreams have given way
to the more pressing needs of others. If I put aside a day to write,
it was sacrificed to the alter of errands, appointments and soccer
games. My time for me has always been stolen moments found between
doing dishes and planning next week’s
dinner menus, despite the fact that I know if I go after my blessings
more blessings will come. One daisy in a bud vase can become a field
of wild flowers if I let it. A single word on the page morphs into
seventeen when I open myself up to the bounty that is mine for the
asking. I am a better person and dare I say it, closer to God, when I
allow myself to ask for what I want.
that night, a precedent was set. Other children raced up to the bema
to receive their birthday blessing. We became a parade of little
ones, all standing before the congregation to to a chorus of happy
chortles, as our rabbi “Baruch
each received our bounty front and center in a room rich with love
that’s the golden ticket,
it, (Not a question, that’s rhetoric), to stand before a group
of family and friends as we receive our blessings.
if it’s not anyone else’s,
there. I said it.
want to stand before a crowd of loved ones and say, “I’m
here.” But instead of muted, gloved hand response, what I would
like to hear is the unclothed, open skin, hand to hand, sound of
as I write these words, I flush with embarrassment. How could I,
Cindy Marcus, whose dad was just a postal carrier and mom a
secretary, whose grandparents fled persecution to find footing in a
land of milk and honey, say, “Please
bless me God.”
if I don’t ask, who will?
my hope is that God understands this and doesn’t
shy from the request.
lays God’s hand on my
and says, “I’ve been waiting. Welcome to the bema.”
Marcus, a Jewish woman of a certain age, found that when the pandemic
hit, her mom’s words of inspiration rang truer than ever, “If
not now then when?” And she’s been following her dreams
of becoming a full time writer ever since.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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