Tag Archives: confirmation

Challah Covers

by Maureen Rubin (Los Angeles, CA)

My family endlessly obsessed over my brother’s bar mitzvah.  Guest list, menu, music, clothes.  Were burgundy velvet tuxedos too much?  When it was over, I was only ten, but started counting the days until my own bat mitzvah.

Not going to happen.   In my hometown shul in 1960, girls could not get bat mitzvahed.  Instead, we would take part in a group confirmation.  Fifty Jewish girls in white dresses–without blue satin sashes.

Spurred on by the injustice of bat mitzvah prohibition, I drifted away from Jewish studies after my dull confirmation.  In college, my Jewish connection was limited to attending Rosh Hashanah services at Hillel so I could meet Jewish boys from ZBT.

But the one event I looked forward to each year was the Passover seder where we reconnected with our huge, loving family. Our seder was the Reader’s Digest condensed version.  No haggadahs and we completed the story of Passover in record time.  Jews, slaves, Moses, plagues, burning bush, Red Sea, freedom. Done. Then we ate.  And ate.

My freshman year I went home for Pesach with a friend whose family finished the entire haggadah with a discussion on each part.  The in-depth dialogues around the table set off brain sparks.  I could suddenly relate the history of Pharonic oppression to what was then happening to American women.  I don’t want to be sacrilegious, but clearly there were parallels.  OK, we weren’t building pyramids and eating dirt, but we could legitimately protest how women’s futures were being sculpted by everyone but them.  Women in America were living our own form of Egyptian slavery!

Years later, I married a wonderful man who was proud of my career and life choices.  We had two daughters.  When our eldest was 13, we decided to give her the bat mitzvah I never had, but would have loved.  She would be bat mitzvahed on Mount Masada, where King Herod had built a complex that sheltered the last survivors of the Jewish revolt.  Masada remains a symbol of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.

The ceremonies were unforgettable.  We sat in a stone amphitheater and looked down on our beautiful children. Ten 13-year olds, five girls and five boys, all wearing white, took turns reading from the Torah on the very spot where our ancestors chose mass suicide instead of Roman oppression. There wasn’t a dry eye in the dessert.

When the ceremony was over, the “new adults” received gifts.  The boys received beautiful hand embroidered tallitot and the girls received–challah covers! Suddenly, we saw movement below us, we heard buzzing from the girls. A voice rang out, demanding “fairness of gifts.” It was our daughter.

“We girls do not want challah covers,” she said.  “These gifts are not fair.  We are being treated differently.  Why did the boys get things they can wear to synagogue while we got things that keep us in the kitchen? We want to be treated the same.  We want tallitot.”

How proud we were.  Her act of civil disobedience reminded us of Biblical midwives who defied the Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the newborn baby boys.  In this sacred setting, it became clear that my daughter and her generation did not have to be told to remember that their ancestors were slaves in Egypt, nor that their foremothers were allowed few life choices.

The girls got their tallitot.  My daughter’s tallit became the chupah at her wedding and she will pass it on to her beautiful Jewish feminist eight-year old when the time is right.

Maureen Rubin is an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge. In her 30 years on campus, she taught writing and media law , served in a variety of administrative positions, published widely and received numerous teaching and public service awards.  Prior to joining the university, Rubin was Director of Public Information for President Carter’s Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs in the White House, and held similar positions for a U.S. Congresswoman and several non-profits. She has a JD from Catholic University School of Law In Washington, D.C., an MA in Public Relations from University of Southern California and a BS in Journalism from Boston University.

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism, Passover

The First Commandment

by Madeline Black (Sarasota, FL)

“I am the Eternal God.”

This sentence is the well known first of the Ten Commandments. However, according to basic rules of grammar, this sentence can not be a command. And yet, it is not only one of the Ten Commandments; it is the First Commandment.

While the following nine–such as, “You shall keep the Sabbath,” “Honor your father and mother,” and “Thou shall not kill”–are unarguably commands, this first commandment reads as more of an opening line. It sets the stage for the commandments that follow.

I believe that the purpose of the first commandment is for the Israelites to accept God as the Eternal One, who brought us out of the land of Egypt to be our God.

One Midrash interprets the first commandment to mean: “I am the Eternal, if I am your God.” In other words, God is able to bring about divine redemption only if Israel acknowledges God as being our God.

Upon learning this, I was reminded of a piece of information that I learned in a social studies class this year. I learned that a state can only be considered a state if it is universally acknowledged by other states. Well, does this same principle not apply to religion?

So, let us consider our religion to be a state of mind. By accepting the First Commandment to be true, we enter into that state of mind. Only in this state of mind are we able to fully adhere to the following nine commandments.

In a way, the First Commandment is God’s way of making sure that everybody clearly understands the responsibilities set by the commandments, as well as the consequences that come from not following them. The First Commandment is a reminder so that we do not forget that the commandments are something more than guidelines.

Let us not forget that the covenant between us and God has two sides to it. We are God’s chosen people as long as God is our only God. If we do not choose God, we are not his people. But what would happen if we had not accepted God as the Eternal?

The Quantum Theory explores the idea that matter and reality only exist when observed. For instance, does a spider in your bathroom exist if you do not see it? (Personally, I would prefer to think not.) But the bigger question is, if we did not believe in God, would God still exist? And without the belief in God, what are the Ten Commandments, if not only a set of meaningless, obsolete guidelines?

Although accepting God as our God was something we did as a people, I have come to learn that it is also something one must do on one’s own. In Hebrew school, as children, we are taught the Ten Commandments. We are taught the fundamentals of being Jewish. What is accepted, and what is not. However, it is not until later that one begins to question: Why must we celebrate Passover? Why must we keep the Sabbath?

I have learned this year from Rabbi Glickman that although we are given texts to read and passages to study, it is up to us to interpret them in a way that fits with our idea of being Jewish. This year, I have begun to understand that each person must also accept God as his or her God, and embrace the state of mind in order to be able to fully appreciate the mitzvah that is the Ten Commandments.

So, in reality, though the First Commandment is not a direct command, it is the most important commandment. The words “I am your God” are the words that direct these commandments to us, God’s chosen people. This commandment includes us all in a category of people who will follow the rest of the Ten Commandments.

God is our God, so we follow God’s commandments.

Madeline Black shared these thoughts about God and the Ten Commandments as part of her Confirmation this past Shabbat at Temple Emanu-el in Sarasota, FL. 


Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity