By returning sephardim
February 20, 2010
I see Halakha as a map with our hearts as the compass. We each use our hearts and insights, when two Jews speak of Torah there are three opinions given breath. Limited by modern interpretations of 'law', we speak surely of the way of navigating, of walking closer to Oneness? The many shimmering meanings of each word of Torah; the many nuances, subtleties and complexities of our ancient, shared language, birth different interpretations. The truly observant and liberal alike must surely create space for the individual voice and delight in our diversity of hearts in chorus. There is a living symbiosis between 'the way of walking' and the narrative, mystery, science and philosophies of Aggadah. They have the proven ability to grow together from secure roots and connection to a greater light, branches of the great tree of life. The Mishnah and the Talmud have nurtured generations. Yet there were 12 tribes and two sexes. There have been voices lost in the wilderness who have found other directions. Those voices will often have continued singing, paths and memories of primordial wisdom passing down generations as a reminder to look to see light in our neighbours, in other nations and peoples. Before Babel we are told all humanity spoke the same language. Once upon a heart-beat, we all came from Africa, our people's birth in the North of Africa, in Egypt. Perhaps the loses we have suffered, the breaking up of all, this was part of spreading the light in order to recognise it in 'other'; to remember we are all of one creator, to blend our stories with those of others; to build our hearts? Who knows? Of those 12 tribes, however I will say they are each a vibrant colour of the refracted light coming from the one light; the one 'Shem', all from 'The Name', 'The Source', 'The Light.' Some of our stories and traditions may again be at risk of being lost through utter submersion into a single hue or into the unhearing elements in the world at large. We may trip in our 'way of walking' if we become either too alienated from our roots or utterly aliented from all else in the globe we share, or too concentrated on one or two branches of the great tree. We must always ask ourselves, if we are a chorus, who are the voices less heard? Which are the stories less told? How do we hold those voices in harmony? I think these are age old questions for us.
My voice is that of a woman, that of one who has a mix of blood; whose Sephardic songs have blended with other nations and heritage, though much of my mother line stretches back centuries and something more fundamental within makes me of the Sephardim. Many Jews may choose to disregard my voice as part of the chorus for some of those reasons. This would be their choice, valid no doubt in some ways of seeing and I would not dislike them for it. I believe none-the-less, that they would be mistaken because all voices and hearts and eyes are important; because that is who we are and how we survived. 'Holy' has 'holistic', seeing from all aspects connotations. I am not able to call myself 'holy' but rather I try to see things holistically and honour the breath of life in all. It saddens me that in being misunderstood or mistrusted by the critical and unhearing within the world at large, we may cease to witness ourselves. The unheard voice goes elsewhere to sing, ultimately knowing the creator hears even in the darkest places and everywhere there may be light with the veils pulled from our eyes. This is part of the story of my family and why I am now re-finding the stories, the songs, the traditions of my mother's mothers and fathers. With each discovery I find so much we still do, so much of what I wrote as a child and women, so much of what we choose to eat, so much of 'our way of walking' still echoes the footsteps of the Sephardim. My mother's mothers' voices were not heard so well I think and they chose to 'walk the path' alone and with 'other', keeping their candles burning in their ways and eyes and hearts, rediscovering their voices and trying in all ways to empower others until I moved full circle, this time determined to use my voice and have theirs heard too. For any caught in shadowlands, Jews and not Jews, each soul caught in shadow enshrouds the world's light and requires us to find within each of ourselves something to keep the candles burning, both for ourselves and for all, so we may live brighter, fuller lives and welcome more light in. I hope you choose to hear my voice, and connect with and debate my words. I love to argue, creative conflict being the building force that neutralises destructive conflict, within the self and within the world. I am learning and if ever I forget that fact I have ceased to live. But learning is like breathing, you give and receive, absorb and release. There is no waste, only cycles of growth and understanding. This we understand.
In a country where Ashkenazim have found the fortitude to have flourished despite all challenge, and where the nurturing mother tongue of Yiddish holds strong, it is vital that other traditions are looked upon as equal and honoured for their differences. 'Anavah' makes it is paramount that doors and ears are kept open. With the closure of one gathering place for Sephardim in Manchester, with the seeming dwindling of ancient healing practices and folklore, I worry. I see Ladino and I understand it more than book learning would suggest I should. I have to search to find this particular 'Lingua de la Leche' of Jewish people though. Much of the prayers, poetry, stories and healing is writen in this melodious, seemingly disappearing tongue; much of the Aggadah is fading, to be opened by the few. Where places this the voices of all? The Sephardim settled in Britain first and this country has acted both as that which exiled and destroyed and that which protected, sheltered and nurtured, as it has to us all, as many countries have. Isolated and outside things as I am, I hear little of Jewish communities in Britain other than the irrepressible Ashkenazi. I hear much from America of the Sephardim and little anywhere of Yemenite and Mizahri. Indeed there is much lumping together of we groups, not just in the 'renewalist', communal, all welcome, healthy way. We are clumped together like curdled coffee; in the not seeing way; in the one hue not many way. Perhaps it is the case that Sephardic and Yemenite and Mizahri Communities are thriving and flourishing in Britain. I would love to hear this is the case! Perhaps it is my isolation, geographically and through the tides of time that leads me to see and fear it otherwise. These things I do not know but am seeking illumination. I know little and talk much, this I do know. I do know too that we can sing as the different rivers over the rocks leading to the sea; with many voices, many waves and undulations, and one ultimate direction, towards 'The Source.'
When we are humble enough to recognise and hold as one our shared roots and diverse branches with other peoples and tribes, we see our colours sparkle. We may see beyond ourselves and our shared roots to other deep connections and shared roots of a different nature. We may acknowledge the value that Shari'ah from the Arabic, also means 'to walk the path' as Halakha does, and that our words for 'peace' and 'light' and 'prayer' come from a shared linguistic root and interconnected heritage with Islam that speaks of the Almighty power that sings all life into being. If G_D is One, that one parental source made them and breathed life into the clay of their form as the breath and spark was breathed into us. Celtic and other world superstitions show some kinship with some of our ways of walking and these may be starting points, not for loss of identity but for connection and truth. I think maybe it is trust in our voices to the point of hearing others without loosing our own that can make the vital difference.
Of those saving, harmonising voices too are those of the mothers and of the mother tongues and mother wisdom passed to girl and boy, of the rituals of healing and balance within the home and community. The issues local and international we face in terms of health, commerse, environmental change and challenge, education, peace-building and community are given balm of reason and mystery and art through shared voice. Science, business, tradition and innovation cannot be growthful and enduring without the connectivity of the feminine; without the voice of all. A fire cannot burn bright with disconnected sparks nor without the watch-wardens of the night. The world calls 'Hatzalah' and 'Anavah' in a variety of tongues, in the mouths of humans and tongues of forest fire and flood, in the language of science and politics and art. We call for it yet know the answers are written and sing for us to hear if we listen to the 'All'.
Women are traditionally the keepers of the tides and cycles of life, given the duty of renewal and celebration of the head of each month in the promise of the new moon, singing its return to fullness, heralding the oncoming month's festivities and remembrances, casting away the dark. Women are those that traditionally light the candles to carry light into those darker hours. We are those who pass the kiddish cup, our cup of life, to our men to bless and our children to drink of. We sing the words into being, into form. We bring the herbs, spices, oils and foods that are fit for life; fit for ritual into the home. We dance and sing and cook and cleanse our Halakha. We give the sweets that sweeten the spirit and the salt that absorbs and cures harm. There is a hidden Aggadah of women, a Talmud of the milk tongues that moves beyond that of the home into the community and from thence the world. Women's choices within the home and within their chosen work is no less than each man's. Likewise the way in which a women works, the chosen carreer when careers are chosen is as much part of the path as each man's. A man's role in the home is likewise vital. The domestic ritals of healing, balance and nurture have the power to extend into the workplace and the world when voices are heard and recognised and shared and encouraged. The star of David holds and heralds that balance with two equilateral triangles, for what is the sun's fire without its reflection in the waters of creation? What is reason without mystery? What is the seed without the earth, the wind without the tree, the voice without ears to hear? I know too well, as so many do, what it is to live outside balance and to live seeking it with every part of me but away from what nurtures most. The more we hear eachother, the more we are heared. The more we hear, the more we are able to recall and embrace and nourish both our roots and the fragile, vibrant new shoots of the tree; our shared tradition and our new interpretations of it. The less we hear the less we are heared, the more we loose meaning and connection and are cast adrift. We must also honour the male and female aspects in each one of us and each word of Torah and how these translate into our world and ways of being, for we each have both mother and father within and each the playful Simcha within too. There are different calibrations of the role of man and women, different ways of living, loving, nurturing, protecting and being within home and community based on the balance within.
We each find our routes and ways of walking but being generic, homo-generic or patriarchal cannot be the answer and is not what I see when I read the word. Whatever our gender, we each find our own balance of roles in home, community and world by seeing as equal and symbiotic the feminine and masculine elements of life and soul within ourselves, others and our traditions and interpretations of the map before us. We must hear all voices. Men are heard more when they hear women, men hear more when they hear eachother. Women have a gift for speaking, I know I do! We must also listen to our sisters, to our menfolk, to our elders, to our children. We must listen to the word in the wind and waters and in the ground that bears both our footsteps and our fruit. We must listen to the light, mystery and reason in the words of friends, strangers and seeming foe. If we listen well enough, I trust we will hear the word of 'The Great One' in all these voices. I am waiting for your thoughts. I am needing your voices. I am listening.