Passover is traditionally a holiday that is shared with family and friends. I’ve attended Seders with more than 100 people in attendance.
Last night, I held a Seder for myself. Yep, just me. (I did set out a cup of bubbly, non-alcoholic water for Elijah, and even though I left my door open, he didn’t show up and hasn’t shown up yet. <– maybe because eventually, I had to lock the door?!)
To celebrate the first Seder of Passover, there are soooooooo many places I could have gone and been welcomed with open arms. Alternatively, I could have invited a few wayward Jewish and non-Jewish friends over to my home to share in my lil’ Seder. I did neither of those things…
Here’s why I had a Seder for One:
These days, I so rarely get any time to be by myself and last night, I just had to take advantage of the calm and quiet peace in our home. It was absolutely beautiful.
I did veeeeeeery minimal preparation (thanks to Max’s Deli,) and read through A Global Justice Haggadah with my furry friends beside me. I guess I wasn’t really alone because my pets, Erin, Kishke and Polly were all begging me for food. I could also feel the presence of my amazing grandma, Faye Lazar, as I do often and especially on every meaningful Jewish holiday. With every bite of matzo ball soup I slurped, I could feel my grandma judging because there was dill in the matzo balls which she would have seen as an absolute shanda!!!!!! “Dill in matzo balls?!?!?! Fish from a jar?!?!?!?!” Faye Lazar forgives my shortcuts and I’m sure G-d does too.
I did have a moment where I wondered if G-d was cool with how I was doing the first night of Passover this year. I’m pretty sure G-d was good with it and maybe even applauded it a little.
…when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I usually told them I was French and Catholic…
In the 50+ years I’ve been alive, I’ve kept my own internal turmoil over my Jewish journey, pretty close to the vest. It was buried deep within my kishkes for a long time.
I was adopted at birth from the Jewish Children’s Bureau (JCB, now known as JCFS.) Even though I was adopted by Jewish parents from a Jewish organization and attended Jewish preschool, I had this idea that I wasn’treally Jewish.
As a little girl, when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I often told them I was French and Catholic. (Just for a frame of reference, I also told them I had an elephant living in our family room.)
It’s not that I didn’t want to be Jewish or was ashamed of being Jewish, I just didn’t believe I was Jewish. At the tender age of five, when my parents told me I was adopted, it hadn’t occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I was Jewish via my bloodline or not.
Like so many adopted kids, I felt really confused.
disclaimer: My parents did an excellent job of telling meI was adopted.I felt loved, special and taken care of... andalso, confused.
As I grew, I didn’t believe I could simply choose to be Jewish. My parents were obviously raising me Jewish, in a Reform temple that I went to for what seemed like an eternity. (I was confirmed at 16.) Why in the hell didn’t I think I was Jewish? I wanted to tell my mom I didn’t feel Jewish. I thought about telling my rabbi I didn’t feel Jewish. I was so ashamed of not feeling Jewish. So, I just kept “acting” like I felt Jewish.
I grew up in Skokie just north of Chicago. Skokie was once coined, “The World’s Largest Village.” Back in the 1970’s when I was a kid, Skokie was home to approximately 7000, Holocaust Survivors. I vividly remember the incident that made Skokie famous. I was there and they even made a movie about it… — Neo-Nazis wanted to have a rally and march in my village.
I was terrified; worried for my family, friends and all of the Jews who lived peaceful lives in my little, “big” village. By now, antisemitism, racism and other inequities infuriated me. I remember yelling when The Phil Donohue show had Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen on his show…ON HIS SHOW!!! I screamed at the TV at the top of my lungs at how wrong it all was. (I imagine my mom still remembers this. I was 12.)
Between the Skokie Nazi rally fiasco and that “Donahue” show, I quickly learned that injustice mattered to me and that it was my obligation to do all I could to fight injustice, racism and antisemitism. I had no idea how “Jewish” that was at the time.
Over the years, I rarely dated Jewish boys. It just didn’t seem that important as long as I was in love! (insert eye roll.) Ultimately, I went on to meet the non-Jewish man I would eventually marry and after two kids, divorce.
Before I got married, I made a decision to hire a private investigator to find my birth family. We didn’t have much information and I wasn’t very hopeful I’d get any answers to health history, who I looked like, and….. was I Jewish?
Three days after I hired the private investigator, my birth mother and family were found. “WOW!” followed by, “EEEEK!”
I was fortunate to meet my wonderful birth mom and from her, I learned that she’d converted to Judaism from Catholicism when she was pregnant with me.
I embraced and celebrated my Jewish-ness except, I still didn’t know if I had any Jewish BLOOD in me. Why this mattered, I will never understand.
Maybe you have to be adopted to totally get this, but not knowing what other blood relatives can know so easily, was hard! And, even though I knew my birth mother, I didn’t know anything about the other half of my bloodline. No one else in my birth mother’s family was Jewish and by the time I met my birth mother, she wasn’t Jewish.
Was my birth father Jewish? For reasons, I won’t get into here, I do not know who my birth father is and probably never will.
So, this past year, once and for all, I decided to take a DNA test to find out more about my ancestry. When my results arrived, I glanced at my surprising and unique genetic combo…
As a reader, you might be thinking, “Why in the hell does this even matter to her?” I can’t explain it. When I saw that I had genetic Jewish roots, I cried tears of joy. To this day, I can’t explain why it mattered so much, but it mattered to me and that’s all that matters.
I know in the deepest core of my kishkes, I was born Jewish, have always been Jewishand will always be Jewish. For much of my life, I didn’t know I had Jewish genetics or a converted Jewish birth mother. As I obsessed about “not feeling Jewish,” through all of my questioning, I lived Jewishly and still live Jewishly today.
And like most Jews, I have personally experienced both blatant and “subtle” antisemitism; not just from strangers, but from friends and family who could really benefit from a commitment to education on what is simply NOT kosher to say or do.
When I worked in Jewish social justice, in accordance with the organization’s mission and values, I was loud and proud about working to fight racism, poverty and antisemitism in Chicago. I loved this work and the organization, (JCUA,) and still do.
Today, I am still that same girl who was yelling at Phil Donahue on the TV in 1978. We must continuously fight poverty, racism and antisemitism, together. If you’re not doing anything on Monday, April 4th at 5:00PM CDT, I urge you to attend, ORT in Conversation – Combating Antisemitism Through Education: A Global and Local Perspective. (It’s being held on Zoom and is a free event. Once you register, I will personally send you the link.) I want you to be there and ORT wants you to be there. If you think this is an invitation for Jews only or Jews in St. Louis, think again. More than anyone who makes it into this virtual event, I want my non-Jewish readers to join. It’s only by working together, through our differences, that we can chip away at antisemitism, racism, poverty and really, all societal inequities.
During this transition into 5780, I decided to do an exercise: to sum up this past year and vision for year to come, in less than five minutes.
I forced myself not to overthink, but to fly through a list that I believe is the truth – the good, the bad and the ugly. There was a lot of ugly in 5779, but toward its close, my family and I experienced more hope in our “Happy House.” May it represent better things to come for me, my family, you, your family and humankind.
You (Yeah, YOU.)
Shana Tova. Even if you feel it more sour than sweet, may we have the patience to wait out the sour until it transitions into sweetness.
The past several weeks have been rough. Without going into detail on what’s happening in my little family, I’d rather focus on what this time period has evoked:
Are we safe?
My daughters and I have openly discussed safety, identifying safe and unsafe scenarios and spaces, not compromising our safety, so that someone will like or accept us, and finally, how we practice self-soothing when we are afraid. Like any parent, my daughters’ safety and empowering them to know how to get/stay safe, are of the utmost importance.
While in the midst of walking through private issues over the past several weeks, epic mass shootings, scores of hate crimes and the disastrous fires in California, also plagued our country.
After the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, PA, like so many of us, I was shocked. No matter how many times I hear about or experience anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, the shock value never, ever lessens.
My daughter and I discussed the Pittsburgh tragedy after a few days had passed. I couldn’t believe how matter of fact she was about it.
I fervently exclaimed,
I absolutely refuse to let this be the new normal!
She responded to me very calmly,
Mom, we’ve been having lockdown drills for as long as I can remember. At first, when I was little, they were really scary, but now, this IS our normal.
My mouth was agape. I felt like I couldn’t breathe…
I had the “aha” moment I have never wanted to have.
I went on to validate what she’d said to me. I told her that her response made me sad and then, she said,
It is sad, but it just is. Mom, we have to live with what is.
A part of me wanted to argue against what she was saying, but I didn’t. The truth is, I was in awe of my daughter’s composure and graceful example of how to live life on life’s terms.
Just this past week, I came home from work and as I prepped dinner, I shared with my daughters that ORT’sKfar Silver Youth Village had to be evacuated because there weren’t enough (or close enough) shelters, for the kids to be safe.
At dinner, my daughters were wide-eyed and glued to everything about Kfar Silver. They wanted to learn more about the “really cool” place the Kfar Silver Youth Village is.
My daughters asked so many questions:
How can these kids ever feel safe with rockets being launched nearby? How can they not have enough shelters? Do adults help them feel safe? Who helps the adults feel safe? How can the world be this scary?
And then, the same daughter who told me about needing to “live with what is” said,
AND NOW — if you will now take upon yourselves the observance of My commandments, it will be pleasant (easy) to you from now and henceforth, for every beginning is difficult (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 19:5:1).
Earlier this week, I stepped (dove headfirst) into an executive director role and for months prior, I’d been obsessing about the great Rabbi Ishmael and the short quote (and surrounding text) from the Midrashim. In a nutshell, “For every beginning is difficult,” raced through my head constantly. Continue reading ““For every beginning is difficult””
I’m thinking that in 5779 , we will need to be extra resourceful and creative. Thus far, 5778 has been okay, but fraught with steep challenges. (I won’t delve into politics, grief or human rights violations in this post.) I like to think of 5778 as, “paying our dues in research, development, patience and strategy.” Continue reading “May our New Year be sweet, creative & strategic:”
Please forgive the obnoxious length of this post. It’s 4:00am and I stole most of it from an article I published in June, 2016, on LinkedIn. At this wee hour, it seems applicable to where my head is right now.
If I had my druthers, I’d never call anything I’m deeply passionate about, or other people are supposed to be inspired by, “Annual Meeting.” I’d call it:
As you’ll see below, I am not a fan of labels. I’ve also started writing shorter articles, but I hope this lengthy post (that I’d shorten if it wasn’t 4:38 AM), relays to you what I really think of uttering the words, “Annual Meeting.”
I really dislike labels. When someone asks what I do, or who I am, I almost always dislike my answers. My responses are usually, “I’m a fundraiser,” or, “I’m divorced,” or “I’m J and C’s Mom.” When I ask who you are and what you do, I hope for more than two or three words. As it stands in our society, labels and an individual’s outer image are inextricably connected and hold a hefty weight. How we choose to label ourselves and put ourselves out there, leaves a mark, but is it accurate? I don’t think so.
I recently attended my first strictly Orthodox Bar Mitzvah for a friend’s son. A few weeks ago, my friend suggested that I wear a long skirt to the service, as I’d be more comfortable being dressed like the other women, in accordance with Orthodox Jewish culture and tradition. She was very kind, but as she advised me, I could feel myself rebelling against the idea of following such rules.
On the morning of the Bar Mitzvah, I dressed modestly, but chose wide leg slacks, rather than a skirt. To be honest, I looked like a twin sister of Bea Arthur as the character, “Maude.” I didn’t love my outfit, or even like it, but I sort of appeared, Jewish-ish, (whatever that is), even though I wore pants.
As I walked into the women’s section of the shul, a nice woman asked if I wanted a prayer book, and so, I took one. I asked if I should wear a head covering. The woman responded, “You’re wearing pants.” When I heard her utter those words, I knew I’d made the wrong wardrobe decision. She continued, “Are you married?” I told her I was not. She then asked, “Are you Jewish?” When I exclaimed, “Yes, I’m Jewish,” she told me I didn’t have to wear a head covering because I’m not married. She also told me not to feel badly about the pants debacle and that next time, I should wear a skirt. She was lovely.
I started thinking of labels and of the image I’d put out there that morning, but what I hadn’t shared with her. Had I been honest, I’d have told her, “I’m rebellious against wearing a long skirt, but it’s really no big deal, and I should have had more respect for you and your house of worship. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.” I could have said, “I was raised Jewish, and feel most Jewish when I pray with my feet, but you may not think I’m Jewish because I don’t have 100% Jewish genes and we may disagree on specific political and religious issues.”
Okay, okay. I know most people don’t want to hear these lengthy, honest answers, but when I label myself, “Jewish,” there are assumptions and perceptions, but how do we correct these inaccuracies? How many of us are inquisitive enough to ask more questions?
I admit, I’m inquisitive to a fault, and perhaps that’s one of the most accurate labels I wear. My interest in people is what propels me to love them so much. While I’m not usually so rebellious as to not wear a skirt in shul, I don’t think the nice woman at the entrance of the women’s section labeled me as “A rebellious, stubborn woman who should have had more respect.” This would have been an accurate label on that day. Instead, she knew I was “Jewish, unmarried, and made a mistake.”
I find labels most prevalent in business, and they’re chock full of rules, expectations and “shoulds.” I don’t really subscribe to that type of thinking, but I go along with the image and label that is expected of me, depending on the occasion.
My resumé is diverse and usually makes for an interesting conversation. I have followed an atypical career path. Today, when I present as “Fundraiser,” or tomorrow, when I present as “Trainer,” or in a few weeks when I’m an, “Emcee,” how do these labels and images encompass all that we really are, and especially at our core? Aren’t we interested in going deeper?
What if we stopped submitting resumés, and started submitting, “Truthés?” Here’s what one of mine might look like:
Pamela Klier-Weidner. People Lover and Inquisitive Seeker
Legally, my name is Pamela Klier, but I kept, the Weidner, because I didn’t want to confuse my kids by having a different last name after my divorce
Objective: To listen, demonstrate love and tolerance, communicate the truth, guide people, and allow the cream to rise
Lover of people and the direction/s they really want to go (which is the basis for everything, I think)
Inquisitive (that too, but also have a sense that if you aren’t comfy, I’ll shut up and respect your comfort level)
Super fun (if we aren’t having fun, why are we doing it?)
Perfectionist (not proud of this, but truth is truth)
Periodically stubborn (don’t love this about me either, and sometimes I’m right to be stubborn. Other times, not so much)
Creative risk-taker (this usually pays off, or at least it has historically)
Non drinker or drugger (no judgment: if you can do that without impending doom, fine)
Weak at accepting compliments
Compliment giver, and almost always means them
Very generous which is periodically caught up in people pleasing, but this is improving
Not entirely at peace with physical appearance, especially when it’s humid and coif is out of control. Working on accepting physical appearance, and working harder on it not mattering as much
Yep. I would consider hiring someone who gave me a “Truthé,” in a hot minute.
I realize and respect that labels, stereotypes and images present a level of safety for us and that the appearance of and/or acceptance of “Truthés” is not likely to exist, except in my own head, and now, in this post.
So… if you seek to help repair this world through education while we engage in creative and collaborative idea sharing, please join me at the Sheraton Grand in downtown Chicago on March 18th, 2018. In fact, come on March 17th at Pinstripes, for our “DAY BEFORE THE ORT Day of Collaborative, Visionary Genius.” I’d be delighted to play a friendly game of bocce ball with you, as we get our creative ideas prepped and flowing before the next day. (I am pretty good at bocce ball. You’ve been warned.)
I love ORT. I love the 138 year history, its stories, the students, families and communities who have needed, benefited from, or still need ORT educational programs.