A Tale of Two Faiths Part 1 – Spiritual Roots

Now that we are retired, Joy and I have time to reflect on our beliefs and faith practices.  Since we have different spiritual roots, we thought it might be interesting to share our journeys of faith, which are just that – journeys.

Barclay here –

I grew up going to church on Sunday mornings, singing hymns whose lyrics began, What a friend we have in Jesus and  Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our lives’ wild restless seas.

As young children, Charlie and I were read bedtime stories, but not about Mickey Mouse or the Berenstein Bears.  Rather, our mother read aloud her paraphrased versions of Old Testament stories, written on a yellow legal pad.  We heard about David facing Goliath with but a sling and 6 shiny stones,  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo being thrown into the fiery furnace, blind Samson regaining his strength and crushing the columns of the Philistine’s temple killing himself and all those around him. Our mother eventually published these legal pad stories in a book called, In the Beginning.

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At Christmas time, our mother was counter cultural.  She deplored  the bearded jolly man (She even wrote an article called, “No Virginia, There is no Santa Claus.”)  Her children’s book, The Real Reason for Christmas, reminded Charlie and me that God had gone to extraordinary lengths to stoop down into human existence as a baby in a manger.   Christmas was all about Jesus.

So from a young age, I believed.  My faith was anchored in the stories of a God of love intervening into human life – forgiving sins, (David, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph were hardly perfect) providing strength in weakness, and showing love, mercy, and justice.

But as the hymn says, life has its “wild restless seas” and my mother’s faith, though an undeniable force, did not override her focus on outward appearances and her quick tongue.  And as I broke away from my mother in my teens and 20s, I also broke away from my faith.  Rather than reading the Bible, I read nice devotionals that did not challenge or inspire.  I adopted a lukewarm faith, that allowed me to look inward and not outward.

But then came parenthood.  And the realization that I needed God.  Desperately.  The God of David, Shadrach, Mechak, and Abednigo.  The God who sent his son, Jesus, a fulfillment of prophesy, to die for me so that each day of imperfect parenting could be a “do-over” – grace filled and led by one more powerful than I.  As David says, My sin was ever before me.  And I could no longer do this life on my own power.  That much I knew!

What do I believe today?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 

Micah 6:8.

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

 1 John 4:9-10.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

And when my seas become restless with waves of anxiety, fear, or grief, I believe that I have a friend in Jesus who calls me o’er the tumult.

 

Joy here-

I grew up the daughter of a mother who downplayed her Judaism and a father who came from an Orthodox family of 5 children, with a mother and father speaking Yiddish in their home.  My mother, Muriel, was very Reformed, as was her brother, Morton. Uncle Morty, I was told recently almost missed his Bar-Mitzvah because he was playing stick ball!  (millennials can look that up if you are reading our blog!)  My father was  a first generation American and my mother a 3rd generation American.

I was raised Reform and attended Sunday School for seven long years, attempting to learn Hebrew for most of those years, but definitely knowing my holidays. I was confirmed at 13, not Bat-Mitzvahed (they really didn’t do that in those days for girls) I was very proud to be asked to go up to the bimah ( a raised platform in a synagogue with a reading desk from which to read the Torah, Haftarah)  My parents had been married at this Upper West Side synagogue and my grandparents had attended services there as well, so it was considered an honor to be asked.  I recited a special poem, which I had memorized. I was proud to be turning 13 as a young Jewish woman.

Fast forward and who do I end up falling in love with?  A De Santo, not a Goldstein or a Goldfarb, but an Italian, blue eyed blonde who was raised Catholic!   You fall in love with a person, not the person’s religion, so I married out of my faith.  My parents took it well, although my father certainly would have preferred me to marry a Jewish boy, preferably a doctor or a lawyer, of which my De Santo was neither.  Handsome, promising, and very smart, I hadn’t thought about anything else at 23 years of age.

When we had children, we decided you couldn’t leave it up to them to decide (many people of my generation who  married inter-faith thought they could). At the time. I was a High Holy Days worshipper, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I said my prayers every night,  (the same ones my mother taught me when I was little- “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take) David attended church every Sunday so I balanced the decision in my head and went with bringing up the children Catholic. We celebrated all the Jewish holidays, but did have a Christmas tree and attended  mass on Christmas and Easter. I wanted to expose the children to both religions and have always felt as long as you believe in some higher being and can pray when you need to (or want to), that’s all that counts.

Today, one grown daughter is more aligned with Judaism, at least culturally, and the other considers herself a Catholic.

For me, I would describe myself as a Jewish girl from the Upper West side and proud of it!  I light Yarzheit candles, just as my mother did and her mother before her. I worship on the High Holy days, I fast on Yom Kippur, I observe Passover by abstaining from all leavened foods during the holiday, and I pray every night.  My religion is important to me. I feel a swell of emotion when I sit in a synagogue and hear the cantor chant.  It is a religion of tradition, beauty, ancient customs and belief in one G-D who is omnipresent and omnipotent.

I will pass down a very special white bible “The Holy Scriptures” given to me the day I was confirmed in 1968,  one year after the Six-Day War, also known as the Arab- Israeli War. I hope my daughters will carry it on their wedding day and will feel the depth of emotion that I do when I see it and hold it.

Today’s Takeaway…

Barclay and I share a deep commitment to our religions.  Though they are different, we both believe strongly and know that we are always in G-d’s hands.

It gives us both comfort to know that.

Thank you all for reading our musings, writings, perspectives, and very personal stories.

As always, enjoy the ride.

xox Barclay and Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from Muriel

My dear friend and co contributor, Barclay, blogger from the Midwest, wrote about her eccentric mom, Peggy.  My mother, Muriel, was also a character, a woman who I remember as a wonderful mother and my best friend. She too was eccentric and ahead of her time, in different ways. As I bemuse my mother’s quirky antics, I smile and have a tear in my eye.

My mother was born a snob.  She came from money having been brought up with a nanny, a maid, and everything a Jewish girl from an upper middle class family could want.  She and her brother, my uncle Morton, went to sleep away camp from the time they were 6.  My grandparents hobnobbed with the Loew’s family of movie theatre fame and the Farkas family of Alexander’s Department store.  (If you never  heard of it, Google it and it means you are too young to be reading this post!)

My grandmother, a 2nd generation American, making my mother a 3rd generation American, was certainly no immigrant.  Her mother’s mother had come to this country from Germany on a steamship, not part of the huddling masses.  They didn’t speak German, they spoke Yiddish, unlike my father’s family who had come from the old country.  That being, we think, Austria, but it could be Poland! My mother married below her status economically, although by that time her family had lost their money in the great Florida swamp land swindle.

Muriel liked to be considered Goy, so much so that during the 1939 World’s Fair, in order to work, she changed her name to Winslow from Weinstein in an attempt to not be seen as Jewish.  She had an aquiline nose and didn’t look it so what difference did it make to anyone.  As I write this and I think how proud I am to be who I am and what I am it’s hard to understand, but I guess at that time it wasn’t the popular religion to be.  Anti-Semitism was rearing its ugly head.  Today, everyone is Jewish in New York City or wants to be!

She sewed designer labels in her clothes that she had purchased at Loehmann’s, the famous one from Jerome Ave. in the Bronx.  It had gold lions in front of the store and I loved going to look at the racks and racks of clothes that I would play in as Muriel tried things on.  You see Loehmann’s took the labels out when they sold them and my mother being the snob that she was put them back in so that everything hanging up in her closet was some fancy shmancy name.

Muriel also took off Tuesdays, even though she didn’t work.  She was a 1950’s housewife who had chosen to go to secretarial school pre marriage rather than college, though her parents at the time could have afforded it.  I guess she was of the mind set that good typing skills and shorthand would take her further than the academics of a 4 year academic program.  Too bad, because she would have been dangerous with a formal education!

Why she needed to take of Tuesdays was beyond me since she didn’t have a job.  I guess she needed time out from being a mom! So every Tuesday I went to someone’s house for a playdate (not that they were called that back then) so that Muriel could go shopping downtown.  I guess it was the 1950’s version of a mental health day! She always dressed up to go “downtown” and she ate at the Bird Cage in Lord & Taylor taking in the peace and serenity of a solitary woman who enjoyed her own company.

I now understand that taking off Tuesdays, or whatever day, was about taking care of yourself, the idea that “I matter” as a woman, that I need time to be with my own thoughts, my own company, Me Time, before the phrase was ever coined.  Now, almost over 50 years later, I get it!

Muriel didn’t like anything that smacked of Judaism, which included foods such as lox, herring, whitefish, although a bagel was on the approved list, they were the frozen Lender’s bagels that no New Yorker would ever eat today.  More like white bread with a hole in it!

My generation wants to know where they came from, their roots, their heritage, as do my Millennial children, so it’s a shame that I didn’t get more Muriel stories down in print.  I remember enough though to get us through several posts and it gives me great pleasure to share them.   

My mother was a character, but with a heart of gold.  People loved to talk to her because she was a great listener and she never betrayed a secret.  Whatever, her shortcomings, she loved me greatly and I feel lucky to have had her for the years that I did.

 

More Muriel stories to come…

 

Today’s Takeaway–

. Listen to your own inner voice. Be true to yourself. Muriel was unconventional for her time and she didn’t care!

. If it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone in the process, (i.e. sewing designer labels in clothes) then what the hey?!

 

Enjoy the ride!

xox, Barclay and Joy

 

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