Monday, February 22, 2010

A Necklace for Purim

A wonderful thing has happened to our little town. Four years ago, a young Rabbi, his wife and two young children, moved from Brooklyn to Longmont to open a Chabad Jewish Center. I grew up as a very Reform Jew, but one with an equally strong identity. I went to a Jewish summer camp, was Bat Mitvah'd and when it came to raising our children, even after years of not really participating in a Jewish community, there was no choice. I wanted our children to grow up with the same positive self-identity I'd enjoyed and which I especially helped me grow into a strong minded and spirited Jewish woman.

Longmont is a lot like where I grew up, with a small Jewish community. Unlike where I grew up, there is no regular synagogue in Longmont and the kids have often been the only Jewish kids in their class at school.

To be honest, I was more than a little hesitant to go to the Longmont Chabad. I had many pre-conceived ideas of the Chabad culture and many of them stereotypical, a hard thing for me to admit about a segment of my own tradition and faith.

But all that changed when I met Rabbi Borenstein and his wife, Shayna. Their ease and warmth instantly put us at ease and we started going to events where we were amazed to see large groups of other Jewish families from Longmont. I could see that they were committed to creating an open and welcoming center for the small, but growing Jewish community in Longmont to be together as families, with our children, and throughout the elegant unfolding of the calendar celebrations that mark our lives in such strong ways.

One of those ways is a monthly women's circle. It's a mish-mash of old, young, in-between and we gather for a gentle evening of study, and also to engage in a fun activity where there is always lots of delicious food and plenty of laughter, all led by Shayna, the rebbetzen, the Rabbi's wife.

This month, we came together for an evening of jewelry making in honor of Purim and Esther. We met at The Bead Lounge, a lovely local business. We sipped wine and ate cheese and chocolate. The tables were filled with shiny beads and we were told we could make either a necklace, earrings or a bracelet. I chose to make a necklace.

I looked through the colors and shapes and settled on a color palette I'm recently very drawn to. Metalics in bronze, copper with opaque round beads. And then I saw them. Stone hearts, maroon and smooth. I chose three of them and felt them get warm in my hand as I poured some more wine and settled in to make my necklace.

I'm a fairly deliberate person and usually like to plan things out in advance. But I let the three hearts lead me and before long, I was putting together a delicate strand of beads and stones as Shayna talked about Esther's open hearted strength and simple path toward significant bravery.

As I listened, I found myself counting out two sets of 18 small copper beads to frame each side of the necklace. 18 is the Kabbalistic number for life, for chai, and 36 minutes was also the time between our first and second twin's birth. Two lives, the night before they were about to turn 8 years old.

The gentle ladies helped me with the heart stones, so that they would hang downward. I added gold-toned spacers, five on each side, one for each member of our little family.

Before I knew it, the necklace was finished. The ladies agreed it was indeed beautiful.And simple. To me, the necklace looked like a dream, like the dream that is my family, my husband and my girls, my three hearts. To me, the delicacy of the necklace represents the fragile nature of it all, how quickly it can be taken and how quickly it goes. The simplicity represents the way in which I choose to live my life and raise our girls.

I haven't worn the necklace yet. I'm waiting to put in on for the annual Purim party, where we'll gather again, as we did last year, a little older and knowing each other that much more, as communities do when we come together to signify our lives with meaning and ritual.

I'll look forward to the glass stones and beads warming themselves against my skin. They'll be reflecting how I feel inside, from the kindness, joy and burgeoning community of kindred folks.

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