Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Responsa, A Drosh, and Vera

Ah, yes!  Thanks for the reminder.

This was my sermon, called a drosh, that was given on Friday, October 16, 2015. (A link for the sermon can be found here; sorry about the side angle!)

Shabbat Shalom!

Why do I go to services at both Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple and Chevrei Tikvah Chavurah?

Why not?

Both congregations have so much to offer me, personally, that I actually benefit from their services and the people who attend them.

The end.

No?

Oh, okay.  I'll elaborate some.

For those who have never seen me before or know my back story, I will explain. I identify as an autistic, pansexual, genderfluid, Jew-by-Choice.  I use "they/them/theirs" pronouns as a descriptor of myself.  If I were to expound my full entire name, it would Mx. Vera Anna Didenko, CRO; the “mixter” is a gender neutral title, for those who do not identify with “mister” or “misses” titles.  The “CRO” means I’m a Certified Radio Operator from the Society of Broadcast Engineers.

I started my Jewish journey on Friday, December 13, 2013, three days after I left my last paying job.  From that point, this journey has led me here to Fairmount Temple and to work on potential conversion with Rabbi Josh Caruso.  One of the first things Rabbi Caruso told me about where the different services and programs that Fairmount Temple has to offer.  The first one was about the Wednesday Torah study group, which meets every Wednesday morning from 7:30am to 8:30am.  The second was about Chevrei Tikvah Chavurah, because of my LGB identity (the T identity didn't come until later).  And finally, I was told about Shabbat services, both evening and morning, with the main congregation, being Anshe Chesed.

So I was like, "cool! Things to do to keep me occupied!"

What do I mean by "occupied"?  At the time I was studying to become a Jew, I was living in the basement of my parents' home in Parma Heights. (Yes, I would either drive or take two trains and a bus to go to and from temple.  This brat was a dedicated brat.)  And because my parents were 1) not kind people and 2) REALLY not kind to the idea that I was studying Judaism, I needed to get away from them for a while so I could study and reclaim some of my sanity.

This is how I ended up spending so much time here at Fairmount.  I would attend the Wednesday morning Torah study, the Shabbat evening services, and the monthly CTC services.  Sure, I tried other things, like attending the Saturday morning Torah study (which was not compatible with my Saturday morning cartoons and cooking shows brain) and the Shabbat morning service (I didn't care for it for some reason).  But I stuck with the three services I went to on a regular basis.  Not because of autistic routine, but because I found something at each service that I wasn't getting anywhere else: safety, love, support, self-esteem, and self-actualization.

Have you ever heard or seen Dr. Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid?  Until this past Monday, neither have I.  It explains what the basic needs are in a human being for growth and development. At the bottom portion of the pyramid are physiological needs (food, water, shelter). This is where my parents thrived in.  But, for whatever reason, they never made it past this basic need.  To find the other portions to complete this "pyramid," I had to look elsewhere.  For many years, it was in intimate relationships with very abusive partners.  That all changed when I continued to come back here, to this space, for services.

I found safety; where very bad people won't be able to get me.

I found love and support; from invitations to special Holiday meals and Seders, to financial assistance, to being cared for after outpatient surgery, I was shown a love that I had never felt before.  Unconditional love.  How cool is that?

I found self-esteem; I began to give myself credit for doing a good job in studying Torah and learning the Hebrew alphabet and some key phrases. I began to let this survival façade down and began to be my true self instead of an actor.  I began to enjoy life more.

I found self-actualization; to realize that I can do just about anything that I put my mind to is wicked awesome.

And I find myself continually looking for all five pieces of Dr. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs every time I come to this space.

"But Vera, why have two separate services?  Why not have them blended together?"

I mean, sure, you can make the case for that based on this week's Torah portion, Noach.  Or, can you?  In Genesis 11:1-9, we were taught that the generations from the sons of Noach had decided to settle into one place, speak one language, and began building a city with a tower that was as high as the clouds in honor of themselves, essentially.  When the Eternal One found out, he was not happy.  G-d had taken individuals from that area and scattered them all around the world so that not only this city and tower project would not be completed, but that two people having a conversation would not understand each other based on the placed confusion of the one main language.  The Eternal One called this deserted location Babel, because he had confused the one main language of the world just so folks wouldn't be able to understand one another.

Ummm, thanks G-d?

So what does this parsha portion have to do with why I attend two services?  It's the same message of love and liturgy, social justice and song, wonder and worship; but it's done in two different languages, if you will.

One service gives a service in a language of community. 

One service gives a service in the language of family.

And for me, I need both of those languages - and the services that speak them - in my life.

How about you?

Amen.

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