Jewish Journeys: Life as a Talmud Page
On Yom Kippur, three congregants told us about their family and personal Jewish journeys. We were so moved by their stories, we wanted to share them here. In this one, Elisabeth Abarbanel considers her own path of Jewish learning as a page of Talmud, layered with creative commentary, non-linear conversations, and ongoing narrative.
Elisabeth and her husband Jonathan are participants in the Tiyul: Shabbat B’yachad program, and their kids are third-generation Isaiah members. Here’s the transcript of her speech:
Last year around this time I chose to join the adult b’nei mitzvah class at Temple Isaiah. I had been considering it for years, and finally I signed up, not sure what to expect. But I knew I needed to do it, I knew in my heart it was time to get involved with Temple in a new way but also engage in Jewish thought, learn about my religion and challenge myself to be open about ideas I hadn’t considered before. I know now that what I was doing was starting a new part of my life, a period of recreating a part of myself, through my involvement in Jewish studies and temple.
One of my favorite lessons in my b’nei mitzvah class with Rabbi Klein was about the Talmud. I generally knew what the Talmud was, but I never really saw a page of it or understood it’s dynamic quality and how the centuries of conversations about laws, teachings, and stories are relevant today.
I connected with the nonlinear approach, the ongoing conversations and interpretations, and the visual complexity of the pages. If you have never seen the complexity of a page of Talmud, and the unique layout, I encourage you to do so.
Indulge me and pretend that the story of my becoming bat mitzvah, and ultimately being here today, in the context of just one page of Talmud, the aspects of my life that bring me here being the subject of commentary, the story evolving and growing in meaning as I examine it all more closely. Maybe in a decade I will look at this moment differently, but I will have this to see how I looked at it today. The interpretation of the story, the moment, can change.
In one area of my page I have growing up with a gorgeous ceiling-high Christmas tree with home-made decorations, stockings, and delicious treats for Santa, in conversation with my memories of lighting Hanukkah candles and having Passover dinners with my loving mom and her side of the family.
Another area is about joining Temple Isaiah as a teenager, and essentially joining the Gan’s family, as Hilary also joined mine, – and loving every minute of it. Because of Isaiah and the Gans, I worked for several summers on a kibbutz, spent a year of college in Israel and connected with contemporary Jewish issues. I even met my husband at Isaiah. Close to that commentary are my Jewish wedding, my son’s bris, my daughter’s baby-naming, and celebrating all the Jewish holidays with my wonderful in-laws.
I chose my Jewish half, but still hadn’t fulfilled the bat mitzvah.
Put on the page: a year previous, my beloved aunt dying after a struggle with brain cancer.
At that point I realized that I understood how the CSA vegetable box related to my Judaism, but not basic lifecycle events. I didn’t know how to grieve. My knowledge of Judaism lacked religious meaning.
Also at that time, in another area of my page, my father’s Alzheimer’s got worse and was obviously stressful for my whole family. I knew he would die soon, but I didn’t know how to approach it.
In yet another area of my page, Rabbi Klein asked our class about our feelings about God. Having had no real religious background, and having had such a difficult year, the concept of God was difficult, and it still is.
Just Rabbi Klein’s asking, straight out, what we believed, and hearing my classmate’s answers, made me wonder and start to understand how I might feel about God.
That commentary on my page is really just starting and I am interested to see what that conversation will take me.