The author shares the process of using Jewish texts and customs to celebrate a new stage of life.
Reprinted with permission of author from Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook (Beacon Press).
Create a tradition? A tradition is based on accumulated experience, handed down from ancestors to posterity. Well, I believe I did just that! I created a ceremony, a rite of passage from adult to elder, to establish my presence in the community as a functional and useful human being. The ritual also served some personal needs: that of facing my mortality, for instance.
Calling my ritual a tradition may be a misnomer since my ritual has not been "handed down to posterity." Nevertheless, I felt that a crone ceremony [a ritual to celebrate aging] filled a significant need in our society. Subsequently, others have created similar rites of passage based on my own, and I have been asked to speak and write about this experience on various occasions. I think I can consider that I have "handed down" my experience.
Inspired by Genesis Stories
I decided to have a ritual on the occasion of my 60th birthday. Sixty seemed to me an appropriate age because I had just begun to feel the physical changes that come with age, changes that required a modification of my lifestyle. However, the reason I was drawn to assume my new status with a ceremony was inspired by the Genesis narratives I have been so involved with for the past decade.
I came to realize that the biblical stories that dealt with Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham were, in most cases, rituals. Each time a ritual was performed, the life of the protagonist changed radically. Ostensibly, the main theme dealt with in the Bible is succession: Sarah acquired a son; Hagar acquired a son; and Abraham acquired two sons. But the overall theme is the spiritual journey our ancestors set out on. Both Sarah and Abraham are advanced in age at the time of their calling, so I thought that their summons was a propitious one for us to follow. I therefore included in the ritual elements from the Genesis narratives: a blessing, a change of name, a covenant, a reconciliation with death, an affirmation of life.
Role of Community
A ritual must fulfill a communal need as well as a personal one. That is the reason why I decided to have other women, whom I consider to be a part of my spiritual community, create the ritual with me.
I have been asked on various occasions why I chose to have the ceremony at temple instead of having it at my home. I did this for various reasons: The temple symbolizes community, but, more than that, it symbolizes Jewish community; it represents the substance of my roots; furthermore, I was able to perform the liturgy denied me as an Orthodox Jewish woman.
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