Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Look Down the Rabbi's Sleeves

I was a nice Jewish girl raised by a retirement-age widower in the small, predominantly German Lutheran city of Appleton, Wisconsin, which made me roughly as common as a four-leaf clover, but without the good luck.

Our synagogue was dominated by familial dynasties, to which we did not belong, even though my great-grandfather had been one of the synagogue's founders. Before there was a building, services were held in my great-grandparents' living room. But when that generation died off, the remaining members of our little clan, with the exception of my dad, fled as if they were escaping some modern-day Cossacks to Milwaukee.

So I felt somewhat isolated and lonely at what seemed to be an endless cycle of Sunday School, Hebrew School, and Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation classes populated by cousins. (Yes, I can still read Hebrew, although I never had any command of the conversational -- as opposed to the liturgical -- form, often confusing it with the Spanish I was learning at the same time.  As have many things in my life, this fusion was repeated with my children: when Brent was in middle school, he and his lunch buddies decided to teach each other snippets of the other language they heard at home. The Yiddish/Spanish mash-up resulted in such phrases as Estoy Meshuga - I'm crazy -- and Limpie tu  Schmutz -- clean up your mess.)

I was Bat Mitzvahed on Friday, November 13, 1970. Of the dozen or so kids in my class to be so honored, I was the penultimate. I can't recall why I didn't ascend the pulpit during my birth month of August, as would have been customary, but it did give my dad extra time to write my speech. He did a very nice job discussing ecumenical relations, by the way.

Toward the end of each ceremony, the Rabbi, dressed in his clerical robes, raises his arm and blesses the young person. After the first in our group was Bar Mitzvahed, he said, "I can't tell you why, but don't look down the Rabbi's sleeves."

One by one, like obedient, mythical lemmings, everyone else in the class commanded the remaining uninitiated students: Don't look down the Rabbi's sleeves.

So, of course, I looked down the Rabbi's sleeves. I mean, how could I not?

And what was down them? A nice, white shirt.

Since then, the notion of Looking Down the Rabbi's Sleeves has come to mean to me a disappointing surprise.

Like finding that my bin of Kona cottons also has Cherrywood solids in it.

Now, Cherrywood is a beautiful, hand-dyed fabric available in a delicious array of solid colors. They also have a suede-like, tonal quality to them. This makes them an unsuitable pairing to my clear Kona cottons. Which means the Christos-worthy quilt I'm working on won't be as large as I thought ... and that I need another way to use up the Cherrywoods.

When that inspiration strikes, you'll hear about it here first.

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