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The Kotzker Rebbi

According to legend, and history, Menachem Mendel
Morgenstern of Kotzk, Poland was an eccentric and influential rabbi, teaching
and forming one of the early branches of Hasidism, creating a more austere sect
of Judaism.
According to legend, and history, The Kotzker Rebbi, as he
was known, locked himself in his room for the last 20 years of his life. He
never left it. He received his food through a hole in the wall, and apparently
opened the door of his home once a year, revealing himself and his new
teachings/learnings to his disciples.
According to genetics, I am his great great great
granddaughter. His grandson is my grandfather’s father… I think. I have a family
tree at home somewhere. Either he’s my grandfather’s grandfather, or my grandfather’s
great grandfather. I haven’t done the math. 
Point being, and why it occurs to me today, I have no idea –
but the point being that I have some whacked out crazy, and powerful, Jews in
my lineage, living in my blood and DNA.
I’ve always found this fascinating. Firstly, it sort of
points to the understandability that mental illness runs in my family(!), and
secondly, it just sort of makes sense that Judaism continues to be this thread
in my life. I can’t sever it, ignore it, dismiss it – it is me.
When I began teaching at the Sunday School last year in
Berkeley, I said that I felt it was both my duty and my privilege to do so.
There is a line from some text that if any of us knows even one word of Hebrew he is
bound to teach it to someone else.
Again, I don’t really know why this occurs to me today. I
suppose as I begin to think about the direction my life is taking, or may take,
or I want it to take, I begin to think about this thread. Part of my
consideration in where I will move next, if I move, and eventually I
will (whenever “eventually” is), is if there are Jews there. For example, I’ve
been enamored of Asheville, North Carolina, ever since I heard of it through a
friend of mine who lives there. Young, hip, mountainous, liberal, artsy,
cultured … with one Jewish temple, of Conservative affiliation – aka, more
religious than I am, or want to be.
I don’t want to be more religious, I simply want to have
more connection to the community. More connection to those who share a history,
random Yiddish words, and a very eye-rolly understanding of the complexities of
a Jewish family.
So, Asheville may not be it. I have this crude crayon
drawing I made after a group meditation about 6 or more months ago. It’s a
couple, a man and a woman, holding hands, walking up a street to a
t-intersection. At the head of this intersection is a house – with a
wrap-around porch, huge trees, and a stream in the back, nested by a forest
behind it. To the right of this couple on the main street is a building with a
symbol for recovery on its façade. To the left of them, is a building with a
Jewish star above the door.
This is my vision. This, I believe, is how I become the
woman I want to be. Buoyed by my communities of faith, I’m able to stand in
partnership with another human being, and take part in what the world has to
I am grateful to have the quirky lineage that I have. It
makes sense to me, and makes me smile. (On my other side, my dad’s side, I’m
descended from Bohemians, literally.) Somehow I feel that I’m preparing to take
up a mantle that belongs to me, which includes all of these histories and as
well as all of the modern and current advantages I’ve inherited as a 20th
century woman with good health and education. And I’ll be curious when I find
that crayon drawing in 20 or 30 years to see how close I’ve come. 

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