Being chosen heaves the weight of generations onto my shoulders like a thick, grey, wool cloak. An oath sworn to ancestors that being chosen is the ticket into a covenant between Me and You. Something I’m obliged to receive, and to bequeath. Had my Aunt shown up at my Bat Mitzvah she probably would have told me we were chosen for train or for work camp—pogrommed, branded, shaven, lamp-shaded. Not understanding much of that back then, I’d have asked her why being chosen means I get told exactly how to stand with Israel; or what to say when I pray; even told when to sit and when to stand in services. I’d have asked her, “Why do we all have to agree all the time, and perform with obedience, and plant JNF trees?” She might have said that we were chosen to be a light unto other nations, and I probably would not have run so far away from power and disagreed so fully with being better than every other nation back then, but I do now.
If my (former-civil rights-leader-turned-cynic) Aunt and I were in touch now, many lifetimes after making aliyah and then “descending” back to the US, I’d tell her that I choose to plant trees as an act of resistance, wherever and whenever I can without demolishing Negev Bedouin homes. That I choose to climb branches of the Tree of Life, to hold fast and to feed Her roots. I’d tell her that I choose to harvest and to share fruits and to go beyond charitable food relief drives and symbolic tzedakah to connect with my neighbors around land justice and food sovereignty. My Aunt would smirk and call me a naive flower child. I do like knowing that flowers fruit and feed. But I’ve learned the hard way that if you challenge being chosen, you are silenced, erased, defunded.
Choice transforms what is passive, chosen, into something active and empowering. It involves reclaiming free will. It is an act of defiance. An act that asserts power. I’m not cavalier about choices. I sit with my choices like a bunch of sisters at a round kitchen table, sipping herbal tea and yap flapping for hours before deciding. A choice swells around and within me until it rises up and overflows and I have no choice but to take on whatever Sisyphean boulder or sacred cow I’m called to haul straight up some mountain on my back. Step Back. I choose to wrestle with our sages, and our police. I choose not to stand idly by, but to reassert myself into our age-old rituals, disheveled and scrambling to find a way to make it come alive. Once there, I choose to open ear and heart alongside those who question and renew and reconstruct our customs. Sometimes, I waiver between hocking that woolen cloak–chosen for me to wear–and giving it to someone that sleeps on the corner in front of the gas station down the street. That cloak that can so easily conceal a few rugelach wrapped into a napkin when I leave a buffet, so that nothing “heaven forbid” should go to waste. Other times, I imagine transforming it–cutting that woolen cloak into a head scarf that can remind me to always remember those who came before us and shield us from all six directions. I’ve learned I’m chosen to wear that heavy old cloak of the Shtetl. I choose not to spread its stench of mothballs and stale fears. So, I wash and re-wash our dirty laundry and hang it out to dry with fragrant orange blossoms. I choose to scrub and I sweat hard to clean it during the monthly ritual moon baths that wash me of date and time.
I could have chosen to be a Buddhist–likely an easier path. Instead, I raced off to Israel, since I was chosen for a full right of return and I chose to study how this right displaces Arabs. I choose to challenge back-to-the-land Judaization of Israel. I choose regularly to join others and face-off with power and stretch across the chasm to connect. I choose to stand in front of the bulldozer and the pepper spray and the microphone rather than turn a cheek when Israeli law prevents Arabs from self-determination. Instead of raising panic and wreaking havoc to grow collective alarm and instead of raising money or signing my children up to hold IDF arms in exasperated rage against every last Muslim, I choose to speak truth to Jewish power. I choose to use agency to agitate for engaged stewardship of shared land and resources. I choose not to fight over holy land–rather to know land as Holy. As sacred.
We were once agrarians that walked barefoot through the desert and found food in cacti and in weeds growing underneath rocks. We knew when the dry river beds would trickle. We worked in rhythm with cycles and seasons and in connection with the Source of all Abundant Harvests. We nurtured seed, passed down over time through ancestors, early farmers and gatherers that knew to steward land and knew to grow food in harmony with nature, humbled, and at the full mercy of the elements. Ripped away from our lands and spread to every corner of the earth, now, we choose to dig back and sow forward.
am have chosen.
Not infrequently, you’ll find me on Shabbat choosing to bellow out song like any other sappy Yenta until tears spill from my eyes and I touch that thirst to be home. I choose for my kids to know homeland wherever they are, and from deep inside that safe and sacred choice, to extend a hand to another. I choose to remember our history and I choose not to make our future all about our past. I choose to weave the cords stripped from that heavy old cloak with the fibers of living Torah.