Monday, June 1, 2009

My Confirmation Rose

I am familiar with several Shavuot traditions--eating dairy foods and studying all night--but only recently learned from Ima on the Bima’s blog that “it [also] is customary to decorate synagogues and homes with flowers and greenery….” That image reminded me that my own confirmation service—30 years ago today, June 1, 1979—began when we, the three confirmands, affirmed our commitment to Judaism with these words:

We speak to you,
To the congregation,
To the world,
And to our religion,
And we say:
We accept our heritage,
And we guarantee
A Judaic tomorrow.
We then ascended the bima, individually placed a white rose in the basket of flowers already positioned there and said:
We offer this flower as a sign of our Judaism. May it ever flourish with the beauty of relevance, with the sweet aroma of genuineness, and with a simple elegance which inspires us to become all of which we are capable.
Back then, the struggle of Soviet Jews was relevant and, for me, very real. While most of my classmates were studying Spanish or French, I was tackling the Cyrillic alphabet, and trying to distinguish da from nyet and zdrasvuytye from dosvidaniya. While doing so, I was well aware that Anatoly Shcharansky (as he was known at the time) was newly imprisoned, that Eduard Kuznetsov was newly released, and that longtime family friends were intimately involved in resettling a Russian immigrant family of five--mother, father, grandmother and two teens, Felix and Natasha--newly arrived in America. My connection to this family, the Brevenders, and the Judaism we shared became the basis for my own remarks that evening.

Although they stayed in central New Jersey only a short while before moving on to Philadelphia, their brief presence in our midst has stayed with me these many years. I recall that as anxious as they were to learn English and American ways, so too did they hunger for knowledge of Judaism and the customs and rituals of our tradition—for which they all had sacrificed so much.

The white roses from that confirmation evening withered and died long ago, but not so the commitment to Judaism they embodied. That commitment lives deep within me and, I like to believe, within the Brevenders as well.