The tallit (prayer shawl) story

by Gustavo Simao Godeghesi,

Welcome, Gustavo, to Blog Midrash! How exciting that you have agreed to share your very unique story with us here. Please welcome him warmly. :) Deena

My name is Gustavo Simao Godeghesi, and I would like to share a pretty interesting story, that can be seen as a mere coincidence or a spiritual illumination depending on the amount of religious load used to interpret this remarkable event that took place on a beach in my home country, Brazil. I would like first to give a little bit of my background in order for this whole story to make more sense.

I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Four years ago I moved to Canada in order to go to university and ended up getting married to my wonderful wife Elaine who has lived in Canada her whole life. I come from a family of Jewish background, but the religion and culture were lost around 400 years ago when my ancestors where persecuted in Austria and were forced to convert to Christianity. Today my whole family, to a certain degree, belongs to the Christian religion.

In a life long quest for my identity and background, I came across the fact that coincidently, both my parents’ have the same sort of family history. In other words, they both come from Jewish backgrounds and somehow lost the culture and religion due to persecution. This made me realize that my blood and soul are Jewish. I only came to this conclusion though, several months after the story that I’m about to tell.

It was a beautiful day at the beach with my family and then fiancé, and I was looking at this guy selling these beautiful white sheets that were supposed to be used to lie down on the sand or to be wrapped around the body for protection against the hot Brazilian sun. I turned to Elaine and said, “I would really like to buy one of those.” She naturally asked me why and I answered instantly without much thought put into it, “For praying.”

Again I must remark that I never had any contact with the Jewish religion, and knew pretty much nothing about it, except that there one day a year when they couldn’t eat, because on that day, a bunch of kids would miss school. Since the Jewish community of Sao Paulo is enormous it is very likely that during your lifetime you will come across quite a few Jews.

After I said that I wanted the sheet for wrapping myself in and praying, my wife asked the most obvious question that she could ask since from when I was a kid, I hadn’t really followed any religion and neither did she. She said: “Pray to who?” I didn’t really know what to say, because I really didn’t know who to pray to, but I had this strange urge to do it.

After about five minutes I kind of realized that there wasn’t much point to it so I let it go.

A few months later, after the resolution of my spiritual quest, when I was already somewhat involved with the Jewish religion, I came to Shabbat services for the first time and saw a tallit (prayer shawl). It was quite amazing what I felt when I saw it. I immediately recalled the blanket from the beach. It was almost as if all the effort that I was putting into the initiation of my conversion was then a grain of sand, because in a split second it all made sense to me; I was sure that what I was doing was right and finally my soul and my mind were looking in the same direction. Today, thank God, my wife has also found herself in the Jewish religion, and we are both about 1 year into this amazing journey of proudly becoming a part of the Jewish nation.

Finding my own spiritual/religious path

by Danya David

Greetings, fellow bloggers and readers,

Other than being in love, there are few things as delicious as discussing and debating things you’re passionate about with people who are just as passionate about these things. So, to our blog hostess par excellence, I so commend you for taking this on! I could go on about how life-affirming it is to connect and grow through talking things out, and how souls can wither without it, but I’ll stop here…

So let me jump right into the topic at hand. Finding my own spiritual/religious path… this can basically encompass every question ever asked about Jewish identity! No? Which is great. Well, as I’m typing out my thoughts here, and thinking that I didn’t comment on last week’s ‘representation’ topic, I’m also thinking that these topics (representation, finding spiritual/religious path) so converge.

My own path has always been closely connected to the idea of lineage.  My Jewish identity really only became tangible about eight years ago or so, though it has always been my core – the seed of who I am. But this wasn’t always so obvious to me. Over the years, throughout my childhood, my adolescence, and to a much larger degree through this extended period of “adulthood,” knowing that I’m Jewish has nourished me with a poignant awareness that I am part of a nation that has persevered and held to its values, across vast passages of time and space. My grandparents, on both sides (my mother’s parents, z”l, who were German, and my grandparents on my father’s side, who are Iraqi), and my parents, have been living proof of this.  For each of them, their journeys (family-wise, work-wise, the various migrations, the decisions made, the events that transpired, etc.) were inseparable from their Jewish identity.  At a certain point in my life, I think it was about 8 years ago, when I returned from Asia after living there for half a year, it hit me, too, that my own life ambitions, the core of me, and my desire to make my mark in this world are indisputably “Jewish” creations.

I mentioned in a comment on our dear hostesses’ personal blog that my bouts of time traveling and living the world, away from my family and any kind of coherent Jewish community, really transformed me into an ambassador for my people. I’ve always seen myself as having this representative role. I think that this is something that many Jews feel, in some way or another (whether being aware of it or not).

Being Jewish is being fraught with an infinity of potential avenues for connecting and growing.  This manifests differently in each person.  Or, perhaps a better way of saying it is that each Jew negotiates this status (of being “fraught”) differently. Some decide not to “go there.” Some see it as a blessing, some as a curse. Some don’t even see it. For me, being Jewish means having an infinity of dimensions. And with this I don’t mean to imply superiority or exclusiveness. What I mean is that, because I and my life experience is essentially woven into the eternity of “the Jewish experience” (whether I like it or not), what I do in my life and how I choose to live my life impacts a collective and timeless “experience”.

Of course, with all this talk of a greater “Jewish experience”, the idea of continuity surfaces yet again.  I find that I am constantly aware of the question of how I can live in a way that ensures that I don’t weaken the links, that at least I preserve/maintain the awareness and connectedness that (with great precision and effort) was given to me, and, (and for me this is the question I must respond to) how I can live my life in a way that strengthens and adds to the links.

At risk of sounding “prudish” or not “progressive” (as I sometimes feel some of my Jewish though not so identifying as Jewish friends feel about me), we’ve got to honor the thousands of years of journeys and collective “journey” that came before us, for us.

Holding strong to tradition is not always seen as the “coolest” thing. Personally, I feel lucky that I don’t need to try to make myself understand the importance of continuity. I have to say that my Jewish identity is the fire behind everything I truly cherish in life.

And this connects to my spiritual/religious path. The idea of growing what I was already born with, and seeing/using this abundance of raw material (Jewish history, from the Torah all the way to my parents’ stories) as inspiration to create new is very much part of my spiritual/religious path. My boyfriend’s decision to convert, has also added a formal element to this “path” for the time being.

I recently heard a quote from a documentary about a Serbian writer who immigrated to Canada. Something in it struck a chord in me. He said that: “A sailor is born twice:  once from the mother, and another time when he begins his journey.”  I have always seen myself as nomadic, constantly asail. What exactly this means I’m not sure. But I know it has to do with imagery that was imbedded in me from the Torah stories I read growing up, our exiles throughout history (physical, spiritual) (and, to a lesser degree, of course the time I’ve spent living and working in various places around the world to date).  The point is that a long Jewish journey predated my birth. For me, evidence of this is the recent memories of my grandparents’ and parents’ journeys. My second birth manifests in how I choose to understand, shape, and continue this journey – their journey, my journey, and ultimately, our journey.

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