New Year נומי: Choose to be a Dreamer

by 2021 LABA Fellow Dvir Cahana

The theme for this year’s Laba art fellowship is “Chosenness”. And so, in writing this blog, one question keeps coming up in my mind. What makes this week chosen from all other weeks?

This weekend is a very exciting weekend in the Jewish calendar. Not because I am going to have a special pie-themed dessert in honor of Pi day, and not because we are moving our clocks forward; nor is it because we are commemorating the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 Pandemic. These are all noteworthy things in their own right, but if the “ma Nishtana-ian” phraseology of my initial question wasn’t enough of a tip-off, we are celebrating the beginning of the month of Nissan, in 2 weeks and Passover is in the air. Yes, this weekend marks the Jewish new year; at least as it is tallied Biblically. The month of Nissan is the month that the Israelites were emancipated from Egypt and the first thing that they did with their freedom was establish a calendar.

The weekly portions that we read throughout the year lines up with where we are in the calendar. For example, we festoon our houses with Hanukah ornaments concurrently with the reading of the Joseph story. With this in mind, wouldn’t it make more sense to align Passover with the beginning of the exodus story? Instead this week we wrap up the entire book of exodus instead.

In our 4 marvelous LABA classes thus far, we have been reexamining the book of Genesis with very close reads. Framing these stories as tales of people who “were chosen” forces me to rethink what each of the 4 other books of Moses mean within this construction. In being both the designer of this framework and the arbiter of its veracity, there is much room for my formulation to be wrong, but I saw the book of Exodus as the book of grappling with whether or not to accept the chosenness, Leviticus as the book of being choiceless (in the face of the instructed temple practice), Numbers as the book of being choosy with our choices and Deuteronomy as the book of finally coming to terms with the choice of accepting one’s chosenness. The threshold therefore that we cross this week is the doorway from accepting to be choosers to no longer having a say in our choices. It will take us a book to realize that we always have agency over our choices, but for now we are left to think about the juxtaposition of making a choice to give up our freedoms to choose.

The 6 months from Passover to Sukkot is the Judaism that was given to us. It is the cultic Judaism and it is the one based on the agricultural cycle. In these 6 months we commemorate the three pilgrimage holidays, but it is the other 6 months where we empower ourselves to be choosers. In that other half-year we celebrate the rabbinic holidays, and we have the opportunity to decide how we want to carry the torch of our Jewish heritage with us into the present day.

Next week I will have the opportunity to honor the “Notorious Matriarchy” with my songs in LABA Presents… and to me that is the perfect way to carry my agency of being a chooser with me into the present day. I have read the story of Jacob stealing the birthright many times, but it was never until I heard Rudy Namdar’s subversive take, of how choiceless Jacob was to the Lady MacBeth that was Rebecca, that I had a reframe of the Torah’s views on the matriarchy. Both Abraham and Isaac were imperceptive to which of their children deserved the birthright. But it wasn’t until both of these heroines took matters into their own hands and changed the course of history to align with G-d’s bigger plan.

 The Judaism that was given to me, may be a Judaism that, at face value, does not give space for women. But if I sit back and allow myself to feel choiceless, then I will never feel satisfied with the Judaism that I own. On the other hand, if I choose to allow those questions to surface to the top of my consciousness and allow myself to grapple with such questions, I will be able to realize that the proper scaffolding for a Judaism that I align with all along.  

Register HERE for Notorious Matriarchs Friday, March 19