019: Bat Mitzvah, Ikarious, and the Trees of Life and Wisdom

I visited a new synagogue: Ikar, the mid-city progressive-yet-conservative-denomination that I’ve heard a lot about. I have classmates that visit there as well as Rabbi Adam.

I went to see a new community and what the buzz was about. It was also the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, the worst attack on a synagogue in US history. I was already feeling somber.

Let’s not mince words. Eleven people died because of the rhetoric of our president*. (Don’t expect a footnote there, I’ve started putting an asterisk after “president” when talking about Fat Nixon and I’m loving it).

May their memory be a blessing.

The attackers in San Diego and Pennsylvania both left manifestos quoting and praising the Racist Tweet Demon (I have a whole file of nicknames).

May the memory of the Second Combing someday be a warning.


Ikar was warm and swirling and big, much bigger than Kol Ami or Nefesh on a Friday night. This was Saturday morning and I was late. As I pulled up a classmate was arriving, too, so that was a relief! I grabbed a kippah and we sat in the bleachers.

Ikar meets at a Jewish high school auditorium, a beautiful building though somehow the room itself bears the name of “Dr” Laura Schlessinger, the homophobe from the turn of this century who called gay people “biological errors”. Other than that I felt very welcome. I’m sure her money has bought some lovely things, but also: that woman is a monster.

That aside, the service was great. The parsha that week was Adam and Eve and the tree of wisdom (tree 1). Falling on the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, I found the torah learning about the trees (one tree?) such a moving coincidence. “Tree of Life” is a concept, too in Kabbalah, which I know very little about at this stage.

It was also a bat mitzvah. This young woman was sharp as a tack, precocious, a good singer, and gave a fantastic sermon about creation and how we had to exit Eden. Why put the forbidden fruit there if not to be eaten? Literally, what else was the purpose? If G-d had just created us and everything else, why this tree with no written warning, but a verbal one, to a couple who are essentially newborns? You wouldn’t entrust a puppy or a toddler with that temptation.

We’re gonna eat the dang fruit.

Judaism differs greatly from Christianity here. The issue was we disobeyed, not that we were cursed or otherwise meant to never leave Eden. It’s a simple lesson about why the world isn’t paradise. There’s no original sin in Judaism; we don’t have to be saved, we aren’t born incomplete. Far from it: if we’re created in G-d’s image then our curiosities, free will, ability to make mistakes—and need to make them, to learn—are all divine. Fucking up is a gift.

Sadly, that also means we’re capable of terrible evil and hate, including killing the elderly at synagogue.

I’m of the mind that there was one tree, that Life & Wisdom weren’t separate plants, for these reasons. You can’t be human for long without the comprehension that we are wildly imperfect.

That knowledge and the peace that comes from knowing it’s OK to screw up, so long as you fix it/don’t do it again/learn—is integral to being human. Otherwise we’re just lower animals. You can’t have the Life without the Wisdom.


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