A Temple Visit

Kathy enjoys visiting Temple Beth El in Portland. She has been attending services and visiting the temple for years. As residential counselors we encourage the residents at Sawyer Street to not only be as independent with their needs as possible but we also encourage the ladies to get out into their communities, taking part in their spiritual practices. Kathy has a fascinating take on her own spiritual path. Part Jewish, part Christian, Kathy holds her beliefs dearly. She values many traditions from both religious practices but she identifies as Jewish, celebrating her heritage, observing the holidays in her own way, discussing Jewish history, practices, and displaying some of her cultural motifs.

I was raised Jewish. I had a Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. I can still read Hebrew and Kathy and I enjoy our visits to the temple together. She is so friendly with everyone she meets and sees there and has developed a real connection with the secretary, Danny. I leave her side often so she can socialize with him. She loves watching the children run around. And she glows when she finds a man to talk with. We always sit in the small chapel and I pick out a religious book to read from in Hebrew and in English. I have even sung a few songs to her in Hebrew! My grandmother would be so proud! But most importantly is this spiritual bond Kathy and I have developed through the years. And how valuable this experience of supporting her with her spiritual pursuits has been for me.

On this particular day Kathy and I chose to read a brief history of the temple from a small guide the temple printed over 20 years ago. We discussed the yarmulke, a head covering that displays humility to God, which Kathy wears one of many from her collection every day. Kathy was excited to hear about how the history of this temple transpired and how it is the largest congregation in the US with a female rabbi at the helm. When I read the short description of the Mezuzah an idea popped in my head. I excused myself from Kathy, saying I needed to use the bathroom. Kathy has wanted a Mezuzah, a symbol of a Jewish household that is secured to the doorposts of the Jewish home. But Mezuzahs can get pricey. I asked Danny if there were any inexpensive ones that may have been donated to the temple. Danny asked me with a smile to follow him into the gift shop they have. He picked up a beautiful bronze looking one and went to hand it to me saying, please give this to Kathy from all of us here at Temple Beth El. I refused to take the Mezuzah in my hand and responded “It would mean so much more if you could give it to her.” Danny smiled in agreement.

We returned to Kathy who was sitting in the chapel. Danny stepped up to her and held the Mezuzah out in his hands and as Kathy reached out to accept the gift, Danny explained that this Mezuzah was a gift from the Rabbi, himself, and the whole congregation here at Temple Beth El. I stood silently watching Kathy’s face go from a bright huge smile, to almost tearing up and back to that embracing smile she returned to Danny. She choked briefly on her own words and at first struggled to say thank you. The words came out, Danny smiled warmly, I smiled and Kathy held the Mezuzah in her palms and raised the gift to her lips and kissed the Mezuzah gently.