By Debbi K. Levy
I’ve been trying to grow out of my need to “fit in” since I went to the Lamplighter School. The Lamplighter School worked diligently to invite their young students to embrace and tap into each of their unique gifts and talents. We played ukuleles and square-danced. We had hootenannies and sang out loud, with gusto. We sat in reading wells while being properly read to. The faculty invited us to explore and dive deep into our imaginations, sparked while playing on a playground, surrounded by playhouses and tame farm animals. One might assume that a sincere invitation to a “be-who-you-are” environment would be a good booster shot for a loving acceptance of who you are. I wonder, now, in my late 50s, if fitting in was a stronger pull to me than desiring my own fingerprint. Can you relate?
From Keds tennis shoes to trying to put up my hair just like my beloved JCC camp counselor, Emily Kern, I wanted to practice melting into a group. I wanted to be a puzzle piece that fitted effortlessly and organically into the larger puzzle.
Not long after Lamplighter, middle school offered even more paths to uniqueness. Language-learning choices, musical instruments, sports, art, dance and the formation of interest clubs including photography newly emerged on the scene.
I am sorry to report that a vivid and potent memory that quickly surfaces from this time period for me was a group of my girlfriends, standing clustered in a tight circle, assessing our skills with the application of frosted purple eye shadow. There was criticism of those that applied too much, too little or none whatsoever. I enjoyed the nods of approval and acceptance from my friends as they glanced at my successful attempts with this new fad.
It wasn’t that I did not come equipped (as we all do) with gifts I could tap into to settle into my own unique Debbi; it’s just that belonging felt like the more important need to fulfill.
High school, college and young adulthood found me still wrestling with the same. My dilemma of radical self-love versus fitting in was not all-consuming, but was, indeed, ever-present. When you are a young adult, you wisely learn to mask this need, so that it doesn’t appear obvious. When you are not included in an intentional gathering with your peers, it can rear its ugly head. Today, this feeling is referred to as FOMO (fear of missing out).
I can still feel the relief exiting through my fingers as I tap on my computer keys, conveying the happy ending here. You know, I think I’ve finally licked this thing! The desire for the puzzle piece fitting in so completely, so perfectly, has been replaced with not only an acceptance of myself, but an accessible and passionate self-love. Jewish rituals and worship, with the intention of naming my struggle, have sacredly lifted me out of an unworthy desire left over from my formative years.
“B’tzelem Elohim” is literally translated as “in the image of God.” You and I have embedded in us a spark of the Divine. The sacred text is found in the Book of Genesis. I can feel it. I am finally listening to my small but insistent inner voice. I can’t mistake it when I light my Shabbat candles or braid my weekly challah. And lately, I feel awash in the sparks my ancestors were imbued with, as well.
From my wavy hair to the rest of my physical body, to how many children I have (four), or how many times I have been married (two), to where I call home and which social justice work speaks to me in the loudest tones, I am lovingly accepting and enthusiastic of my unique gifts and talents, and even challenges. And the fitting in? A farce. For we all fit in. We are our Creator’s purposeful puzzle pieces, and the world is our big puzzle to mend and fit together in a glue of chesed, loving kindness.
I am Jewish, a Texan, a wife, mother, sister, daughter, emerging Priestess, yoga teacher, pickleball player, avid journaler and collector involved in assembling too many collections. I am a nurturing caretaker of many family pets.
I have never located that perfect slot, where we all wear just the right amount of glimmery purple eye shadow and live the same life after the school bell rings for dismissal. Reflecting and absorbing our tradition’s sacred words, “b’tzelem Elohim,” I am finally released of the false effort that cannot elevate a life. It was simply another idol. How good it is that 5783 is upon us, and I have finally tuned into the wisdom that we human beings, each and every one, are all made and celebrated in the Divine image of the Eternal. Amen.
Debbi K. Levy is an Emerging Priestess, studying with the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute. She is on a path to ordination next summer