Have you noticed how your “inner child” is a thing, these days? Wellness experts and psychologists alike are inviting us to tap into our inner child, ushering in traits like curiosity and playfulness, as a welcome addition to our mature and serious selves. I’m game, and I’d like to explore this option with you, but can we add a twist? Can your inner child be Jewish?
Before we dive in and have super fun as kids do, I’d like to invite you (just for a few minutes) to take down those walls. You know the ones. The ones we have painstakingly built to keep us safe from criticism, shame and cruel treatment. Though the security of the walls has sustained us, and allowed us to trudge forward into adulting, they have also slowed down our quick responsive smiles and laughter. Unabashed laughter is a key component of an inner child, so, “Walls, you may lower, for now.”
Picture this: You are entering the month of Elul. You are mindful that the shofar is blown each day during this period. You will be at the JCC for a workout or a meeting, where Laura Seymour is sure to blow the shofar within earshot. Mitzvah accomplished. Or is it? After all, we are grownups and wouldn’t want to make a fool of ourselves by making gurgling sounds with the prized shofar we shlepped home from Israel. Besides, our shofar sits on the mantel like the work of art it is.
Scratch that. We hear you, inner child, insisting that we take down our ritual item and purse our lips right around the end and blow like there is no tomorrow. How fun! Did you make a sound? I do hope your inner child was not blowing the shofar with gum in her mouth, again.
Or picture this: It is Rosh Hashanah. The golden, round raisin challah is before you. How will your Jewish inner child respond? You already know, Silly! Pull it apart in chunks and excavate the raisins, one by one. Hold your find up to the light before gobbling it down and selecting the next one. You’ll eat some lechem (bread), too, but you’ll soon be full, and leave behind your challah with holes that resemble Swiss cheese. Your inner child is delighted, and the raisins are trapped in between your teeth when you smile.
Good thing you registered for the adult Purim celebration with the spiel. Of all the Jewish holidays, this one is power-packed for your inner child. Not only are you invited to be joyful, but you are also encouraged by Jewish law to celebrate with laughter and groggers, and even adult beverages. But somehow, many of us bring our self-doubts and timid nature to this raucous and festive party. Your inner child says,” Not this year!”
The Megillah reading commences, and your inner child is listening for the cue to drown out the name” Haman.” Noisemaker in hand, silly expressions and laughter free-flowing, you are in the moment with Jewish people, all tasked to feel joy and to frolic. The noises are so loud as the Megillah is read, and you don’t even think thoughts like, “Turn that down!” You have embraced the moment fully, and your sides hurt from laughing so hard. You notice that there is poppy seed filling dripping down your chin and you just lick it with your finger. You notice your rabbi is doubled over with identical laughter, watching one congregant after another leave their adult personas behind.
Last one. Courtesy of my Uncle Louis Glazer, of blessed memory. Whenever Louis gave someone he loved a hug, he would critique that hug. And if it wasn’t good enough, nurturing enough or loving enough, he would hug you again and ask for you to give him a “real” hug, an inner child hug. Whether I was at a bar mitzvah or a funeral, you were hugged good and hard. You knew you were deeply loved. As an adult receiving this hug, I felt held. I squeezed him right back and have always been grateful that one of my elder family members wanted to love me in such an embodied way. He let his inner child reach out to each of us in a powerful display of affection. In memory of my uncle, I’m going to hug my own grown children a little harder.
We have five sensory gifts from the Divine. They are the abilities to taste, smell, hear, touch and even see with our eyes. This week, I invite you to become curious about your inner child, and the excitement you can bring along to your weekly lighting of your Shabbat candles, or deeply hugging and holding a loved one in grief. Those walls? They were beginning to crumble anyhow, and your inner child is joyous to walk away from the rubble and guide you to more celebratory Jewish moments. Amen.
Debbi K. Levy is on a path to become a Jewish Priestess, studying with the Kohenet Priestess Institute.