I Believe in Stories
Even at two-years-old Adar remembers to kiss the mezuzahs that are affixed to each doorjamb. If I’m carrying him, his black hair like a corkscrew garden tickling my cheek, he reaches out as we pass through the doorway. If he’s on foot, he reaches his arms up toward me, signaling to be lifted. Then, together, we touch the small vessel that holds a sacred scroll within it.
Written on the scroll are biblical texts: God is One. We shall love God and keep the commandments. Kissing it is a Jew’s affirmation of the sacred covenant. It’s a reflex for Adari — he doesn’t know yet that it is an act of devotion to the meaning of some words. He has simply developed the habit — followed by a happy glance at me. God’s oneness affirmed in the unity of mother and son looking gratefully at each other. I see the same joy of connection in his eyes when he kisses the fringes of my husband, Yosef’s prayer shawl during morning prayers.
The scroll is unseen, like God, like our souls, like all of Adar’s biological ancestry that he left behind in Ethiopia. When he and I touch our fingers to the mezuzzah and then kiss them, we reveal something: our love for one another and God. Through these moments of revelation we further weave ourselves into the story of the Jewish people.
Jewish tradition holds that the soul of every Jew stood at Sinai to receive these words. Over time Yosef and I will challenge Adar to imagine where he stood, like we have for ourselves and his older sisters, our biological daughters. Did he thread his way to the front like his Abba did? Did he stand at the back but feel excited and hopeful like his Mama? Did he hesitate? Was he eager? Afraid? What did he see, how did he feel, what did he do at Sinai on the day that our people’s story was recreated?
Because Adar is not of my body, joining his soul to the collective one of the Jewish nation feels like a bold act — an act of creation like the world’s first. God did not give birth to the world. God created the world through words. I did not give birth to Adar. I became his mother through words.
Over a year ago, as I waited in line at the Addis Ababa airport, my new nine-month-old son on my back, I felt I was breaking some sort of cosmic law. I had the paperwork t needed in order to board the plane. But where was the celestial proof that I was his mother? How much authority could documents hold? I had to trust the human narrative of governments, orphanages and agencies, and begin to make a place for that story within the expanisive, and expanding, narrative of our family and the Jewish people.
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