Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chai anxiety

That's the Hebrew word chai, which means "life," not the peppery Indian tea.

When I was in middle and/or high school, my friend Jordan wore a necklace with a chai. My grandmother would see it around his neck and comment on it. "Jordan wears a chai," she'd say. "Don't you want to wear one, too?" Then she'd offer to get one for me. This was sweet, of course, but I wasn't into it.

Just the other day, weirdly, I had a desire to wear a chai around my neck. I've lived at the Kibbutz for almost a full year now, and my sense of Jewish identity has never been more solid, but that's not to say it is solid. It's just not as utterly plagued by ambivalence and self-loathing as it used to be. I see many a member of the Kibbutz community wearing a hamsa, and maybe it's rubbed off on me. I don't want to wear a mystical symbol, though, and something about the star of David doesn't sit too well with me, either.

But chai simply means life, and that seems okay. I already donate to charity and give gifts in multiples of $18, which is the Jewish numerological equivalent of chai; I learned to do that from my parents. Surely chai has some importance for me. Maybe I envy my fellow community members who proudly display their Jewishness by wearing yarmulkas on the street, but I'm not prepared to use such a distinctly religious symbol. Chai is spare, elegant, and linguistic, which makes it a good fit for my language-oriented mind. So I'll swing by Tree of Life Judaica, which is a few blocks from the Kibbutz, and see what they're charging for chai necklaces these days. Can't hurt to look.

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