I often joke that my parents had a mixed marriage. While both are Jewish, my dad was raised in a religious family where they kept Kosher, observed the Sabbath, and tended toward a literal interpretation of the Bible. By contrast, my mother was raised by assimilated Jews who were proud of being fully Americanized. My maternal grandparents always had a beautifully trimmed Christmas tree in their living room in December.
While my siblings and I have different views on religion, my sister and I have each gotten deeply into spiritual practices including, in my case, dreamwork. I am deeply intuitive and have had many experiences with precognition, synchronicity, and a sense of being guided by my dreams.
I often wonder where in my ancestry this mystical tendency in me comes from. The fact that my sister, is mystical and spiritual as well, makes me think this tendency most have been handed down through our ancestry.
But nothing I know of my grandparents or great-grandparents points in that direction. As far as I can tell my relatives were practical people. My grandfather on one side sold scrap metal, then built up a hardware business. On the other side my grandfather bought and sold garages. One grandmother loved shopping and playing cards with her girlfriends. The other was a schoolteacher who was prone to moralizing and loved to take long walks for exercise.
Recently, however, I came across an old journal in which I recorded my experiences visiting Israel in 1985, when I was 22. I stayed with relatives I’d never met before, and they told me a little bit of my family history. Flipping through this old journal I found the notes I’d taken during these conversations.
I read that my relatives on my father’s side came from the Podolia district of the Ukraine, and that the town they hailed from was the residence of the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov was the rabbi who founded the mystical branch of Judaism known as Hasidism.
Aha! I thought, thumbing through my old diary, that must be where our mystical natures were formed! Surely my relatives were among those who followed the Baal Shem Tov. Something of that mystical outlook, that ecstatic relationship with the divine, must have been passed down through the generations, and somehow lodged in my sister and me.
I was off and running with this new theory—so much so that I neglected to take notice of the next sentence in my diary:
“The Goivas [our pre-Ellis Island last name] were misnagdim.”
Not knowing what that meant I went back to Google.
That put an end to my theory. I learned that in fact, my ancestors were among the people who opposed and feared Hasidism.
Oh well. So much for my theory that I’d found the roots of my mystical nature. All I can think is that there must have been at least one rebel among the Goivas who might secretly have loved Hasidism and nurtured that mystical spark through the generations.
Or maybe not. Maybe like all things spiritual, there is no simple, logical answer.
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