Prologue: The header photo was taken in the fall and this draft was created on December 4th 2021. I have written on reclaiming customs or significant celebrations before, but this latest version has been percolating for many moons. This is a very personal essay about the evolution of my identity ; how rebirth and radical change is indeed, possible. Some of what I write is controversial and may offend some readers. I write to communicate and share as a form of service, but self-healing is often a major factor. When it comes to this topic, self-healing comes first.
Many of my posts talk about my early life and the family I was born into. I write about my multicultural heritage and how it impacted my spiritual path. I also discuss my medical challenges and my search for effective remedies. I have tried so many modalities, medications, and practitioners, traditional and alternative. My interest in ancestral healing was sparked by my upbringing, passion for genealogy, and the hope to eliminate suffering attributed to intergenerational trauma. I embarked on this road late 2020 through the present. I took some online courses, watched some lectures, and worked with an ancestral healing practitioner. It has been quite a journey. As is often the case, the path has not been linear.
My work with the practitioner was quite a ride. She is also multicultural with one Jewish parent and one Catholic parent. She decided to take me on because of my Jewish heritage. She reclaimed Judaism and is so passionate about this faith. I found much irony in my relationship with her as she helped me explore my deep roots of the past. She is so steeped in ritual and tradition, while at the same time, such a radical, unconventional, free thinker. When a self – proclaimed weird one like me meets someone who is off on such an unusual, path where I have little to none frame of reference, that is saying something. And I dug getting to know her. Alas, complications ensued and our association was cut short. However, I am grateful to this vibrant, wise woman who opened me up to new vistas and helped usher in some much needed transformation.
From this current vantage point, i have discovered that my identity is ” under construction ” in some unexpected ways. Now, I am still confused about the description and the limits of a soul’s ” personality” as perceived from a non-dualistic, non-material perspective But that is a whole “nuther topic ” for another day.
I have become incredibly immersed in the recalibration of my understanding of being Italian American and Eastern European / Jewish American. Popular culture plus synchronicities often take me where I need to go and both have been instrumental in this endeavor.
Spoiler alert: the following material may push some buttons ( or not). Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Made in America
I have been a huge Sopranos fan for many years and have watched all six seasons several times. I have recently done so again, with a fresh perspective. The series is flawlessly written. brilliantly acted , and is as sophisticated as many critically acclaimed films. There is also the emphasis on psychotherapy to consider. And of course, my own family history. Even during my initial viewing of the series, a few years after the premiere, I became acutely aware of my connection to the lead character Tony Soprano. He’s from Jersey and I lived there as an adolescent. My sister and mother still do. While both the character and the actor James Gandolfini were my age, I identified with him as my father. And my dad wasn’t even Italian! However, my dad resembled Tony when he was that age, and looked Latin ( probably due to my suspected Sephardic lineage). Both men were overweight, balding, bossy, controlling, bigoted and had anger issues. Both loved to eat. Both had complicated marriages and relationships with their children. Both were managers with many subordinates reporting to them. Both had difficult childhoods. But only one was a murderous crime boss. That would be Tony.
Let’s be clear, my dad did not have a criminal record and was not involved in any illegal activities (as far as I know). But he was often dishonest, manipulative, cruel, vindictive, paranoid at times, and selfish. But he also loved his family and tried to be the father to his kids that he did not have. He was loyal to his extended family. He did not go to therapy ( but how I wish he had. ) He was not Italian but he married an Italian woman, my mother. Tony ate ziti, we ate Ziti. Tony’s mother offered him eggplant. my mother offered us eggplant. I could go on and on about the parallels, but there are two that are primary. The first is how upwardly mobile Italian Americans navigate current times and balance where they fit in the larger society. This theme relates to my mother’s people. The other is the dynamic between Tony’s demons and his connection with his teenage daughter ( ironically portrayed by a Jewish actress Jamie Lynn Sigler with some Sephardic roots). The dynamics between Tony and his daughter Meadow often paralleled that of my own with my father. Again, no mob drama, just dysfunctional family drama. I would often cry watching some of the scenes between them, forgetting that I am old enough to be Meadow’s mother. I am finding the synchronicities of phrases, accents, familiar foods and themes very cathartic. Currently I’ve been watching the Talking Sopranos podcast on YouTube and reading the book that came out of it, Woke Up this Morning.
This has been quite the journey. Even the opening sequence where Tony drives to his house reminds me of my early life. I did not live in North Jersey ( although we almost moved there) but we drove back to NY often and passed some of the landmarks Tony passes on his commute back home. I realize that this show is fictional and I have no mafia connections in my family. We are closer to the “civilian” Italian American families featured in the series. Yet something in my psyche saw my father as a powerful menacing figure. At this vantage point I see it has more to do with an upbringing laden with grief, alienation, financial insecurity, and too much responsibility bestowed upon him while he was still a boy.
Welcome Back ?
This other self -realization is less angst – driven and more about joy. No baked rigatoni or veal parmigiana, but lots of song and love. While working with the Ancestral Healing practitioner, I began to notice Jewish people more. This occurred during the work and shortly after it ended. We began to connect with my mother’s Maternal line which was comprised of Polish Jews ( her mother’s people) and went back to people who walked the planet before Judaism was created. So it is no wonder that I was curious about my great grandparents ( who I never met) and all who came before. I became enchanted with Rabbi Tirzhah Firestone and took her online course on Ancestral Healing and the Kabbalah. Little did i know where this would lead.
The course required study buddies and I met a woman online who was organizing a study group. While this course was international, she happened to live very close to my area. She’s a writer and a Jewish Educator. We hit it off easily and she would send me links for activities in her Reconstructionist congregation. I didn’t pursue them. Interestingly. she knows the wife of one of my dear friends. My friend knows many of the Rabbis in her congregation. Very odd, I thought at the time. Eventually I became curious about her congregation because she and I were not that different. We are around the same age, have a mystical leaning, and are expressive artistic women. So last September, at the last possible minute, I joined a Zoom service for Rosh Hashanah – The Jewish New Year. Mind you, I have never been to any Jewish services before, except for Weddings and Funerals. I do not speak Hebrew nor am I well acquainted with the Torah. Ask me about the Course, Quakerism, Hinduism, Astrology, telepathy, dream interpretation, Reiki, etc. But I am a newbie when it comes to the religion I was born into. Let’s also consider that I am not a fan of religion in general. I like to color way outside the lines, as my readers know by now. Quakerism was very attractive to me because of its direct linkage with the Divine, evident in its worship and in daily life. I do not need an intermediary, thanks but no thanks. And yet, I was drawn in somehow….
I was astounded by what I witnessed at this service: inclusion, feminism, tolerance, acceptance, lots of spiritual light, levity, humor, glorious music, Rumi, references to Kabbalah, social justice, unity, and abundant, unconditional love. I had no idea this was possible So I kept attending online services. I still am not certain what my endgame is, but my vision has shifted. When I see the faces of the congregants, I see like – mindedness where I failed to see it before. This type of style expressed in the services has more in common with Quakerism than the Conservative Jewish beliefs I was exposed to growing up. Less guilt, more laughter, Less judging , more vulnerability. And to think this movement came into its own just a few miles away from Philly. I continue to wade in the waters of astonishment. I recently was asked to meet with the head Rabbi on Zoom and man was I nervous. Yet, this Rabbi is more like a peer than anything else. He was respectful kind, warm, and generous. He is my age and is also a musician. He has sung Bob Marley songs on his guitar during a recent service. How is this even possible?, I wondered. The paradigm has certainly shifted and I am making choices I never thought I would make. These choices are healing and positive, but very new to me.
I am thrilled to see how much I am changing. that I can truly morph into a better version of myself in an area of life that has been stagnant for decades. I continue on the mystical path and have no intentions to deviate off its terrain. However, I am reclaiming parts of my identity that split off in childhood. Being Jewish does not feel like a punishment or a mistake anymore. My orientation to this faith was orchestrated by my Tony Soprano – like father, where it was distorted and fueled with fear and tribalism. It was also complicated by his hatred of Christianity, the faith my mother was raised in. Why wouldn’t I run for the hills and divorce myself from this legacy of confusion and negativity?
I have no idea if I will join this synagogue. I do enjoy the community and want to meet more people to see where or if I truly fit in. I do see a connection between all these recent discoveries and the influence of all four of my family lines. I cry with my brother and sister Ukrainians, as I see the destruction of the land where my paternal grandmother was born. I celebrate and keep learning more about the beauty of my Italian-ness, which was accelerated upon my visit to Italy many years ago. The schism in my childhood around religion and ethnicity prevented a healthy immersion in any one of them. This was such a challenge for me as a teen and young adult. I was so disconnected and confused. What is occurring now is both a deeper integration and a reclaiming of a purer, positive expression of the various ancestral influences that have been transferred to me. It is both exhilarating and uplifting. One of the functions of shamanism is supporting people in recovering their lost parts. It is clear to me that this is coinciding with the progression of my Ascendant into the sign of Gemini that occurred in November. My IC is in early Gemini and this reclaiming and integration of identity is the focus of the Fourth House. The Gemini flavor gives it speed, frenzied information seeking, and the desire to become educated within a community. My natal moon is also placed in the Fourth house, emphasizing further the hunger for soul connection and nurturance. It is comforting to know that I am being led in a positive direction layered with mystery and the element of surprise. This 3D ride is much more interesting when some of what surprises me lately is not the horrors’ of the outside environment but the awe of my interior landscape.