Many children

Last night, I went to Shabbat services for the first time in, well, a pretty long time. I’m just not a synagogue-going type of girl. But this was a gathering of folks mostly about my age, in my neighborhood, who meet about once a month for Shabbat services and a potluck dinner. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been hoping would crop up around here, and so I went to check it out

And something in the dvar torah (the talk on the week’s torah portion) made me think.

The nice guy (whose name I’ve already forgotten) who gave the dvar torah talked of Rebecca conceiving after her husband, Isaac, prays on her behalf. She herself doesn’t ask for children, as did many other barren women in the scriptures. He referenced the scholar Aviva Zornberg, who said: “Everyone wanted this pregnancy: Isaac prayed for it, Rebecca’s family blessed her that she would become ‘thousands of myriads.’ But why does Rebecca not pray, too?”

When she did finally conceive, Rebecca’s pregnancy was difficult – her twins, Jacob and Esau, were struggling in her womb – and she asked, “If this is so, why I? Why do I exist?”

It was the family’s wish for “thousands of myriads” that made me think. Here was a family that, when it said goodbye to Rebecca, wished many children upon her.

I was reminded of a night in Kyrgyzstan two summers ago. The group I was traveling with was staying at a cheesy resort, probably Soviet-era, on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kol. After dark, when we could no longer see the lake and mountains and with nothing else to do, we’d all gone to the hotel disco. I ended up dancing and talking with a girl from Tajikistan. To make a rather long story very short: she seemed to like girls. In a lesbian kind of way. But she’d grown up in a place where very few gays feel able to come out and live the kind of life that, say, I do. When we were saying goodbye, she said, many times: “I wish you marry a nice man and have many children.”

(I told her that several times that I’m gay, phrased as many ways as I could think of. She never quite seemed to understand. She just wished that I would marry a nice man and have many children.)

It’s a slim point of connection: the wish for another person to have many children. But perhaps it resonated for me because I’ve never particularly wanted kids. To marry a nice man and have many children is many women’s (and some men’s) dream of a perfect life, but it would be miserable for me. It sounded like Rebecca may have gotten stuck living the life that other people had wished for her.

I wonder sometimes if the girl from Tajikistan willy marry a nice man and had many children – and if she does, if she will be happy. Perhaps, even if your heart lies somewhere else, it’s even more important to fit into your family’s and society’s way of life. But not for me.

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