For the closing event at camp this past summer, our children paraded around a field in costumes for “Halloween in July,” collecting candy as Michael Jackson’s Thriller blasted from the speakers. While I watched the children scramble to fill their bags with treats, I noticed a man dressed in business casual slowly approaching, and for an instant his familiar appearance gave me joy. I almost smiled, but then I remembered how much I hate him.
Our divorce was finalized last Passover, and though we were both released from the contract that bonded us, I am still enslaved, unable to break free from the pain and anger. I was hoping that this Rosh Hashanah would bring forgiveness and peace at last, but it would be a lie to say I have forgiven him.
I willingly admit my own mistakes that contributed to the failure of our marriage. I am truly sorry. I also regret that we did not try harder to get the help that we needed to preserve our relationship. This is not the life I had envisioned for my family. But if the father of my children were to stand before me today (or send an email or a text) and ask for my forgiveness, I am not sure how I would respond. In my heart of hearts, I suppose I know what the correct response should be, but I cannot swear I would do as I am supposed to do. And while I rarely question God, our sages, or tradition, I find it impossible to forgive simply because it is dictated at this time of year. (Lucky for me, I guess, my ex has not asked for forgiveness.)
I am a much better Jewish educator than I am a Jew. I am energized and passionate in my classroom. I want to inspire my students so that they will love and embrace our heritage. Yet on Shabbat and on holidays in our own home I sometimes fall flat. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is one of my numerous sins. But being in the classroom forces me to be conscious of my actions and words towards others. After all, how do I stand before a group of kids and encourage them to acknowledge their transgressions and repent without facing my own indiscretions? Being a teacher helps me recognize my own shortcomings and hypocrisy and makes me want to be a better person and Jew.
So I am trying. For instance, at back to school night for our kindergartners last week, I walked into the gym several paces behind my ex-husband and with a slight hesitation, I took the seat next to him. Though the animosity between us is palpable, I am committed to putting the children’s interest before my own discomfort and I believe he is trying to as well. We spoke respectfully to each other and even devised a plan to split up so that each of us could visit a twin’s classroom. It was by no means a pleasant experience, but it was progress for us.
Perhaps someday we will not only find a way to work peacefully as partners for their sake, but we will learn to forgive each other for our own sake. Unfortunately, I do not think the time is now.