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ONE MARCH DAY, as I jogged through the morning sunshine, I looked around and found myself making up a song: “The sky is blue, the grass is growing; sky full of feathers, again it’s snowing. Some things that happen naturally can be miracles too.”

The immediate cause of my exultation: having just met the man I’m still married to, 39 years later.

Today’s surprise was realizing that at that moment, the credo of my life changed. I stopped debating whether I believed in God and started seeing and being thankful for the miracles all around me. The special shapes of leaves. The beauty of bare branches. My legs and lungs propelling me up the hill.

That moment was the result of a years-long process. For many years I had a difficult relationship with my father. He was really a remarkable man. Despite having grown up in a desperately poor family (the kind that moved when the rent was due) ruled by an abusive, alcoholic and delusional father, he had managed to create his own successful business, loving family, and strong marriage. But he carried the scars of that childhood. He was highly critical, with a fierce temper that exploded without warning. I blamed him for my lack of confidence and for my own fierce temper. The few times I tried to repair the relationship, the blowback from my father’s anger was so intense I backed away.

After years of off and on therapy, I finally decided that I would have to build a life for myself, just as my father had built his. I pictured myself facing a weed-pocked paved-over back yard. I could plant a garden there but first I would have to take a jack-hammer to that concrete. As I jogged, I yelled out the anger I had stored up at all the crushing incidents. And in my imagination, I let him answer, something that never would have happened in real life. The anger dissipated.Then as I jogged, I started visualizing the cultivation and planting of my own little plot of land. I was part of a New Age Jewish group led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He advised me to find something to thank God for every day. As I jogged, I found dozens, hundreds of things to be thankful for every day. I realized that just as I had learned my fractiousness from my father, I had also learned from him my capacity for joy. He used to sing, “the sun is a-shining to welcome the day.” Now I sing it too.

It wasn’t an accident that I finally fell in love at age 38. I was finally ready.

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While I ate a piece of bread for breakfast this morning, I thought about partnership. I always say a blessing of gratitude for the bread, but it’s not just gratitude for having something nourishing in my stomach. Bread is an embodiment of the partnership between humans and nature that enables us to survive and thrive. We didn’t invent the process of fermentation that transforms grain into something that can nourish us. We noticed it and learned to shape it. That partnership is also the key ingredient of human society. From barn-raising to COVID research, we depend on each other to live safely, comfortably and well. I feel scared that the current crisis of trust and respect will undermine the partnership that is necessary for us as a society to survive and thrive. I have relatives and treasured friends and members of my community that I’m afraid to converse with. I’m afraid that many of us no longer recognize each other as partners. I realize that, deep as our differences are, in some ways those differences are illusory, and we can’t let them divide us. We must find ways to understand and appreciate each other. Will you talk to me and let me listen?

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We are all challenged with the task of reknitting the frayed fabric of our America. What are your ideas of how to make it happen?


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I'm Judy Petsonk. I’m the author of Taking Judaism Personally: Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life, and the co-author, with Jim Remsen, of The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians. In my new novel, JUSTICE: MACCABEES AND PHARISEES, I tell you how the fierce rivalry between Alexander Janneus, King of Judea, and Shimon ben Shetakh, the leader of the Pharisees, led to the transformation of Judaism from the animal sacrifice of the Second Temple to the rabbis of today. But I tell the story from the alternating points of view of Shimon's ex-wife and of Shimon's best friend.

In the sequel, QUEEN OF THE JEWS, I introduce you to a real queen — dead, unfortunately — who ruled the independent nation of Judea in the century before Jesus was born. She was a contemporary of three Cleopatras, though not the one you’re thinking of. Though you may never have heard of her, she has had an enormous influence on your life and Western civilization in general. Her chaotic, colorful times may remind you a lot of our own. Like Queen Salome Alexandra (Shalom-Zion), the heroine of the novel, I am the mother of two young adults, I’ve been married for over 30 years, and I’m ‘a woman of a certain age.’ But my husband and children are truly lovable and bear no resemblance to the family of Shalom-Zion.

judypetsonk@gmail.com