Shabbat Shuva

Something momentous has happened in Naperville, and I want to share that with you this evening.  I have been attending a class called “Total Body Fitness” twice a week for the past six years at Edward Fitness Center. It is taught by a woman named Kathy Lee – she has a last name, but nobody knows it, to my knowledge. Every Christmas she wishes the class a “Merry Christmas”. Every Easter it is “Happy Easter”. Never a “Shanah Tovah” or a “Kosher Pesach”. So, after six years of not hearing this, I got up my nerve. On Monday morning I walked into class a little early. In my hand I had a piece of paper. Written on the paper were these words, “I want to wish our Jewish members a “Shanah Tovah” a Happy New Year. (I spelled out “Shanah Tovah” phonetically) The Jewish New Year falls on Thursday and Friday of this week.” Now, you have to know that I rarely speak to Kathy Lee. She is only five foot two and 125 lbs, she tells us, but she is packed with muscles, so I find her a bit intimidating. I mean, I would not want to get into a fight with this woman! Even though the class is packed, no one exercises directly in front of her, either. It is like a “cone of inactivity” in front of her. She seems to know that, because she says, “There is space in front of me, I don’t bite”. She says it with a charming smile, and laughs a little. No one believes her though, judging from the empty space in front of her in each and every class. Nobody rushes over to fill in the vacant spots in front of her. The fact is, she is super nice. She has never, ever, said or done anything that would make us afraid of her. A total professional ….. but scary. As I said, I got up my nerve and walked up to her and said to her, “This week is the Jewish New Year and I wonder if you would wish your Jewish exercisers a “Happy New Year”. Here’s what you can say,” and I handed her my note. I continued, “I thought it was about time we added a little cultural diversity to our group. It’s so nice when you wish our class a Merry Xmas or a Happy Easter, so I thought you could do this as well.” Well, Kathy Lee beamed. Of course she would love to do this. Then she added, with a big smile, “Did you know that my family is from Germany, and they were once Jewish?” I never know exactly how to react to that kind of news, and whether I ought to be happy or sad about that. So, I said, “That’s very interesting”. And, she continued, “My husband is half Jewish. Of course, we’re Catholic now.” “Oh, cool.” Later on I thought about it. How wonderful that we live in an era when someone could be proud that they have Jewish ancestry! It was not always like that. In the past, people were ashamed if they had Jewish ancestry. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s famously was not told by her parents that both were Jewish and had in fact survived the Holocaust. When George Allen Jr. ran for governor of Virginia ten years ago, he discovered his mother was Jewish through the press. She explained that she never told her son because she had not wanted to burden him with that information. Being Jewish for her meant being part of a persecuted, hated race. Today, people can say that they have Jewish ancestry just like they can say they are part Irish or Italian! I think that is progress! After leaving Kathy Lee, I went to get my hand weights and my mat. And almost immediately she said, “I have an announcement that I have to make. “I want to wish our Jewish members a “Shanah Tovah” a Happy New Year. The Jewish New Year falls on this Thursday and Friday.” I have to admit, although I was glad she said it, I was a little disappointed. First of all, she didn’t wait until everyone was settled and paying attention. Second of all – it sounded too official. It was a little stiff. It sounded like she HAD to make this announcement because her boss at the Fitness Club told her she had to make the announcement. But it was a start. I thought I would give her another chance at Passover. We went through our usual exercise routine – the one where 15 minutes goes by and I have no idea how I am going to finish the next 45 minutes. When we were through, as people were just about to put their weights and mats back, Kathy Lee says, “I want to wish all my Jewish people a Happy Jewish New Year. It’s on Thursday and Friday. I think you are going to have beautiful weather!” BINGO. That’s exactly what I wanted; precisely what I was hoping for. That came straight from the heart. It was just like how she wishes people a “Merry Xmas” and a “Happy New Year”. Edward Fitness Center will never be the same for me again. You know what? I bet she says that to all the classes that she is teaching this week. Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Khatima Tova – May You Be Sealed in the Book of Life for good!