Nothing in my life was as scary as that first moment in 1990 when I actually put the Book of Genesis on a table, laid transparent paper over its holy pages and held a thick pink marker to highlight my first word, “Dominion.”
I was not nearly as scared in the ‘80s when I dug the endangered earth from nuclear missile sites and carried it away in pillowcases in my Earth Ambulance, or in 1981, when I brought Arab and Jewish women together to carry the stones the first Intifada had thrown.
Only answering my mother’s question, “So what’s new?” as I sat in her Borough Park dining room, amid photos of my Babas and Zaidas, could match that fright. Was I betraying the mishpacha, my Shulamith School for Girls education, the Jewish nation, the 5,000-year-old chain of history?
But I asked myself:
Isn’t it better that someone like me, who is passionate about Judaism, be the one to own up about the passages that make me squirm, before a Farrakhan finds these passages and says Jews are just fine with them?
Am I not continuing my own practice of rescue? I had “rescued” earth in pillowcases in the ‘80s; I would “rescue” G–d with markers in the ‘90s. As my ‘70s Paintings That Change In Time improve in time, this new leap of truth might be for the better.
Once I convinced myself to begin, I glued the transparent overlay onto the remaining pages of Genesis. The edges of the pages rippled like the surface of a lake; the sound of my hands pressing the overlay was a celestial murmur.
For the next two decades, I was hooked, highlighting with markers, with magnifiers, and digitally with shading pink on the computer. There were dedications to my Babas, my foremothers, my mother, the Women of the Wall, my 18-year-old self as a bride, my teachers, and for women on a Beit Din as judges.
Now, my afterword is for the children, born and unborn. My piece deals with “Tears for the Children” — that is, the children cited in the Second Commandment , “For I thy Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” (Exodus 20:5)
If I have sinned
That sin is my own
If my father has sinned
That sin is his own
If you have sinned
That sin is your own
It is not the sin of the newborn babe who smiles as the sun comes out
It is not the sin of the yet unborn, still crouching inside the womb
It is not the sin of the child on the bike
Or the child on the swing
Or the child on the school bus eager to go to school
Or the child waiting to graduate.
There is a holiday called Simchat Torah which translates, joy of the Torah.
Should I rejoice on this holiday?
Should I dance with the Torah as is the custom?
Or should I mourn?
Punishing the children for the sins of previous generations resonates strongly with today’s “Dreamers,” children who face deportation from the only home country they know.
The title of my installation, which has traveled to Jerusalem from Brandeis University, is “Afterword: For the Children.” It is like a postscript to my 20-year “The G-d Project: Nine Houses Without Women.” Now at last, after dealing with the dismissal of women in the texts, my final say, my addendum, is for the children. For the future. For a day when, if I have sinned, that sin is my own; if my father has sinned, that sin is his own.
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