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Barbara Washington
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Hamantaschen: The real love triangle

The day after that 'National Day of Hate,' I entered the synagogue for my first conversion class, and found exactly what I needed
A plate of hamantaschen. (iStock)
A plate of hamantaschen. (iStock)

My first day of Jewish conversion class began the morning after antisemitic US citizens declared a National Day of Hate. 

My teenage son asked to stay in the car, where he sat and waited for me, no doubt flipping through his TikTok feed and snoozing, while what appeared to be armed security guards in neon jackets stepped out the back door of the synagogue office space where we were scheduled to meet. Moving determinedly around the elderly gentleman who held the door open, they began moving up and down the line of parked cars, peering around at passers-by and nodding. Their presence was felt.

I had come looking for hope, community, and insight. Recent changes in the Israeli government had the potential to deeply affect my already-complicated conversion experience, and as the dust settled and I made decisions, I was looking to connect with a variety of different ideas and see things through a lens other than my own.

These security guards were looking for something too — anything out of the ordinary. Something possibly violent, and destructive. Signs of hate.

The contrast was startling. 

As a survivor of multiple violent crimes, strangely, even an antisemitic one, long before I made the decision to give in and officially become what I am, I felt the familiar rush of possibility that sudden, terrifying activity could erupt at any time as I brushed past them up the stairs and into the synagogue. If risk is nearby, I can smell it. My body learned long ago to sense danger and to note every detail of my surroundings.

Armed with this superpower and the awareness I’d been gifted in therapy that I was in control of my hypervigilance and it doesn’t control me, I breathed deeply and mindfully, remembering my purpose was to meet with my ragtag havurah and explore Judaism.

Alert, and scanning the room, I came face to face with texture: paints, and clay, splatters of color, and twisted iron. An unexpected art show stood where the tables had last been when I’d visited the space just after Rosh Hashanah. Beautiful works of art hung neatly in rows on elegant room dividers interspersed throughout the space, and they told Jewish stories.

My rabbi invited me to view the art show while I waited. I walked slowly, moving through personal expressions of peace and pain, everyday ordinariness, triumph, and terror. There were images of family, blurry love relationships, vibrant nature scenes, pieces that spoke of inner conflict, warm conversations, loneliness, and unnatural darkness, all documenting the Jewish experience. Visitors slowly made their way around the gallery, taking in the art, and sharing it with each other in low tones. 

Several older women could be heard loudly and happily chatting, while baking hundreds of hamantaschen in the back kitchen for an upcoming Purim celebration. The faint smells of dough, sweetness, and laughter wafted through the door. My rabbi’s eyes twinkled.

I have built a home for my children where they are not allowed to say the word “hate.” Yet hate had not given up on us. Outside our home, you could feel a tangible potential of something other than love hammering away at our windows. You could feel it here outside this synagogue. It was familiar to me. Inside, all I could see was a messy, committed, and reverent display of joy and peace. I was struck by how hard I had tried to build this very thing into the fabric of my home, and how many tears I had cried trying to make peace happen. It was hard work.

But not here.

Here, it seemed I had transitioned from tension to peace by simply moving through a room filled with creative expression and commitment to remembrance. Here, even a lone stranger on a “Day of Hate” was offered a drink and a place to sit… and a job to do.  Here everyone seemed to be family. What was this world I was entering?

I looked at the hamantaschen, vaguely recalling a story I’d read, which claimed they traditionally have three sides because of the old expression: “Ask two Jews, get three different opinions.” It struck me as I looked at the little triangular pastries that I was oh-so-familiar with triangles.

As a long-term domestic violence survivor, triangles have often been used against me, when the perpetrator wanted to influence my thoughts by influencing my relationships. I had also spent a lot of time explaining to confused people trying to understand my story that I “live in the Bermuda Triangle between the courts, law enforcement, and Child Protective Services. It’s a systemic problem. Because of the system, the therapists, and the family just swirl around in there, pinging off the corners, asking for help. It’s a mess.”

So was the jelly filling glob in the center of the hamantaschen. But it was sweet. I felt like these women inherently understood that life was like that as they worked with their hands in the dough. Ask two Jews, get three different opinions. Ask one potential Jewish convert, get three different life lessons:

  1. Hate stays outside.
  2. When words aren’t enough, make art.
  3. And keep telling your story.

We never know what’s coming, so let’s get together today… to bake, create, and learn Torah.

Class hadn’t even started yet.

About the Author
Barbara Washington is an independent investigative journalist, a mortgage loan originator, a copywriter, a wife and mother of six, a fiesta enthusiast, cat lady, and a survivor of violent crimes. She is based in Wilmington, NC where she runs her multilingual, tri-coastal, biracial, multiethnic, interfaith, trauma-informed circus, and rabidly debates issues surrounding Jews and Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East with anyone who will listen. Usually the cats.
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