Recently a woman by the name of Gloria Orenstein told me a story from her own life that is so miraculous that I asked her if I might share it with you in this blog, and she graciously agreed.
Gloria is one of those gifted people who is blessed with an awareness of the miracles both large and small that surround her. “I have so many miracles in my life,” she writes in an e-mail message, “I used to call them ‘le hasard objectif’ (surrealist synchronicity), or else I thought of them as ‘saved by the bell,’” when she would find herself “levitated out of disaster” by an unexpected hand.
Raised Jewish, and a seeker of spirituality from an early age, Gloria loved learning the Hebrew letters. Her joy in Jewish learning was cut short, however, when the director of her Sunday school walked into the classroom and ordered all the girls to leave. They could no longer study Hebrew, he told them, because they had to make room for the boys, who needed to prepare for their bar mitzvahs. She soon learned that she would not be able to receive the “auspicious blessing” bestowed on her brother, and couldn’t even dream of becoming a rabbi. She wasn’t asking for "permission" from anyone. All she really wanted was "a blessing to go forth in my life," like her brother had received.
Eventually, Gloria emerged as “a feminist activist, rebelling against every form of patriarchy, and claiming that I first learned about this in Judaism.” She drifted far from her roots, ultimately becoming a student of a shaman from the North Pole in Norway and udertaking “a pilgrimage to their sacred site in the tundra.” It wasn’t long before she began to see the shadow side of this severe practice and became seriously ill. As she suffered through her illness, praying to seventeen shamanic gods for help, she began to question where her own God was in all of this. To her surprise, she discovered that “My God was right beside me all the time, listening to my prayers.”
After returning to Los Angeles, Gloria began to work with “a healer and clairvoyant,” a Jewish woman with knowledge of shamanism. One day the healer told Gloria “in no uncertain terms,” as she puts it, “that God wanted me in a Jewish temple immediately. I protested that I could not find one that pleased me.” The healer asked her—with arms upraised to the heavens—to tell her exactly what she required in a synagogue.
First, Gloria told the healer, “It had to be in walking distance from my apartment,” though Gloria lives in an area of Los Angeles without a synagogue for miles and only one small church on the corner. Second, “It had to have a woman rabbi, preferably over 50, and she needed to be from Israel.” And third, “The congregation had to be mostly in my age range, and made up of spiritual questers.” She was certain this combination of requirements would be impossible to satisfy.
Imagine Gloria’s astonishment when the very next day she received a phone call from a friend and neighbor telling her to look out her window. “They’re moving a Torah into the Little Church in the Glen!” her friend told her. The little church on the corner was to become the new home of Ahavat Torah, a congregation founded and led by Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, an Israeli woman of the right age, with a warm and friendly community of spiritual seekers also in Gloria’s age range.
“I could hardly believe that it was absolutely the answer to my prayer,” she writes in a speech she gave at Ahavat Torah on June 10, 2006. “Ever since I joined this wonderful congregation,” her speech continues, “I see the Hand of God in this, and in so many other miraculous occurrences in my life. I want to thank God in the highest way I know how,” she writes, by becoming a bat mitzvah.
On that day, in the congregation that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere just for her, Gloria read from the Torah, in Hebrew, and became a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the commandments. There she received, from an Israeli woman rabbi, the “auspicious blessing” that had been denied her since childhood. And here she stands today, still telling her miraculous story, in the presence of the One who has been listening to her prayers all along.