The Beginning: A preview of the 2017 Hanukkah that lead me down the path towards Jewish conversion.

TODAY marks the two year anniversary of seeing the light that lit up my soul. Wow. Two years, and a lot has happened in those two years. Once again I am writing this from memory and pictures. I almost feel like it’s more authentic in a way. Here goes:

I don’t really remember what time it was, but it was getting dark. I remember lounging on the couch reading The Gabber and reading that there was going to be the lighting of the menorah at the park by the local synagogue. I noticed the time and I only had a few minutes to get there if I was going to go. Something within me told me that I absolutely needed to be there. So, I put on a jacket and walked out the door. (Mind you: I remember feeling lost and unhappy with life and like something was still missing…and Christmas hadn’t felt like it belonged to me for a few years at that point. Something was amiss.)

When I arrived at the park, I stayed back a good distance because at the time I knew nothing about being Jewish or Judaism, and I didn’t know if it was kosher for me to even be there. A few people said hi to me. They said the prayers, sang, and lit the first (outdoor) candle.

I still can’t explain it… but, that first candle being lit? It lit up my soul. I was never the same after that.

I stayed there for a while collecting my thoughts as to what I just witnessed–both inside and out–as I was listening to them sing. Then, I headed home thinking to myself: get home fast, girl, you’ve got some research to do.

This is me… with purple hair… and oh how I miss my long hair… this is also a face full of “what just happened?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?” and a boost of inner happiness.

Can you believe that I still have the screenshots of what I researched on my phone? Here’s what I looked up:

-Jews by choice: in relation to reincarnation of where in Judaism the Jews-by-choice were once Jewish but born into a non-Jewish family and then finding way back to Judaism.

-Kabbalists / Reincarnation

-You might be a Jewish soul, if: G-d felt more real and made more sense than any other, related to Jewish people more, reacted more towards the Holocaust than others, the values are what you possess…

-Becoming Jewish is like falling in love (an essay)

-The Pirate Rabbi Samuel Pallache (for fun, because I was really into Pirates in 2017, ha.)

-I also took a screenshot of some books from someone that was also studying Judaism so that I knew some titles to read.

Also that same day, I started following every Jewish magazine and newsletter that I could find… including Lilith and Jewish Currents and some others I can’t seem to remember. The Jewish Currents that I ordered sent a calendar as well and it was JAZZ and POETRY. It was such a beautiful calendar. I cried when I saw it. (YES I am super emotional about all of this, thank you very much.) I still love it. Very much art. I also looked up Jews and Jazz and found Paul Shapiro. I looked into what was Jewish in the area, and what schools would possibly have Jewish classes. My research lasted forever.

So, that was basically the very beginning. That first night changed my life forever.

Fast forward though the year: I didn’t tell anyone about my finding of Judaism for the longest time. Aunt Patsy was the first one I told, and I absolutely felt like I had to, before she passed away (so that was all in Jan 2018). Also in Jan 2018, I discovered matzo ball soup. I didn’t attend synagogue until June 2018 (with the exception of attending a random one down south while at a boat show in April) and that is where I bought my chai necklace. I started my class in Oct 2018. In Dec 2018: well, you’ll just have to wait for it.

REFLECTION: Okay, so I’ve deleted what I wanted to say about twenty times now because I clearly can’t form a sentence or even put into words how I feel about this. Simply put: I just can’t imagination my life without Judaism. It’s been the highlight of my last two years. It’s kept me going, and when I converted, I finally felt complete. After 32 years of feeling incomplete and like something was missing…it’s a really good feeling, feeling whole. And it’s almost like being born again. In a way, I feel as if I went from old soul to a younger soul. Can that even happen? It’s hard to explain that.

So anyway, I’m going to post below a piece that I wrote in Feb 2018. It’s a poem that explains better in-depth explanation of how I felt. Also, if you read the previous entry, I was talking about making changes and being scared and knowing it’s the end of the line sort of thing… I took my first step towards that changing today. And tomorrow, I’m going to take another, and another, and another… . and march forward until..

The Very Beginning

Nearly every single day of my 31 years of being an old soul on this Earth:
I have been searching endlessly for what my heart wants,
where my soul belongs, and what my life’s purpose really is.
Reading and questioning everything. Why this, why that? What if this, what if that?
I’ve created this realm of philosophical thoughts that led me
to wondering why this often ignited flame inside me dies out?

I am in a much different place than where I was born..…
I broke away from those roots at 21 with a different mindset
by walking down the road less traveled, and I never looked back.
Growing older—supposedly wiser—only harmed me in some way.
My soulfulness of my wondering youth and the youngness of my mind
was nearly erased by the every day menial problems.

Last year in December, around Hanukkah, my soul was screaming.
After not being successful to distract myself with anything else,
I walked down to the local Menorah lighting ceremony on the first day.
Something about being there was magical—I saw a flame that didn’t die.
A million of my dreams as a teen have been realized, but why, I ask:
during the most fulfilling moments of living….there’s still something missing?

The night before my aunt died, I told her a secret: I discovered Judaism.
I told her she no longer had to worry about my soul. I finally found where it belongs.
This is my journey, the one that I will wholeheartedly embrace,
the one that I will choose to carefully walk—not run, skip, jump, hop—and practice
often, for this is something that deserves my true attention and patience.
I cannot ever take this moment for granted because I have found my spiritual home.

My aunt, being of a different religion, replied “A good place to start your spiritual
journey is Judaism. Jesus was Jewish so you can’t go wrong starting there.
Follow your heart and look to God. He will answer all of life’s questions.”
That answer provided me with the stamp of approval.
I sent my letter out to the universe, to the world, to God himself
that I was ready to take on this new responsibility of finding out who I am.

I’ve spent so much time being blinded and sidetracked by the clutter in life,
and in turn, I have missed some of the best moments that could have been.
There are years shaved off my life that I can never get back.
Depression swallowed me whole in the darkest days of my life,
and what I would have given at that time to close my eyes and never wake.
But, I had forgotten: both the good and bad in life serve us with life lessons.

Just this week, I cut back on TV shows, and looked to finding synagogue feeds online.
I found one in New York and I instantly fell in love with this Rabbi’s sermon:
“Gam zeh ya’avor. This too shall pass.”
How true it is that with every breath we take and move along the day, the moments shift
from bad to good and good to bad, back and fourth like a pendulum…
always leaving room just enough for an action or a reaction.

Time is sometimes a lie that we rarely take seriously, and living in the moment
just doesn’t exist anymore when people’s hearts aren’t pure from distractions.
We think we have time to say what we need to say, or do what we need to do,
but we don’t… and we’re almost always gone, even if we’re there in present day.
I’ve had many people—and moments—taken from me as I’ve come to love them.
It’s the constant reminder that nothing is ever permanent.
And to trust the thought that everything happens for a reason, no matter what it is.

These last few months–My discovery of Judaism and the beautiful Jewish Culture–has lit my life’s candle so full of love and light. It’s such an intense feeling that I’ve never felt or seen before. When a person knows, they know. I know I have a whole lifetime worth of catching up on, but embedded deeply in this soul of mine, I feel like I already know it…that I’ve walked the path before in another lifetime. It brings up a lot of loaded questions, and I’ll still be searching for answers come as they may. I can’t even begin to explain how it has completed the largest missing piece of my life’s puzzle, even in this short period of time, even with as little as I recognize I know, right at this given moment.

Visualize this: it’s like when you read a very good piece of literature and the words start lifting off the page, turn into music, and suddenly, you’re singing a song you felt like you’ve known your entire life….but you don’t know how, because you can’t place ever singing it because it just doesn’t make sense how you would have known it…and then, suddenly, the music turns into the most beautiful piece of artwork that you’ve ever seen–like a sunset–and you’re just so much in awe that you stand there for hours upon hours just staring at it because it takes your breath away. And you just want to grab some glasses, pour a drink or two, and make a toast screaming TO LIFE at the top of your lungs….because you’ve embraced life like you’ve never done before and you truly never, ever, ever want it end. That’s where I am. And, that’s where you’ll find me.

~ Karen Maeby 2.21.18

TO LIFE – TO LIFE – TO LIFE

Another flashback but this time to the music days of ole.

It’s been a long time since I’ve lit my candles and incense and turned the lights down low while listening to Mozart..As I type this, that is what I am doing to try to relax myself to sleep after drinking a lot of coffee tonight just to stay awake!

We had another rehearsal for OBR tonight, and yet, still we have conflicts and not everyone has been able to rehearse together. This is beginning to bring me right back to my writer’s group murder mystery last year from Sept-Nov. I think out of all the rehearsals I scheduled, we had everyone there at one time maybe twice. Tonight was also the first real night everyone was supposed to be off book, so I’d hear “line” “line” “line” every so often, and I’d feed whoever needed the lines.

While listening to everyone sing the songs, I sat there thinking how exciting it is to be involved in a musical again. Other than doing the Purim Spiel (which was top 3 of my favorite things, like, ever) my last musical was Bye Bye Birdie in high school when I was a junior. I can remember it now….

I walked into school and heard that a teacher had painted her room pink. That was the first time something like that had ever been done (you know, the walls are normally an off-white color), and so I had to see for myself. I went to her room, introduced myself, and told her why I was there. Then we talked and she mentioned wanting to do a musical. Sure enough, that spring semester we did Bye Bye Birdie.

Auditions were terrifying. And, even though I was in choir, I was super shy and barely sang out and didn’t want the attention on me at all (no please don’t pick me to sing solo, not even for a grade!). Plus, I had so many ear problems at that point (I had to have tubes put in for the 2nd time when I was 16), so that made me very self conscious.

So back to auditions: I had to sing in front of so many of my peers; I was shaking very badly, and I’m sure I was out of tune. Either way, I got to be one of the chorus girls. For Bye Bye Birdie, I also helped with clearing out the entire gym stage to prep it for the musical (that was a process), I helped with props (go figure, something I’m still doing today), made the t-shirt design, and so many other things. I have pages of inside jokes from that time.

Years later, I found the Bye Bye Birdie original cast vinyl record and I play it every so often to just keep myself in tact with my old haunt of a musical. I loved The Telephone Hour the most I think.

Hi, Nancy!
Hi, Helen!
What’s the story, morning glory?
What’s tale, nightingale?
Tell me quick about Hugo and Kim!
Hi, Margie!
Hi, Alice!
What’s the story, morning glory?
What’s the word, humming bird?
Have you heard about Hugo and Kim?
Did they really get pinned?
Did she kiss him and cry?
Did he pin the pin on?
Or was he too shy?
Well, I heard they got pinned
Yeah! Yeah!

It upsets me that I don’t even have one single photo from Birdie (maybe there’s one in the yearbook from my junior year, but I don’t have any of my yearbooks with me). I don’t even remember what our set looked like. I just remember our gym stage being transformed. Almost two years later (after I graduated), they built a real auditorium, but I never really got a chance to see it or enjoy it. At that point, I stopped going back to help the front office and for visits because almost all my teachers had retired and all of my friends had graduated.

My mind tonight also jumped to my years in music. In 7th & 8th grade, I was the choir/music teacher aide. I also took general music, and I taught myself how to play piano and read music theory. Since I was a TA, I had the chance to have my own bulletin board where I was in charge of creating extra credit and it would be about composers. I was the pianist’s page turner at our competitions, and I helped out at every concert doing who knows what. In 8th grade (and I don’t know how–then, at that point–I had the guts to even read something in front of the audience because I turned beet-red at a drop of a hat), I introduced the choir songs at one of the concerts. While at home a couple of years ago, I put that VHS tape in and listened to myself. Ouch. A very Kentuckian accent (thank G-d I got rid of that)… and, while watching, my TV’s built-in VCR ate that tape. Whoops. It must’ve thought that was painful, too.

In high school, I went to be in choir, and I would get to help out whenever possible. I loved it. Our choir director was really good, so good that we’d take home distinguished scores every competition. I remember sitting in the audience and my twitching every time I hear a bad note. (I do that to this day, now, actually.)

Instead of me reminiscing from memory, here’s a piece I wrote for the book I published. This piece still remains one of my favorite memories, moments; it is still every thing.

The Storm is Passing Over 6/25/14 

Back in April of 2014, I had a dream that our choir family from high school got together for a reunion of some sorts. I woke up crying because I knew there was a huge chance it wouldn’t ever happen. 

Well, to my surprise, it actually sort of did. In May of 2014, my high school choir director, Ellen, retired from the school that she went on to teach at a few years after I graduated. Since it was a last minute decision, I couldn’t attend this wonderful “last concert” reunion sort of thing that her family was planning for her. When I saw photos and comments pertaining to the reunion, it seemed like it was a great time. 

I was reminded of the great times I had in choir. The KMEA assessments, music festivals, trips to Philly & Atlanta, preparing for concerts and concert nights. I remember how powerful I felt when I had my black choir dress on with pearls. I still have all of the programs from each concert and any of the newspaper. 

Out of all of the concerts I attended, my senior year spring concert in 2004, had to of been the best. Prepping for that night was completely epic. One phone call turned into way too many and my mom’s sneakiness was figured out; She was trying to hide the fact that some of my family from Indiana was down for the concert. 

The very last song that my group of seniors sang with the rest of the choir was “The Storm is Passing Over.” The weather was quite maddening and I will never forget the moment when I saw lightning out of the corner of my eye. As much as it was storming outside, it was definitely doing the same inside.

After the song was over, the choir members from my graduating class gathered around Ellen and Larry and sang several songs for them. It was such an emotional night. Both of them had such a positive impact on every single student that was a member of the choir. I know that I’m right when I say that for the majority of us, choir was one of the single happy moments of our high school lives. 

For six years from 1998-2004: I was a teacher’s aide for a choir director, a part of the choir, helped out at every concert that I could, taught myself how to play piano, learned the history of music and composers, studied music theory, learned how to judge choirs at contests, choir stage presence and so much more. 

After six years of nothing but music on my mind, I went on to study it my first year of college but then I stopped due to life taking me down another route. Unfortunately, I haven’t returned to music yet, but I’m almost always surrounded by song from my every day life. 

Music and lyrics alone are the gateway to someone’s soul, recollection and relatedness to and in life. It’s the one language that everyone speaks. 

15 years later, and the music is back in my life. It took 12 years for theatre.

A flash back to Key West.

A couple of pictures showed up in my Facebook memories reminding me that on this day–December 7 of 2012–I was in Key West, and so I decided that I wanted to share some memories of past entries from my two visits to the Keys. However, I was not successful in finding my detailed blog entries, so I am using my memory (oy vey, lets pray), very little pictures that was posted on FB, a small written piece & some poetry.

The first time I went to the Keys (2012 trip) was part of a cruise and had from early a.m. to about mid afternoon to get off the ship and walk around. 55% of that time in the graveyard, the other 45% of time was walking around the town. I wanted to find all of the spots that Jimmy Buffett sang about in his lyrics. I fell in love with how 1970s it felt. It was like everything stopped around that time–the color of the houses, the spirit in the air, some of the bikes and cars and shops, the people / the bars, and I adored the metal mailboxes that were attached to the houses. Captain Tonys was a memorable one–I drank some kind of crazy alcoholic punch drink from, I think it was called Pirate’s Punch. I could not get up for a while, but I walked straighter than I walk when I’m sober. I still just don’t know how that works. I found my favorite keychain “Yes I am a Pirate” and my favorite sweatshirt “A Pirate Looks at 40” in the Margaritaville shop. I remember walking down one of the streets and finding my shadow in a piano and I later wrote the poem “Sepia”. I don’t really remember much else from there, but I’m sure I could if I could find all of the pictures or blog entries or notes or something…

This is me in 2012. I found the sign from Jimmy Buffett’s song “There’s a woman going crazy on Caroline Street.” (Yes, I was about 50-75 lbs heavier than I am now.)

In 2015, I wrote Key West into my vacation (first stop was Fort Lauderdale boat show then the Keys then flying home.) I drove along the A1A for the first time and I don’t think I will ever forget the drive. It was beautiful. So the next paragraph will be sporadic memories and probably not at all in order. I stayed at the Author’s Guesthouse (go figure, right?).

I do remember that evening when I arrived I found a place that served tacos, and that was the first thing I did. One of the days I ate the most amazing salad I had ever eaten in my life from Date & Thyme. I think that’s what it was called. Of course, I spent time along Duval Street, went to Caroline Street, Mallory Square for sunset, walked around the cemetery a long time, took random photos, went searching for those Pirate statues, spent time looking for ghosts, met a friend I had been talking to online for a while, and did so many other things.

One of the coolest things was the sunset at Mallory Square. Everyone stood there watching, and when the sun set, everyone clapped. It was like we were attending the show and the sun was giving his performance.

Here’s a really embarrassing story — I was slowing down for a red light—while riding my rented bike—and instead of my foot making its way to the curb to hold me up, I missed, and I fell into a sea of people. Everyone rushed over to me like OMG are you okay? And get this, I had not drank at that point, and wasn’t planning on heading to Captain Tony’s until later that night….I wish I could remember the conversations, but I know several random people and I talked while I was at CT. They were interesting. The bar was interesting after midnight. I talked to Captain Tony’s spirit. I will never forget riding the bike back through the town in the very early a.m. There was some kind of solitude at that time in the morning.

The day I was supposed to start towards home I delayed my trip by a lot, and went to the Keys bookstore and spent hours there. Even after that, I wanted to delay the trip longer and went to Starbucks to charge my phone before heading home. That’s when I had a stranger to ask to sit with me. This stranger and I had an instant connection (she called me her mini me) and we talked forever, we friended each other on Facebook, and she’s been down in my area several times but it hasn’t ever worked out to meet up since.

One of the best parts of the 2015 trip (out of the memories I actually could find that was written out and besides meeting my two new friends) would be the experiences with all of the animals I met while there:

-Walking into the graveyard and ran into three roosters. They walked up to me, I said hello, and ‘have a good day’ as I walked along. The roosters said something back to me. 

-I made friends with the Author Guesthouse’s cat. I asked it if I could pet it, and responded by showing me its head. 

-A random guy along Duval had a parrot named Margarita, she kissed me on the lips. 

-I got to take a selfie with an ugly fish in the aquarium. 

-On the way back to my car on my last day, I met a really beautiful parrot (not the same as above) and talked to it.

-On a bike ride through a random neighborhood street, I came across an iguana stopped in the middle of a street and a cat on the other side. So hilarious! I took a picture and posted it as “there is a dilemma, do you see it?” 

-I also saw several roosters stopping at red lights and looking both ways before they crossed the street. There is not one part of me that questions why the rooster is wanting to cross the street. 

Now that it’s almost 2020–where I am trying my best to move on from the beach life–it’s so weird looking back at how in love and in tune with that world I was. I am almost like a stranger to myself looking in, or a stranger reading another stranger’s work. How funny–time–and what it does to someone, add in experiences and how fast life changes… is it a sign of loss? or growth? or something more for me to completely block off and out something that I loved so dearly? It’s definitely something to ponder…and the subject has been on my mind for a really long time.

I’m hoping that one day I can find all of the photos and all of my detailed writing so that I can write more stories about this lovely place. What I do know is that the Florida Keys will definitely be on my touring list once I write more books and publish them for real this time. You can count on that.

Glass Fish + Symbolism 
Karen Maeby © 3/3/13 

“Stop and think about what you’re doing 
in Key West” – He says. 

His hand up, pausing you from going on. 

A glass fish vase next to him: 
he’s a statue 
in a window to a shoppe. 
I know nothing of it 
but something 
calls out to me. 

It’s a haunting photograph that I took: 

unfocused

colour 
out 
of 
tune 

a sun spot 

but it still calls out to me. 
There’s just something about it. 

Some kind of symbolism – 
Key West is reaching out to me,
as if the city knows I’m searching for something.