The only thing that is good about religion is God. This came to me in the Zumba class, of course. In the book, Eat Pray Love, there is a moment when the main character turns to God to pray. This is unfamiliar to her and she does not know what to say.
I went through a somewhat religious phase when I studied Judaism after college, and even tried to practice it. It is funny but even then, I did not pray to God very often. I studied God.
Today in Zumba class, one dance had a move where we stretched our hands to the sky. All choreography is a narrative. When I was learning African dance, I learned the basics. Hands to the sky is talking to God. Shaking hips and butt is mating or seducing. Bowing down to the earth is thanking the Earth Mother.
I try to think of this narrative and relate to it when I am in Zumba. Whenever we raise our hands to the sky, I think of God. When I think of God, I am reminded of how little I think of God.
I have a vivid memory of an event that happened when I was around five years old. This was in the Ukraine, during Communism where God was outlawed. My parents never spoke of religion. Jewish was our nationality. I was crying helplessly, one of those child deep cries of life’s unfairness. I was wailing and sobbing, my face was bright red, I was suffocating from my own panting. After I could cry no more, there was a quiet moment. A moment of peace that comes only after a great cry. In that moment, I started praying to God. I was asking him to help me. I was asking him to calm me. I was asking him for fairness. This seemed natural to me for some reason.
When my family moved to United States, I got the privilege of a full scholarship to a Jewish private day school because we were poor immigrants. The Jewish Federation is a nice organization. I started in fifth grade. I had one American looking outfit that I thought was cute. I wore it on my first day. It was turquoise pants that had a Velcro belt closure. A turquoise fleece vest to match with a stripped shirt with repeating turquoise lines. On the plane from Italy to NYC, I got a the pin the they used to give out in airplanes. I did not realize that I looked nerdy or immigrantie and the pin did not help. I guess those pins were not as cool as I thought they were. Thank God, there were only nine kids in my class who were warned about Russian immigrants. But the story of immigration for a ten-year old, I will save for another time. This is a story about God.
For the first time, in this school I heard people talk about God. They were studying Jewish texts, the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishnah. We had prayer service in the morning. The last thing my ten-year old mind was thinking through all this, was God. God came to me only in those dark moments. He came to me when I felt there was no way out. He came to me all those nights in college when I cried because I did not understand what I was doing with my life.
During my Zumba dancing, I am reminded of the people of the tribes. I picture the African Tribes raising their hands with song and dance to God. That is what I am talking about. That is when I feel grateful. I feel it when I raise my hands. When I say God, I do not imagine a guy with a beard by the way. I picture the silent divinity all around me. I know he is not in the sky but the symbolism of the movement is powerful.
Isaiah loves birds and planes now. When he sees a plane, he says “Ptiza” (bird in Russian). I say, it’s a plane. He says, “up up” and then cries. He wants me to pick him up so that he can touch the plane. Unfortunately, I cannot reach the sky, but I can try if I raise my hands.