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Dancing with Moses, Buddhas and Kewpie Dolls

We remember the time our people melted their gold and danced around the calf. Moses was gone too long, the Jews fleeing Egypt got restless, afraid, confused.

Since Abraham, the Torah warns us against idol worship. And there are many forms and ways of relying on false gods be it addictions, Wall Street, power. John Lennon called it when he experienced being worshipped, uttering how the Beatles were bigger than God. Religious leaders freaked, heresy.

I had a dose of idols with Hanuman lovers in the Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) z”l, circle I was grateful to be a part of for a while. I loved Ram Dass, his teachings continue to speak to me. I just edit out what doesn’t. Like his affection for Hanuman, the monkey-god. Editing out is an old habit I developed as a child stuck in way too many alienating situations. And I didn’t find the Hanuman figurines pretty or even interesting.

I wanted Ram Dass, an incredible teacher of Consciousness, to privilege Judaism over Hinduism. But his heart was ripped open by a guru in India in an alternate reality. We all have our saints and holy men. The Rebbes in Europe and Crown Heights, the Baba Salis, Abou Hatzira, whom my great grandmother from Morocco was so proud to have fed.

But there are statues I find pleasing. Serene buddhas evoking that internal state of serenity. I have a favorite Quan Yin in my house.

One afternoon iPhone in hand, a statue of Quan Yin almost hidden in a sea of flowers caught my eye. Click!

And I posted the photo with the caption, “ShalOM,” on FB.

A response, “Idol!” That’s all he wrote. Shame on me!

I thought of Granny and her kewpie doll (and how she would never have taken the post down like I did).

She had a kewpie doll, a big plastic doll from Japan her father gave her.

She loved her doll, she loved sewing clothes for it. Her husband’s family berated her for “idol worshipping.”

Baghdad was not the British Singapore she was yanked out of for marriage.

“I was so mad I couldn’t take it anymore! I was carrying your mother in my arms, she was a tiny baby, and below in the courtyard, my mother in law and the washer woman were washing the clothes and I heard them talking about me again… how I was worshipping my ‘idol’… I went and put Katie down on the bed and wrapped the kewpie in Katie’s blanket and waited till they looked up at me, then I threw the doll down, they thought I threw Katie! Plop right into the wash basin. What a fright they had!”

I’m embarrassed that “idol!” reprimand not only shocked me but sparked shame in me. I actually removed the post, accused of idol worship.

What would Granny say? Something like, “Why did you remove it Pet, what do they know about you!”

Growing up first in Bombay around the corner from the Hanuman temple with its monkeys jumping a little too close for comfort on Arthur Bunder Lane, playing in Shinto temple grounds with their sacred waters and rocks and shrines, crawling in side giant buddhas in Japan, gave me appreciations.

Appreciations I cannot explain to some who fear these images any more than Granny could have explained herself to a community so different.

Its spring again, renewal, and a new picture of Quan Yin, surrounded by flowers presents itself. Click! Post.

If a judgment appears all I have to do is channel Granny, delete all reprimands, and keep dancing. Dance, not around any golden calf, just around my house in this time of Covid-19 Shelter-In Place tiny seders, imagining a rave in the desert with Moses some three thousand years ago.


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