Sisterhood Blog

In Turning 40, Freedom

By Elana Sztokman

  • Print
  • Share Share

I turn 40 next week, and I want to celebrate. I’m not talking about a Madonna-style birthday celebration of pretending I’m still 22, or an Oprah-style event involving a car giveaway (although perhaps if I could actually do either, I might consider it). I’m thinking more along the lines of a celebration of life, of joy, of the freedom that comes with a certain stage of adulthood.

Forty is a big deal. Every major biblical transition was represented by 40: 40 years in the desert, 40 days on the mountain, 40 days of the flood, 40 years of peace when Deborah became judge (after Yael took out Sisera). In short, 40 is birth, transition, or transformation. Forty weeks of gestation. According to the Kabala, 40 steps in the creation of the world – 10 utterances of God, and four steps of creation each time. Forty. According to Aryeh Kaplan, 40 is the mem, the letter of “mayim”, waters, which represents the fluidity of life. Forty, or mayim, is about my own rebirth. I can’t wait.

Forty is freedom. It’s about relinquishing all kinds of anxieties and fears and a nagging need to please. It’s about letting myself dance and sing and run and leap, about allowing myself to be who I am, to speak freely and write freely and not be too afraid that someone won’t like what I have to say. I’ve learned that someone will always disagree or disapprove, so I might as well be true to myself, so at least one person will always be satisfied.

Forty is about owning myself. Like the way the amazing George Michael defines it: “I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me. Yeah, yeah!” It’s about letting go of other people’s voices in my head and listening closely to my own. I believe that quiet inner voice that we all have to be the voice of God that we were all granted as part of our tzelem elokim. It’s so often encumbered by external prattle, the way the poet Mary Oliver writes in her glorious poem, “The Journey”: “Mend my life!”/ each voice cried/ But you didn’t stop/ You knew what you had to do.”

Sometimes I think that the biggest obstacle to my own freedom is that pestering, irritating voice of guilt that tries to intrude on my attention to the internal God by accusing me of unnecessary personal indulgence. As if stopping to breathe and listen is an unnecessary luxury. My vision of 40 is guilt-free joy, a commitment to life in the moment. It’s a Nirvana kind of thing — the Nirvana of being over 40 and letting go of anxieties in order to be truly present in the moment.

Don’t get me wrong — “caring” is and will always be a big piece of my life. But I would like to care a little differently. I care for family, friends, women, the Jewish people, Israel, and human beings and other creatures generally. Caring to me is active, engaging and time-consuming. But now I’m learning to care deeply without letting the pain of the world intrude on my own inner peace. It’s a really difficult balance, but one I’ve started to learn from my friend Rivkah Moriah. A beautiful, joyous woman who has experienced a disproportionate amount of pain, Rivkah teaches me about the coexistence of joy and pain. We acknowledge human suffering, identify and empathize, and simultaneously work on living in joy, Rivkah says. It’s a paradox, but one that I intend to live with. Empathize with the pain, put it in the past, but live in joy in the present.

So, to mark my newfound freedom of 40 and all its accompanying Zen-Torah wisdom, I continue to work to make this kind of freedom possible for other women — specifically, agunot and mesoravot get, women inextricably chained in unwanted marriages who want nothing else than the freedom I described above. If you want to celebrate with me, take a look at what Mavoi Satum is doing to help agunot and mesoravot get. And thanks for celebrating with me.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Forty, Birthday, Agunot

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Debra Wed. Dec 16, 2009

Happy 40th, Elana! Being in your 40s is great, I must agree -- greater acceptance of oneself, less of that critical voice in our head. I know that your powerful voice will continue to grow -- from strength to strength!

Elana Fri. Dec 18, 2009

Thanks, Debra! :-)

sd Sat. Dec 19, 2009

Thumbs up! I'm a stone's throw from 40...and it feels great.

Beth Thu. Dec 24, 2009

Happy 40th! When I turned 40, my motto was: "Unfiltered, unfettered and unapologetic." It doesn't just feel good, it feels great!




Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.