We continue with the story of Mary and Joseph and the nine months preceding the birth of Jesus. Mary is now staying with her aunt Elizabeth and settling in.
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With her head covered and eyes down, Mary follows her doda into the synagogue. Because her family had made the trek to Jerusalem once a year for the Passover Festival to worship in the Temple, Mary was familiar with the order of the house: women were allowed inside but were separated from the men, so as not to distract them from their devotion to God.
Elizabeth winds her way through the halls into an overflow room in the back of the sanctuary. Mary follows her aunt, noting how small, dim and stuffy the room is. There is a buzz of conversation in the room and several women stare at them as they enter, but mostly, the chatter continues. A woman, sharing the same facial features as them, approaches and takes Elizabeth into her arms.
“How are you feeling?”
Elizabeth lays her hand on her belly.
“Big, but well,” she says with a chuckle and deliberately motions to Mary. “Rona, you remember Mary, don’t you?”
“Anna’s Mary?” Rona asks, astonished. She looks her up and down, before hugging her as well. “You’ve grown up.”
“She’s expecting her first child,” Elizabeth adds.
Mary gives her a cautious look, but her aunt only offers her a ‘don’t worry’ smile.
“That’s wonderful!” Rona exclaims. “And your husband…”
Before Mary can even begin to work on an excuse for her situation, Elizabeth confidently states, “He’s back in Nazareth. Mary is staying with me for a short time, so I can teach her and prepare her for childbirth.”
Rona raises an eyebrow.
“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? You’ve not had your first child yet.”
“I raised you, didn’t I, bat-doda?”
Rona puts her arm around Mary. “She likes to think she did. In fact, she’d take credit for raising most of the young ones here in the hill country if we let her.” She steers her towards the wall of women, facing the latticed framework that separates them from the main room, where the men are located.
Elizabeth follows them, saying, “Stop telling the girl lies, especially in the house of Adonai.”
Rona doesn’t acknowledge her, but quietly adds, “You couldn’t have a better teacher but don’t tell her I said that.”
Mary follows her through the crowd and finds a spot near the front. Silence falls over the room, as the priest starts lighting the incense. Mary recognizes the man as her uncle, Zechariah. She hadn’t seen much of him since arriving in Hebron, but the glimpses she did catch were of an old man, hunched over scrolls, praying and seeking redemption. Now, he is absorbed in his task with an energy that betrays his earlier stature. Mary turns to Elizabeth and notes the tenderness on her face as she watches her husband. Her love for him is obvious and Mary’s face warms at the thought of having caught her doda in an intimate moment. She brings her attention back to the front and listens as the men begin their prayers.