Monday, March 4, 2013

The End

Since I last posted, I realized that while I have other ideas for posts on this blog, they no longer seem quite as urgent or inspiring as they used to. I guess this is just a part of my life that I have (mostly) settled for myself. I feel about 1 million times less conflicted about all of this than I did when I first started to post back in 2007.

This is to say that I think the time has come to end this blog.

I will leave the posts up for posterity.

Should anyone come across this blog and wish to talk, I am always more than happy to do so. You can still send me an email to onherown AT gmail DOT com (I am having the email forwarded to my actual email address).

All my best!
RA
(my actual initials :-))

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I am Woefully Neglectful of this Blog

When I started this blog, it was 2007, and I was confused about how to live my life. Should I be religious? Should I not? Was there some merit to "staying on the path" even as I had rejected all of that path's underpinnings? And, if I was to "stray from the path," how on earth could I break that news to my parents, friends, family.

Many of these issues have been resolved. I have accepted myself as an atheist, secular Jew. I have come to terms with the fact that Orthodox Judaism, as the culture in which I grew up, still holds a certain enchantment for me, and that to a certain extent, its practices will always likely be a part of who I am. I have broken that news to (some of) my family members and (most of) my friends.

I still have some strides to make, but much of the anguish is over and done with. I realized this, most recently, when I visited a good friend of mine who has much more recently gone "off the derech." The issues he is still battling with are issues I felt at peace with long ago.

I suppose that's why, in the words of this post's title, I am woefully neglectful of this blog. I still notice hypocrisies and larger issues within the Orthodox world itself, but it's not really my world anymore, and so the pressing need to write about said issues is considerably lessened. And while I'm still working to the point where I can say I am completely transparent in terms of my religiosity with all of my family and friends, even that has taken a back seat to other things going on in my life.

That said, there are a few remaining topics that I'd like to write about here, and I intend to do that soon. And in the meantime, happy 2013 to all who read this blog!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Israel through Secular Eyes

It was a different experience. It really was. As I mentioned in my last post, I visited Israel for the first time in nearly a decade. Last time I was there I was religious (although not as religious as I'd been growing up). This time, I was not.

And the country felt different to me. Sure, things have physically changed in almost ten years. (A train runs down Rechov Yafo! It's crazy! And there's an even more intense mechitzah at the kotel!) But more than that, I wasn't constantly looking for god in every corner and, even more than that, I didn't restrain myself in my experience in accordance with religious dicta the way I had previously.

Okay, here it goes in concrete detail:

1) The Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- I went to these places that I'd always believed were forbidden to me. They were beautiful and amazing, of course. (It was particularly strange, however, to just stand on a line and then all of a sudden find myself standing right below the dome, which had almost seemed about as accessible as the moon.) What this meant, however, was that I saw an entirely different angle to Jerusalem -- the Jerusalem of the Christian pilgrim, of the religious Muslim. When I was visiting Israel the other times (or when I was living there in seminary), I certainly knew that these groups held the city  to be holy, too, but it was a different matter to see groups of Muslim men and women sitting with prayer books in circles outside the mosque or monks moving about in dimly lit chambers or hundreds of Christians bowing down in the place they believe Jesus to have been crucified. Really, really interesting.

2) Shabbat with secular Jews -- This was a real experience for me. I was at the Friday night dinner table of a  Yemenite family for whom their Shabbat dinner was clearly an essential part of their week and, also, clearly a completely secular experience. I had a really nice time and it was a good reminder of how secularity and tradition can go hand in hand.

3) Old friends and the Distances We've Travelled from Each Other -- One night, I got together with a few girls with whom I'd gone to seminary. They all stayed in Israel, got married, and had babies (one of them has NINE kids!). It was strange how we'd all started off in the same apartment complex in Jerusalem all those years ago, how we'd cooked, and travelled, and talked through long nights together. And from the same point, we travelled to such opposite extremes. We got together at my friend's place in the very, very religious neighborhood of Beit Shemesh and I tried my best to dress as respectfully as I could, but even as I wore my long skirt and a cardigan over a t-shirt with a modest neckline, I felt my friends' eyes on my open cardigan (the t-shirt, I suppose, was only slightly tighter than what people in that area would wear) and discreetly buttoned up my cardigan as quickly as I could.

4) The foreignness of the familiar - Which is to say the American yeshiva and seminary students first arriving in Jerusalem with those eyes wide, lightly flirting with each other as they set off on the same cycle that so many of my friends have been on already. Which of them will stay in Israel forever? Which will swing into chareidi religion and then swing out of it? Which will have many kids? Which will end up a high-powered business person? Which will go back into the Modern Orthodoxy of their parents? I remember the feeling of being that age -- the confusion I felt at the things I was being taught which both felt true to me and didn't. The feeling that we were so Grown Up and that we were making decisions that would stay with us Forever. I could feel parts of that girl that I was returning as I wound my way between the white stone buildings of that city I used to live in. Oh, the cats! Oh, the chummus! Oh, the palm trees and the falafel and the smell of bakery everywhere I went! And still, at the same time, that girl felt so far away, like something in a very true-to-life dream that was, nonetheless, a figment of my imagination.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Visiting Israel!

About to do this for the first time since I've become completely secular. While I know that being secular in Israel isn't anything particularly special (since most Israelis are secular), it'll be a different kind of experience for me. I do still plan on visiting the kotel AND am going to visit some old friends from seminary, all of whom became VERY chareidi.

I'm sure the experience will bring about lots of thoughts and feelings, which I look forward to blogging about in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

When We Say "Never Again"

A good friend of mine (who is not Jewish) recently asked me how my teachers in Jewish day school approached modern-day genocide -- whether we were encouraged to speak out about it, rally about it, raise awareness about it, etc. -- given our very personal connection to a genocide perpetrated against our grandparents.

I remember my middle and high school education well. There was concerted energy and effort put into ensuring that we were all educated about the Holocaust so that it would never again happen. We went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for our 8th grade class trip. On Yom HaShoah, we had all day, school-wide assemblies -- Holocaust-related films were screened, graphic pictures covered the walls. As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, the Holocaust meant something very personal to me, but I believe that even if I had not had this connection, I would never be able to forgot. Those images are seared forever into my mind.

I was in high school from 1993 to 1997. It was during that same period of time that a genocide was perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of Tutsi in Rwanda and thousands of Muslims in Bosnia. I do remember learning about this in my Social Studies classroom. It was taught with the same sort of detachment and casual rhetoric that any other current event was taught. It was not mentioned in any of my other classes, in any school assembly, in any other venue. I don't remember it having been discussed in shul (which, I'll grant the benefit of the doubt here, as my memory of that is rather weak and blurry) or at any of the Shabbos tables at which I ate lunch.

My friend was shocked to hear this and, in speaking it, I was shocked to remember it. Why was there not any concerted effort to try to get students involved (or, at the very least, concerned)? Why did we not at least mention these ongoing genocides in our discussions of the Holocaust? I think of how powerful a statement that could have been -- As your grandparents and their families were being tortured and killed because of the ethnicity into which they were born, so these people are being tortured and killed today for the same reason. When we say never again, let's mean it. Let's do something for those who suffer today. Let's refuse to be silent.

Obviously, I don't know what it was like in other schools. And I don't know what it's like today. I suspect (or at least I hope) with Darfur, that conversation has finally emerged.

If you're reading this and you've attended a Jewish day school (or are there now, or have children who are there), I'd really appreciate your letting me know what your experience with this has been. (If you're too shy to write in the comments section, you can email me at onherown100 AT gmail DOT com.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Definition of Jew

"So I work at this Hebrew school," she says, "It's Reform, so a lot of the couples are intermarried. And so it's so funny because there are all these kids with the last name Gonzalez or Campbell and they're probably really Jewish and then there are all these kids whose last names are Cohen or Levy and they're probably not!"

Ever hear something like this? The above is an approximation of something a friend of mine told me many years ago. I remember laughing at the time. How odd, I thought. A Cohen that's not Jewish and a Gonzalez that is. How twisted and strange.

It is now years later and my life, my outlook, my world are very different than they were when I first heard that story.

I have a good friend who lives in my town. She was born Christian and later in her life became distanced from the religion of her birth and more just spiritual. Then she met the man she would eventually marry. He was Jewish. He never pressured her to become Jewish, but through him she fell in love with the religion and eventually decided to convert.

She looked at all the different Jewish affiliations, spoke to all the rabbis of the different congregations, and found that the one philosophy which most resonated with her was that of the Conservative movement. And so it was under the guidance of this rabbi that she converted.

Today, her family attends that synagogue regularly. They also celebrate Shabbat and the holidays with an enthusiasm that is rare among practicing Jews. They keep kosher. My parents, sisters, all of the people in the world that I come from, indeed almost any Orthodox Jew, would not consider her or her children to be "really" Jewish.

I remember also the story of my second cousins. My grandmother's sister had intermarried; indeed, she had converted to Christianity when she got married. She then went on to have four children and raise them Christian. "They're really Jewish, and they just don't know," we used to whisper to each other as kids. 

I think of my friend who converted, of my second cousins, of that story that I laughed at so long ago. How terrible! To imagine that one group has the power to define membership in a religion. It's even kind of juvenile; the way in high school, groups of kids turn up their noses at that one other kid who they've decided is a "poser." It's also just plain bizarre for a group that (rightfully) sees themselves as endangered, as losing members constantly to secular world, to turn away anyone who wants to be part of their religion. And, at the same time, clings so desperately on to those who don't even see themselves as Jewish.

So where does this idea of the Jewish blood line come from? I know the halachah upon which this is all based, that lineage is determined by the mother. From my understanding, the reason for this is that, historically, you could never be sure of a child's paternity, but you could of their maternity. But with modern science, that problem is now gone.

And why the obsession with the one standard way of conversion? In other words, why does it matter? If someone wants to be part of the Jewish tradition, shouldn't that be enough? Especially if that person who is raised without religion entirely but has a Jewish mother can just (poof!) become a practicing Jew over night if they wish?

It really just seems like some kind of magical thinking to me. As if people just believe there's some sort of innate quality to being Jewish. I guess they do believe this, though it seems absurd to me. I remember one rabbi in high school teaching us that Jews possess a nefesh (spirit?) and a neshama (soul), whereas non-Jews possess only a nefesh.

And so I come back then to the question: Judaism, as defined by its adherents -- a race or a religion? It seems to me like it is the former.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is it Racist to Exclusively Date Jews When You're Secular?

I feel like I've had this conversation a thousand times with a thousand different people.

When I was younger and still somewhat religious, I used to tell people that I would only date Jews. It was partly because my religious beliefs were a part of who I was, and I thought a relationship with someone who wasn't Jewish was destined to end in fighting.

More than that, however, it was because my parents would be really angry and really hurt. When I was a teenager and began rebelling (and hanging out with people who were not Jewish), my parents sat me down and gave me a whole talk about why it's so important to only date Jews. I can't remember the specifics of the speech, but I am certain that my grandparents being Holocaust survivors came into it. Also, I remember that my parents thought it crucial that the religion not get watered down. That the only way to ensure that was to remain religious, to date religious, and to marry religious. (The whole idea of this is odd in retrospect, since neither of them actually grew up particularly observant or religious, and were certainly not observant when they dated or got engaged.)

Lately, with the introduction of a boyfriend into my life who is not Jewish, I've been thinking about the inevitable reactions that some of my family and friends will have when they find out. I've had the conversation with a bunch of my friends who do not care and the question came up again: is it racist of my friends and family to want me to exclusively date Jews?

As someone who was very uneasy with that idea in my younger years, I've been surprised to discover that my answer to that question is actually yes. Yes, it is racist. Would it be racist for my siblings to date only Jews? For my religious friends? No, certainly not. For them, religion is an essential ingredient in their everyday lives. They want to keep Shabbos with someone who wants to keep Shabbos with them. They want to be with someone for whom sending kids to (expensive) Jewish day schools is a priority. The list could go on infinitely due to the nature of religious Judaism.

But let's look at me for a second. I don't believe in the precepts of Judaism. I don't practice. I don't keep a kosher kitchen or Shabbos. I don't do any of these things. Judaism comes into my life only when I visit my family or in a sort of ethnic way -- when I make my own celebrations of holidays. There is no sense in which my life requires me to be with someone who is Jewish. If I were to narrow my dating field to only Jewish men, it would strictly be a matter of how they were born, not who they are, what they believe, or what they practice. And that, from my perspective, cannot be construed as anything but racism.

I think it's interesting how many completely secular Jews go about their lives wanting to only date Jewish people. I mean, I get it. There's the preservation instinct, which comes from the terrible things that have happened throughout Jewish history and have made us very tribal. And still, I think, when you come down to it, it's counter to what most of those secular Jews stand for in terms of their morals and ways of life.