Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Judaism in a Void

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to dream of taking off and moving to one of these remote (rural?) towns in the middle of the country. I grew up right near a big city, spent my college years in an urban environment, and really, I just wanted a change.

Anyway, my parents' and OJ friends would always react to these dreams with a standard line: "Well, as long as there's a Jewish community there..." And since I wasn't out about my skepticism, I would always mumble something about Chabad.

And then I went to graduate school. Unsurprisingly, I chose a program that was out in a small college town with a tiny OJ population. In fact, the entire OJ population consisted of the Chabad rabbi, rebbetzin, two families (college profs), and a smattering (maybe 10?) of students - most of whom had become OJ through Chabad.

Funny thing about this, though, was that while I was one of two Jews in my entire department (the other knew next to nothing about Judaism), I actually got more religious during that time period.

Or maybe religious is the wrong word. Because my level of OJ observance plummeted in many ways and I continued to be skeptical of OJ and question many of its assumptions. But for the first time in a long time, I felt Jewish and proud to be Jewish. Not only that, but the traditions themselves became a lot more meaningful to me. And I went to Chabad nearly every weekend (yeah, yeah...I know they're theologically sketchy). This, even though I had a good social life with the other non-Jewish graduate students.

It's now been several years since I graduated and I've moved to NY. Here, with my very sincere MO roommate, my OJ friends, and OJism all around me, I find so much of my enchantment and pride that I had in graduate school is gone. Of course, there are still aspects of OJ that I value and connect with, but they are fewer and the level of connection is weaker. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. At the very least, it means my intellectual processes and my feelings are (relatively) on the same page.