Friday, December 21, 2007

Why I Haven't Told: The Self, Divided

Slowly I’m coming to the realization that my situation is more complex than I originally thought. I’ve tried, but haven’t been able to tell my parents and the more I think about it, the more I realize that my reluctance is not just related to my cowardice (although I’m sure that factors into it, too).

The truth is that I’m really torn. In addition to my intellectual problems with Judaism, and all of the things I find problematic within its social structures, there is also so much that I love about being part of the Orthodox community. So much that I’m not sure I could just let go of.

I’m using this entry as a way to organize my thoughts on this – a way to understand what it is that I love and what I find problematic. So here goes nothing…

I’ll start with what I love:

--Shabbos. Whenever I decide not to keep it (this happens more and more frequently lately), it honestly makes me feel empty. Sure, I can go to the mall or to some concert I wanted to go to, I can watch whatever came from Netflix on Friday afternoon. But the thing is, growing up, my parents always made Shabbos such a beautiful experience. And even when I got older, the day provided a space for real bonding with friends (one uninterrupted by ringing cell phones, laptops, TV shows, etc.). As tempting as it is to live one weekend here or there without it, going Shabbos-free for life seems like a colorless existence to me.

--Holidays. The best memories of my childhood are the scents, colors, textures of the Jewish holidays.I know this seems related to the Shabbos thing, and I suppose it is, but most secular celebrations of Jewish holidays that I’ve been to don’t cut it for me. This past Sukkos, in particular, I found myself in a crisis. Faced with the prospect of a three-day Yom Tov, I decided that I would let myself just chill for those few days and maybe attend a Sukkos dinner at the Conservative synagogue. The whole experience left me so sad, there aren’t words to describe it.

--Community. Yeah, I know you can find this anywhere. Community is not exclusive to the Jewish world. But to me, there’s something really nice about the way the MO Jewish community functions, especially when combined with what I love about Shabbos and the holidays.

But I conflict greatly with the MO community in terms of the things I believe in. Some of these are:

--God. I’m an agnostic, not an atheist, but I definitely lean more towards the atheist side these days. And God’s a huge issue. If you don’t believe in it, why are you practicing all of these rituals?

--Torah. Even if I could make that jump from agnostic to believer, I can’t believe that a book with so many inaccuracies and morally problematic (for me) ideas could be divine. And unlike others for whom this doesn’t matter, it’s pretty crucial for me.

--A Definition of Morality. Mine differs pretty greatly from that of most MO Jews I’ve met (even some of the most vehemently modern ones). I don’t see how I can live within a system with such strict gender divisions and with such a heteronormative culture. While I can admit that Judaism’s morality may have pretty progressive at one point in time, today it just doesn’t measure up in my eyes.

--Set Expectations/Normalcy. (Linked, definitely, to morality) Again, not limited to the Jewish community – and certainly not inherent in Judaism as a religion – but prevalent in most MO Jewish communities I’ve been to. That is, there is an idea that your life will follow a certain course and that course is even more limiting that the “normal” course proscribed by contemporary secular society (which is already quite limiting!). “What?! You’re 28 and not married? Oy!”

This is just a starting point. There’s so much more to say. But in the end, what I’m trying to get at is that it’s not just the problem of how to tell my parents, it’s the problem of how to tell myself. Because I actually feel like there are two sides of me at war here, and I’m not sure which way to turn.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Racism in the Jewish World

I really can't understand racist Jews. Not those who are blind to their own racism ("I'm not a racist, but all [X race] ...") and certainly not those who are openly, admittedly racist.

I know this is an obvious point that's been reiterated time and again by others like me, but I just need to vent.

Because, as it turns out, one of my good friends who I've known for quite some time has a racist streak to her. How this managed to escape my notice for so long, I have no clue. And it bothers the hell out of me.

When we know what it is to be grouped as a racial category and discriminated against, how can we justify doing the same to others? It seems so blatantly obvious to me, I really can't fathom how intelligent people in 2007 can think otherwise -- how they can continue to live with themselves spouting the racist philosophy that they do.

I'll riff a little...

For some more "enlightened" Jews, making the kind of racist comments made by this particular friend would be unthinkable, because they were made in regards to Hispanics. Trade that classification in for Arabs, however, and you'd find a much larger contingent of our community who are willing to group the whole race together and disparage their supposed collective racial attributes.

I know that there are a lot of intense emotional responses to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but I don't think that excuses blatant racism or even not-so-blatant racism. And yet, even in the most liberal of circles, these kinds of attitudes seem widespread.

Yeah, nothing surprising in this post, I s'pose. Just me being pissed off.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

STRESSED OUT (Or, Starting the Conversation)

Lately, I have become increasingly stressed out to the point that stress seems almost a normal state of being.

And here's the thing - the consensus from the comments on my last post was that I was not, indeed, a hypocrite. Which is nice to know, but it doesn't help the stress. The more sure I am that I don't believe in the basic premises Judaism and the more I find myself breaking with Jewish law, the more upset (which translates into stress) I become that I'm not being honest with my friends and (more importantly) my parents and siblings.

But I don't even know where or how to begin such a conversation. Sometimes I think my mother suspects it by the kinds of questions she asks me and the tone in which she asks them ("Where did you get food on your trip to [place without a Jewish community]? What did you do for Shabbos?").

I have no problem arguing with my parents about political or social issues and do so all the time. But the second I even think about broaching the topic of Judaism, I feel queasy. I can almost see the look of anguish on their faces. My parents are baal tshuva and they have become increasingly more religious throughout the years. My siblings all became more religious than we were raised to be. I'm already the "black sheep" because I'm "modern" but I'm terrified of how hurt my parents would be if I came out as an agnostic (or how infrequently my siblings would talk to me).

But I'm 28 already. And I feel a little bit paralyzed, like I can't really start life unless I can start it on my own grounds. And somehow, even though I've already done a thousand different things with my life, I feel like I'm not really living freely unless I come clean to my parents.

But how do I start that conversation?

Saturday, December 1, 2007


So I was at my (non-religious) aunt's house the past few days...and I've been telling her what I've been thinking about everything in terms of religion lately. She was pretty supportive when we were talking...

But later, she was in a bad mood (my aunt's a bit of a character) and she snapped at me, "At least I'm not a hypocrite like you..."

Well I know that I'm being a bit hypocritical, because I don't actually believe in what I'm doing (or in certain cases, am pretending to do/believe in), but at the same time, I feel a certain drive to protect my parents' feelings as well as a draw to certain aspects and traditions of the religion.

I'm also trying to be okay with it by believing that I will tell my parents at some point in the future...

Anyway, just wondering how the rest of you feel on this issue. Do you feel like a hypocrite? If so, how do you deal?