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.