Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anger is

finding that, in spite of all of one's conscious and vocal efforts to the contrary, one still has rabbis governing one's life.

Because of the complicated nature of the issue that is making me feel this way, I cannot write about it on my blog. If you are curious, feel free to email me -- onherown100 AT gmail.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Better Late than Never: The Conversation

I started this blog over four years ago. Back then, I was living in close proximity to my family. Probably because of this, the idea of being completely open about my religious observance (or really, lack thereof) felt pressing. I wrote several posts about my desire to tell them, fear over doing so, and my ultimate decision not to have the conversation outright, but just to let them know in a passive way.

Then I moved far away. This meant that A) I saw them less often and thus the need to tell them felt less pressing and B) it became more obvious that I was living a less religious life because I had moved there (and into the same apartment) with my at-the-time boyfriend.

But I still never had the conversation outright. When my marriage began to fall apart, I started seeing a therapist. And it was odd because although I'd gone there to talk about my feelings re: the failing relationship, I found myself talking about that for ten minutes and then somehow ending up talking about my parents and the fear of talking with them about my agnosticism / lack of really practicing Judaism. I still felt like if I said it out loud and made it obvious, they'd reject me.

Anyway, I just had the conversation. Finally! After all these years. Only with my mother, but still. I've been visiting my parents for Sukkot and my mom and I were in the house alone and I felt a moment in the conversation when it seemed to just flow into it naturally. And I pretty much told her everything. Of course, I was bawling. And she was truly, truly awesome. Telling me it didn't matter, that of course she had wanted me to be religious, but she couldn't shove religion down my throat and she was just happy that I'd found a lifestyle that made me happy.

It's amazing now just to what extent I feel that a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders now. I mean, almost like I'm a different person.

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Year in a New Way

Here's the thing about breaking with Orthodoxy but still having respect for your heritage: every time a Jewish holiday comes along, you get to create your own way of celebrating it.

I took off for Rosh Hashanah this year as I did last year. However, while last year I attended an Orthodox shul and invited a friend over for a small apples/challah-and-honey meal, this year I decided to be a little more adventurous.

I had two Rosh Hashanah meals. The first was all Jews (all non-Orthodox) that incorporated guitars and absurd versions of Jewish songs I knew. The second was mostly non-Jews (along with a few non-practicing Jews) and involved cooking lots of traditional Jewish food -- the most fun I've had with cooking in a while.

But the crux of the holiday for me was actually -- believe it or not -- the service I went to. That is, I signed myself up for a seat at a Renewal service. This was a serious break for me. While I've gone to Renewal services once before, it was on a random Friday night, not Rosh Hashanah (the bigwig of Jewish holidays and thus something I used to feel -- whether or not I would've admitted it -- should be celebrated in an Orthodox context).

This service totally blew me out of the water. Really. I wasn't sure what to expect but I came out feeling like I'd had a real experience, like I was actually starting a new year. It was so, so different than anything Orthodox.

At a point in the service, the leader stopped to have everyone say "Shana tova" to each other and hug/shake hands. (This is similar to what I've seen in some church services I've been to and it's really nice -- why don't the Orthodox do it? There's no reason they couldn't.)

They incorporated really meaningful pieces from other traditions -- a Gaelic blessing, a Rumi poem, but still had some of the traditional aspects of RH services like shofar blowing. One prayer was accompanied by swaying/dancing and holding hands.

But for me the highlight of the night was a guided meditation. The leader had us all sit and close our eyes. She then told us to contemplate the last year of our lives, think about what we want to let go, and then send it off. Now as you know, the last year of my life has been fraught with particularly difficult changes and so for me, this was really overpowering and cathartic. I saw everything that had happened with my ex, all the emotional baggage that I'd been carrying, and I let myself let it go. At this point I was actually crying.

She then told us to imagine a hallway with a doorway at the end of it with light pouring through and that there were three words emblazoned on the top of the door, that we should take these words to heart and walk through the doorway into the coming year. The words that I saw were these: "I love you." And I realized that these were words from myself to myself, and that this finally was what I needed to carry through into the following year.

That in spite of the way everything fell apart with my ex, in spite of the fact that I am constantly feeling at risk of losing my parents'/siblings' love for breaking the tradition in too extreme a way (which I will go further into in a later post hopefully), I need to be able to love myself for where I am and who I am and what I have come to believe (or not believe). That I need also to let go of that judgmental twelve-year-old that lives inside me who judges me in a way that I would never dream of judging others.

The meditation culminated in a recitation of Shema, which felt really incredible to me -- not because I buy into what Shema means but because I could feel myself, the adult, repeating the words I'd said as a young child and feel those two pieces of who I am colliding into one.

This was the most powerful Rosh Hashanah experience I'd ever had in my life. Including when I was a believing, practicing Orthodox girl, including the Rosh Hashanah I spent in Israel. I mean I actually cried at a Rosh Hashanah service. Cried. And left feeling truly like I had a clearer understanding of myself and that I was starting anew and fresh -- which really is what the holiday is supposed to be about.

So on that note, happy new year, everyone.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Unfamiliar Life

Every once in a while, this feeling overwhelms me that I can't recognize my life or reconcile who I am with who I once was (or who I thought I would become).

Perhaps it's become worse lately because of the other recent major changes in my life but in truth it was happening even before that.

I'm not sure why I have this need to be able to connect the girl I was to the woman I am, but from time to time it will bewilder me that I don't keep Shabbos, that I'm not living in a frum community with several children who all go to yeshiva, that I'm not (to put it simply) who so many of my childhood friends are.

I like my life. I'm not dissatisfied with the decisions I've made but even years later, they still sometimes scare me. It makes me wonder if I'll ever be able to feel like my identity is completely stable.

But then maybe, that's the thing. Maybe this constant questioning of my own identity and my choices is just part of who I am. Maybe if I'd chosen to live a Modern Orthodox lifestyle, to have children, to belong to an MO community, I'd be wondering about the other, unknown path -- the "rebellious" path, so to speak -- and constantly feeling like I'd missed out on something, some part of who I am innately. And this me, this agnostic/atheist, secular me looking at that other life knows that I would have.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Getting Personal

A few months ago, in a rather vague post, I mentioned that things in my life had taken a turn for the worse. Well here's the low down: my husband and I have split up.

It's been a few months now and I'm doing a lot better (enough to blog about it, I suppose). The divorce papers have been filed and now it's just a matter of waiting it out and continuing to heal.

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a little while may recall that the whole marriage was fraught with family-related complications. I just want to make clear that this has nothing to do with why the marriage fell apart.

Also, due to the generally impersonal nature of this blog, many of you may think this was a whirlwind relationship as we got married and then divorced in a little over a year. This is also not true, as we were together for a number of years and constantly struggling with the fact that our families expected us to have an Orthodox wedding but we were deeply opposed to it.

In any case, the falling apart of this relationship has been very difficult and emotional for me, but I have begun the process of moving on with my life. This, obviously, brings up the key question of who I will allow myself to date. In other words, with the beliefs I currently hold, will I limit myself to only Jewish men?

My gut reaction is to answer that with a definitive "no." Finding someone with whom you connect on a deep level is difficult enough. Why would I limit myself to a fraction of the population? That said, how would I break news like that to my family? Just the idea of it terrifies me.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Belated Report: Passover with the Folks

It wasn't that bad.

But let's be fair, it might've been much worse if I hadn't cheated.

By cheated, I mean:
- Ate chometz (yes, lots of it) on Chol HaMoed
- Watched movies on my laptop on Yom Tov in my bedroom

Here's the thing: Shabbos (and by extension, Yom Tov) can be really nice in that it lets you sit and talk to people without the distraction of television, cell phones, internet, etc.. But two days of Yom Tov followed almost immediately by a day of Shabbos followed not so long after by two days of Yom Tov followed again soon after by another day of Shabbos? Kind of exhausting, actually. It may sound funny, but it's gets tiring being so relaxed.

And here's the other thing: I've realized that I really can't do Pesach (i.e., avoid eating chametz) without the belief that there's someone out there (i.e., God) who would punish me for doing otherwise. I detest Pesach food. It might not be as bad if my parents weren't kitniyot and gebruchts-keeping. But still, my diet is generally significantly reliant on dense, filling carbohydrates (read: breads and pastas). And matzah and potato starch (really even rice and other kitniyot) just doesn't cut it for me. I remember that when I was observant, I basically felt hungry for the entire week of Pesach. And let's not even talk about the kind of stomach aches I get from a week-long matzah binge (this actually still happened to me even when the matzah was supplemented with small doses of chametz).

In any case, I stand firm on my previous conjecture that Pesach is my least favorite of the Jewish holidays. (Yom Kippur is bad, but it only lasts one day!) And no matter the pressure applied by my parents, from here on out, I really can't see myself going back for Pesach. (Unless I ever move closer to them again, in which case I could see myself going back for part of it.)

And with Shavuot (a much better holiday, in my opinion) following so close on Pesach's tail, I imagine I'll be able to get away with such a stance. Cheesecake and blintzes, yum!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anyone Else Hate Pesach? (Or at least the Ashkenazi Orthodox version?)

Last year, I did not go to my parents' house and instead had a non-traditional Pesach, complete with an "Eco-Seder," a Conservative seder, and a complete inattention to the holiday's particular kashrut laws.

This year, I'll be my parents' house and thus be subject to long Orthodox-style seders in which I will hear the same (LONG) d'var torahs I've already heard 20-some-odd times (some read directly out of haggadahs) and won't eat until almost midnight.

Then I will have an eight day stretch of matzah and potato starch. But no matzah balls or matzah lasagne or any other such delicious thing because my parents keep gebruchts. And naturally no rice, etc., because of kitniyot. My stomach aches in anticipation.

Yeah, I guess I should stop being so bitter and just try to enjoy what I've committed to doing. But I feel like whining right now. So that's what I'm doing.

On a more exciting note: I went to a Renewal service a few weeks back and it was AWESOME. I will report back on that experience soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Atheism and the Void

I can almost feel comfortable with saying it now: I am an atheist. I described my belief (or lack thereof) to someone a few months ago and the response was, "Oh, so you're an atheist?"

At first, I resisted. "No," I said, "Not an atheist. An agnostic."

But the truth is, the part of my brain which was sometimes flirted with the idea of theism, of the existence of a god, has become gradually less and less powerful, until I am where I am today: as close to pure atheism as I've ever been.

And alongside the growing atheism has emerged this increasingly powerful sense of a void, of a meaninglessness in the world and in my life. Perhaps as some have told me before, I think too deeply into things, but lately I just look at my life and all my efforts to make something of myself, to enjoy life, to form strong bonds with people, and I think so what?

Perhaps it's the fact that I grew up religious that I have these expectations -- that life should mean something, that there should be a purpose that is more than a daily purpose. Or perhaps I'm just not thinking of it right: maybe there is a way to get real, meaningful purpose out of life as an atheist that I just can't see right now. (Hey long-time atheists, any advice?)

As it stands, I feel suddenly bombarded by this feeling that I'm putting in all this effort for naught. If my life ends at death, if there's no larger picture, if it's all just a giant chaotic universe, then what is the meaning of this one tiny life within it all?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Those Dangerous, Ultra-Modern Eyeglasses?

So apparently Vizhnitz Chassids are being discouraged from wearing metal eyeglasses and/or contact lenses now because they are too modern?

This article read like satire to me, but from what I can determine, it's actually just straight-up reporting.

What's especially amusing to me, as a "modern" person is that there's nothing particularly "un-modern" about plastic frames. Indeed, many plastic frames are more fashionable/modern than many metal frames. And metal frames most certainly came before plastic frames, thus (if anything) they should be considered more acceptable -- especially considering just how quickly fashion changes.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Agnostic in a Foxhole

Things in my life have recently taken a turn for the worse. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say that (while not as dramatically as the title might suggest), I have been pretty emotionally drained and feel like I am trying to piece back together who I am and what I want.

And here's the thing: like other times in my life that have been trying, I feel this really strong pull back to religion. And not just religion in general, but the very traditional religion of my childhood.

I spent (rather deliberately) the past two Shabbosim visiting some Orthodox friends of mine and keeping Shabbos completely (resisting the urge to even check my phone once). This is something I have not done in a LONG time.

More importantly, perhaps, I feel the need to revert my life back toward Orthodoxy and even to do things like pray. The intellectual in me always makes me pause before doing anything like this and usually I just don't. But it's very much there. I understand that it makes sense, psychologically, for humans to react this way while going through traumatic experiences. Still, it's strange to see it in myself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Little Bit of Blood

(If you can't tell from the title, this post is going to deal with "feminine matters" [read: periods]. If such things are unappealing to you, move onward...)

For the first time in my life today, I saw a male gynecologist. My doctor was out of town and I had a matter that needed to be taken care of. (No, I am not pregnant.) Although I see nothing wrong in having a male gynecologist per se, it was something I always avoided. Because, quite frankly, they don't have the same parts... and they don't know what it feels like.

Now maybe this isn't a fair way to make this decision. But my prejudice (it is that, I'll admit) was slightly bolstered today, when I asked the doctor if a particular procedure would hurt and he answered with a smile, "Well, I've obviously never had it but..."

The whole experience got me thinking about niddah, taharat hamishpacha, and rabbis. I remember when I found out the particulars of this system as a high school student. That if a woman bled in between cycles she had to bring a sample of the stain (likely on her underwear) to a rabbi to determine whether or not it was kosher. I was horrified. With all the talk of tzniut, this was considered acceptable? And not only acceptable, but necessary? Granted, her husband could bring it for her, etc., etc., but it still seems so immodest and even demeaning to have some guy who's not your sexual partner know about the color of the stains in your underwear.

Now I know that female yoatzot are increasingly taking up this role, which (in my mind) is a good thing. But for hundreds of years the above scenario was the norm. And in more right-wing communities, it still is today. (Though why a yoetzet would be considered threatening to the tradition is really beyond me.)

My train-of-thought went further and somewhat away from the male-rabbi-issue. I'll be open about the nature of my visit (ah, the luxury of anonymous blogs!). That is, for many months now, I've been having abnormal bleeding. To be specific, I've been "spotting" ALMOST EVERY DAY and bleeding heavily twice a month. (Probably due to fibroids.) Not fun, sure, but it would be even less fun if I was Orthodox. Because if I was Orthodox and (therefore) keeping the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha, I wouldn't have been able to touch (let alone sleep with) my husband for the past few months.

I remember the discussions of Taharat Hamishpacha in high school and seminary. How it was a perfect system because it allowed for a "honeymoon" each month where the husband and wife longed for each other like it was the first time since they hadn't been able to touch for the two weeks prior.

All well and good for women with normal cycles. But the punishment for those women with abnormal cycles and their husbands is colossal. (There is a really interesting example of this in Anat Zuria's film Tehorah.)

I have (as of yet) no conclusion to draw from the above rant. It is just that. A rant. But I do have to say that given my situation, I am quite happy not to be Orthodox at this point in my life. I imagine a world in which I would have to deal with a rabbi in addition to a gynecologist, where this medical stress in my life would be coupled with a lack of intimacy with my husband - and I am particularly thankful that I am where I am today.