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.