Almost one of "them"
I was almost one of "them". Actually, I was one of "them" for a short period of time. This time last year, I was frum. I wore long sleeves in brutally hot weather and always kept my long hair covered completely, but not with something as misleading as a sheitel mind you. Sheitals drove me nuts! If the point is to cover your hair, why wear one that looks better than your own hair on its best day? But I digress.
I was not raised in an observant household. I was, what I affectionately refer to as a "dipped in the matzo ball soup Jew". We were culturally Jewish. We ate brisket at Grandma's for the High Holy Days. We listened to "Fiddler" on long car trips. We had a menorah that we lit for the 8 days of gifting. We did not rid the house of chametz for Passover. We did not fast on Yom Kippur. Somehow, we knew we were Jewish, if for no other reason than we did not go to church, and we did not believe in resurrected god-man fairy tales. At least, not until later, but again, I digress.
Growing up on Long Island, in New York you were either Catholic or Jewish. I remember a friend whose parents were Jehovah Witnesses. Even she wasn't really sure what it meant, except that she could not dress up for trick-or-treat with the rest of us. The poor deprived child!
We ended up moving away from the culture and contentment of New York in 1983, first to El Paso, TX, then to a place I can only call South Khakilaki. Now, mind you, I was envisioning Green Acres and general stores. I was shocked when the plane touched down and they wheeled a stairway over to let us deplane, but I was delighted to see there were traffic lights in town. No horse drawn buggies, but there was a church on every single street corner apparently.
Now, this is not the place to go into the long sordid details of my life and circumstance, not for a first entry anyway. To make a long story readable, in 1999 I got "saved". It was a very emotional attempt to give my life over to a higher power, and it almost worked, if I had just taken it on faith and not done the research. I love research. I love history, and the origins of things. I think if more people knew why they were rolling ishtar eggs on lawns today they would stop in their tracks and repent.
One of the first things I did as a "new creature" was to read the bible, in its entirely from cover to cover. I was fascinated. One of the things that stood out the most was that there were so many things G-d said to do forever that were no longer being done, at least not by the church. This was confusing since the guy they were worshipping even said he had not come to do away with the Torah. It was shortly after this that I discovered "messianic judiasm". I arrived at the congregational meeting on a Friday night and after they lit candles, they recited the Sh'ma. I started to weep. I thought I had arrived!
The details of my adventure would make for a good novel, but are not really relevant to this post. Needless to say, after a few years and much study, I could not believe in the fairy-tale any longer. I had met my soul-mate while still enmeshed in the messi world, but we studied together and came to the same conclusion. Xtianity was in blatant Scriptural error by worshipping a man as G-d. We started practicing Judaism, first as Conservative, then slowly becoming more and more observant until my husband decided we should become Orthodox. Now, I was pretty deep in the G-d zone at this point, but to my formerly Reform sensibilities this seemed a little extreme. He had been raised Mennonite however, and to him, it was the only way. So we started visiting a community 2 hours from where we live, and slowly and painfully, I started acclimating to the Orthodox world.
Now at this point, we thought that only my husband would have to convert, after all, I was raised Jewish, but upon attending a Shabbaton and casually mentioning that I was adopted I was then informed that I was not Jewish. I was livid! Xtianity had made me a better Jew and now these Jews were taking it away from me. I was completely devastated, and even more so when I had realized I was pregnant! We had to convert right away! We met with a young Rabbi how was unmoved by our tale. Finally, I blurted out, "RABBI! What would you do?? What would you do if one day you woke up and someone told you that your weren't actually Jewish!" He thought about it for a moment, then replied, "What would I do? I think I'd live a little! Go to a ballgame, eat a cheeseburger, you know, live a little." I told him that I had done so for 30 plus years and it was very over-rated, but thinking back on this incident, I think it is very telling of those who are FFB (frum from birth).
We went back to the Conservative shul and requested that I be converted in order to assure that our unborn child would have a Bris when the time came. At the time, we were thinking that we would convert eventually, in an Orthodox manner, so this was a preliminary, a necessary evil if you will, to ensure that our son would have a proper Bris and then go to the mikveh when our time came. After our son was born, we started attending the Orthodox shul every weekend. No, that isn't exactly correct. My husband attended. I showed up at the end of service to congregate with the other emas and go to whomever's home we were enjoying a Shabbos meal with. We stayed with friends who had gotten a Shabbos apartment and hoped to eventually get our own until we could sell our home and move into the community full time.
Now I cannot go on with this story without mentioning one very important detail. Twelve days after my son was born, my youngest brother died from complications of his diabetes after being attacked and requiring major stitches. He got an infection from the attack and it drove his blood sugar level up to an obscene number. He had a massive heart attack when they tried to bring his blood sugar level down. He was 31. I think his death thrust me further into observance. It was almost as if I thought I could "redeem the bloodline" by correcting what was so obvious to me, a transgression of Torah in the generations. I could right the wrong and future generations could be Torah Observant Jews...chas v'shalom.
I devoured books by R. Aryeh Kaplan and listened to R. Shlomo Carlebach as if he were my new messiah. I learned how to prepare food and keep it warm on the blech. I got rid of my Liz Claiborne leopard jeans and started buying snoods to cover my long brown hair. We could no longer eat in restaurants that weren't kosher. We could no longer eat the food prepared by my husband's dear Mennonite Grandmother, and I am certain there is a Jewish connection there, because those women can cook like nobodies business! We put our house on the market, and I think that is when my husband started having doubts. Later, during the Three Weeks before the 9th of Av, he shaved his beard off. He said it was an accident, but I had to wonder. Not long after that, before this past Rosh Hashannah, he woke up one morning and said, "I can't do this anymore". I was in shock. I hadn't wanted to become Orthodox in the first place, but I had gotten the hang of it. I had made friends. I was ready to move and commit my life to this lifestyle. I was not a happy camper that he had made this decision for all of us. But there was a part of me that was elated.
We had many battles as I tried to hold onto things of the Orthodox world while living outside of the community. He decided to go back to work on the weekends. I tried to make a nice Shabbos dinner for just me and the baby. These things just increased the frustration level in the home. I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to go back to the Conservative shul. I couldn't go to the Orthodox shul, and I began to wonder why I even wanted to. You see, one of the most painful things about becoming religious was that it came between me and the rest of the world. It separates people. It divides. My poor mother was trying to find ways to accommodate us if we came to visit. After all, we couldn't very well eat off her treif plates and expect to remain holy! HOGWASH!
As I sit here and write this, it is hard to get back into the head of the person I was last year. Living where we are, it is difficult to not get into a conversation about why we don't go to church, since it is such a cultural thing here in the buckle of the bible belt. I meet people all the time who were born into the religion they practice and have never thought twice about it. When I am asked how it is that I cannot believe the way they do, I simply reply, "How can you believe that which you don't even know?"
At this point, I am a secular humanist with agnostic tendencies. I have to wonder if a type of schizophrenia doesn't over take the overtly religious. I know I had running conversations with G-d in my head. Was He really talking to me, or was my subconscious working through some serious issues? I was happier, in a Stepford Wife type of way but now I am happier in a "sigh, aren't we glad THATS over now" type of way. I no longer stress about tearing toilet paper on Saturday. Hell, I don't even stress about driving or shopping on Saturday anymore. If for some reason there is an earthquake in Israel and the Temple Mount splits open and water starts running toward the desert, well, I'll run in my room, put on a snood and start reciting Tehillim, but until then, I will study the universe and philosophy and watch popular movies and teach my son that all men are created equal, in spite whatever it is their gods tell them.