Monday, August 20, 2007

Intermission: Letter I wrote to my dad today

I haven't sent this yet, and still haven't decided If I will. But it pretty much sums up where I am right now:

Hi Abba,

I don't know what Mom told you, but the way I was "affected" by your eulogy, was that I was insulted. Think of this from my perspective...I changed plans I had for months to go to the funeral, my boyfriend (whom you dislike by virtue of who he was born to) went out of his way to drive me to the train station and let my friend into my house (who also went out of her way) so that I could make it. I was the one who made sure E. got through security and on the plane since D. and various cousins didn't want to stick around and wait for him. I was the one who talked to the Rabbi before the funeral, and before you got there, to make sure he had everyone's names right, because again, even though I had two cousins there who were older then me, I was the only one who was responsible enough to think that maybe the rabbi had some questions when he was walking around asking if any of us were relatives. And then I was the one (with mom) comforting Sabba throughout the cermony.

And then after all that, I felt as if you used the eulogy to try and give me a musser speach, to guilt me into being more religious. I know you say that it wasn't personally directed but I can't help but think that when you said things such as the way to remember your mother is to "pass these traditions along to (your) children" and "we honor our parents by following jewish culture and traditions" and the souls of dead people live on as long as "we cherish their memories in our hearts, and follow their examples by maintaining the jewish traditions that made them who they are" that this is directed at me, the one child of yours who is openly not religious. Maybe someone else wrote these words, but you were the ones who chose them, and I feel as if (even if only subconsciously) they were directed at me.

You know what? Savta never asked me if I was dating a jewish boy, or if I was celebrating jewish holidays, or if i was living a religious life. She only ever asked if I had friends, and if I was happy with my life. You know what I think would have been a more important lesson to learn from her life? Savta almost gave up her life for her father, and then sacrificed a whole bunch of stuff for you and your sister. Maybe the lesson to be learned there is that, regardless of differing religious views (because hey, your mother was conservative, and didn't reject you for becoming orthodox), your mother put family above all else. And yet I feel that because I don't subscribe to the same religious views as you, I am made uncomfortable all the time, and I can't talk about anything of substance with you or mom. So we have a relationship, sure, we talk about impersonal stuff like school and gardening, but I can't even mention my personal life without it turning into another speech about how wrong I am. How is that following Savta's example?

Do you want to know why I almost didn't go to the funeral? It wasn't becuase (as I'm sure you think) I'm heartless or I didn't love savta or I don't care about the family. I do think family is important, and i do love Savta, which is why I went. The reason I almost didn't go is becuase every time I get together with the family, I feel as through someone is trying to shove religion down my throat. And this makes me highly uncomfortable, becuase I have to pretend like I believe what you are saying, and I have to be polite, when really I don't believe any of it, and I feel like I'm a big phony just for being there.

You had to have realized how miserable I was growing up, especially as a teenager...this was a result of having to pretend to be something I'm not, and what I'm not is someone who belives in the jewish religion, if any religion. In fact, I think there's only maybe a 10% chance that there's a god, and less than a 1% chance that judaism has got it right if there is a god. Not only that, but my whole life I've had to struggle with being told I couldn't do certain things because I'm a woman (be a pallbearer, speak during my wedding, that I have a 'biological clock' that's going to make me want to give up my career and be a stay at home mom), when I think all that is based on patriarchal and outright sexist religious views and old wives tales that I don't believe in. And yet whenever I questioned these views (religious or sexist), I was shut down, and got in trouble in high school for daring to question rabbis and teachers who didn't know how to answer me, because there were no good answers. I can't even count how many times in high school I was told that you do certain things just becuase of "faith", when I did not have that faith. Meanwhile, as early as 9th grade I was secretly violating shabbas and not keeping kosher, because I did not believe in it, but had to live as if I was ashamed of who I am (which I'm not) until I was able to move out of your house.

I know religion is important to you, and that's fine with me. But it's not for me. I have never been happier than I am now, and that was even before I met B. ...becuase I can live my life according to the principles and morals I believe in, without having to fake my way through any rituals or ceremonies when really on the inside I'm laughing at myself for doing a meaningless ritual for a god I don't believe in. I know this is dissapointing to you, especially given your family background, but it's something you are going to have to come to accept if we are going to have any kind of relationships beyond talking about impersonal stuff. I know you believe that being religious will ultimately make me a happier person. Maybe it does make you happier. I'm know it is important to your life. But just like riding on motercycles is something you enjoy, and going to concerts is something i enjoy, but I don't really like riding on motercycles and you probably would not like going to concerts, religion is something that makes you happy but that makes me profoundly miserable. I can't live my life going through empty rituals for no purpose that I can see. And even though you keep holding out hope that I will change my mind as I get older, that's just not going to happen. As early as first grade I was moving my lips during davening without actually saying any of the words, becuase I did not believe in it. I've never believed in it, and I never will believe in it.

Out of respect for you however, I do not try to convince you that your religion is not true. I wish you would respect my beliefs and not try to convince me that it is true. It will never change my mind, and all it does is put further strain on our relationship, and makes me less and less comfortable with coming home or talking to you or mom about anything of substance. Instead of focusing on the things that make us different, and the reasons you are unhappy with the way I live my life, why not focus on the things we have in common? This does not mean trying to pretend my relationship does not exist, or pretending that I am doing anything for jewish holidays, but instead of focusing on the fact that B. is not jewish, why not focus on the fact that I have found someone who makes me happy, who treats me with respect, and who will let my career come first- all of which are more important to me than any religion could ever be.

As for B., prior to him I had restricted myself to dating Jews, because I knew that would make you and mom happier. When I first met B. I wasn't even thinking of dating him. But as I got to know him, I had to ask myself if it was worth sacrificing someone who I got along with on so many levels for a religion I do not believe in, to make you and mom happy. And I did struggle with this question for a long time when we started dating. And while in an ideal world I would like you and mom to be happy for me becuase I am happy, I know that will probably never be the case. But I can't sacrifice my own happiness for your beliefs, when I do not share those beliefs. In the end, I have to live with myself, and my choices, and if i make them based on other people's belief systems, I would be much more miserable than I would be if i have a strained relationship with my parents, but am otherwise living my life according to my beliefs.

I don't want to debate you on this anymore. I know your view on all of this, but the reason I wrote this is that I don't think you understand my view. We are coming from profoundly different starting from a point wherein religion is the organizing principle of your life, and me from a point where I don't believe in religion, and the idea of living a phony life is abbhorent to me. Yes, religion is important to B.'s parents the same way as it is to you, and that's maybe why me and B. get along so well...because we are both atheists from a religious background. And yet, his parents were very welcoming to me even though they know i am from a different religious background from them. In fact, I am jealous of the relationship B. has with his parents, despite their religious differences. I would love to have as close a relationship with you and mom, but I feel as if the history of our religious differences, and the way we have both reacted to them, stand between us. I hope one day you can be as welcoming to him as his parents were to me, and even if you can't, or if you decide you can't have a relationship with me becuase of the person I love, I hope this letter can at least make you begin to understand where I am coming from.

Abandoning eden

1 comment:

  1. Very moving letter. Did u send it in the end?

    Looking back though, do you still think that your father's eulogy was directed at you? Maybe it was simply affirming his own belief and how he carried on tradition and how his kids besides you are carrying it on. Your emotionality (fully understandable) on this point might have clouded your understanding.


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