I talked to my parents a few weeks ago about a bunch of stuff. I was working on a new research project and some of my research is related to people who dissent (as part of studying social change). So I got curious whether my own personal experiences as a dissident matched some of my research, and ended up talking to both my parents about a lot of stuff that happened in the past and that we went through. Too much to go into. I also think I have been building up to this and finally had out a bunch of things that we never talk about and that it pisses me off that we never talk about. And in the process found out my mom has some bizarro twisted view of reality that has little to do with mine. But some highlights:
1. My mom claims the letter she sent me before my wedding about how we can never have a real relationship if I marry my husband was not a letter disowning me but she was "warning me" about what people like my aunt would end up doing
2. I expressed to my mother how mad I am about the way my Aunt is treating her and how ungrateful I think she is being considering everything my mother has done for her and her kids. She started to defend her, and I made clear this was not about religion, it was about being a decent human being. I think she had never even considered what a bitch her sister is being to her and I made clear to her that I think her sister is an ungrateful bitch who doesn't deserve a sister who has done half the things my mom has done for her. I don't think she had ever considered that perspective.
3. I also basically told her that I don't think me and her are that different, that we are both very passionate people, who, when we believe things, feel we have to live our lives according to them. The problem is we believe different things- she believes that judaism is true and i don't. But we are both living according to our beliefs, no mater what the consequences (so we are both kind of dissidents in that respect). And it's not that we don't care about each other, it's that we think living according to our beliefs is the most important.
I think my mom has thought all this time that I am not being religious because I hate her, or am rebellious, or I think she is dumb. But I expressed to her that none of those things are true. That I am not religious because I just don't believe it's true. Which is something we have never ever talked about.
I also told her some stories that I think have influenced why I didn't believe it was true- like that for me, the reason I thought it was true was because I was trusting that rabbis were passing down information and then i got screwed over by a school rabbi/principal in first grade, Rabbi Goldstein, who forced me to lie and say a teacher had not hit me, which made me realize he was a fucking liar. He was the head of the yeshiva I went to, Yeshiva of North Jersey, so the head of the "School of jewish thought" I was being indoctrinated into, who was basically saying to take things he said in his big assemblies on faith.
My high school principal Mrs. Bak was like that woman in harry potter who wears all pink and has kitty plates, who reveled in publicly humiliating me because she could never answer my tough questions. As did many teachers in my high school. In Bat Torah once I challenged a GPA policy that prevented a very responsible friend who had been stage manager of the school play from running for school president, by arguing to the principal that only allowing honors students to run for school government gave us a student government that didn't represent the students of our school. I got sent to the teacher's lounge where a teacher asked me what I wanted to do as a grown up and when I answered (that I wanted to be a musician, which was my ambition at the time- I started off college as a music major, and my flute teacher had been encouraging me to apply to juliard in high school), she screamed at me in front of everyone that I would always be a failure in life, and I should just shut up and give up, because I would always fail at anything I tried. I gotta say, my desire to prove that bitch wrong got me through some dark days in grad school...and she is now the head of the Michlalah school in Israel. Devorah Rosenwasser.
I couldn't trust Pia, the head of my sleepaway camp Sternberg, to know what she was talking about, because even though she knew all these great ancient jewish songs, and we learned some neat jewish crafts, she kicked me out of Sternberg my second summer after falsely accusing me of cutting open the counselor's suitcase because I was the bunk 'troublemaker', because I was always going hiking into the woods during rest hour instead of sitting in my bunk gossiping with the other girls and the counselor didn't like that. What I was doing was hiking across this awesome stream to this clearing I found where I built a little tent out of branches and ferns, where I would go hang out and read books by myself. I always loved going on random adventures, and still do- at home I biked to go hiking in the woods in a nature preserve near my house, and my parents had led me to believe that this was something I would do in sleepaway camp, so I just went out and did it during rest hour, which infuriated my counselors (because they thought it was dangerous probably). My dad also sent me some matches because he thought I would actually be camping out at some point (we did a couple of times, but in pre-built tents). These two things got me labelled a troublemaker, so when someone cut open my couselor's suitcase, I got accused, and nobody would believe I wasn't lying about it. So I couldn't trust them to know the difference between a truth teller and a liar. So how could I trust them when they said religion was right? ("Them" could easily also include my parents come to think of it).
And then when the rabbi of my shul, Rabbi Yudin, who I always trusted, and who was friends with my parents and the dad of my good friend growing up (so he was like a second dad to me- I saw him in his bathrobe eating shabbas breakfast after sleepovers as a young child) started protecting a fucking child molester (Baruch Lanner) who had kicked my ex boyfriend in the balls several times, which only me and my ex knew at the time as far as I know (he was never one of the public victims). I was just like "Fuck this guy, he don't know shit." My rabbi supporting a child molester was just the final straw. Because at that point, he was the only rabbi or authority figure in my life left who I thought might have any good judgement at all. And he most definitely didn't.
And once I didn't have the rabbis to give me trust that it was correct, I started looking for some other proofs. And couldn't find them. That's when I went from being secretly OTD and not breaking shabbas, after experimenting and finding that god didn't strike me down as a teen, to openly OTD. That's when I went from trying to live within the "spirit of the law" like playing video games on shabbas because that is what I do to relax, to writing papers on shabbas even though it was work. That's when I went from eating vegetarian food without a hashgacha, to eating non kosher meat and not keeping the torah at all. It was when I went from thinking that some rabbi's had it wrong but it was pretty much a good religion, to thinking it was all bullshit, and that even the well meaning nice rabbis and people were misguided and wrong about it. That's when I realized you didn't have to be a bad or a dumb person to be duped by religion, just like my Rabbi, who was not a bad or a dumb person, was duped by a child molester and abuser. And religion. Suddenly he was all too human to me.
My mother never knew any of this stuff, because I never had an open relationships with her, because I was always afraid of her judgement (and rightly so, as I pointed out to her). But to her religion was never about the rabbis (it was about her family's mesorah).
And what I didn't add was that I started looking more into religious proofs, because I couldn't trust the rabbi I grew up with, or the principal of my school in elementary or high school or my teachers. And then all I found when I looked for proof the religion was true was the documentary hypothesis, and nechemya perek 8 where ezra "reteaches" the tanach (destroying the kuzari proof) and the Cohen Godol (jewish high priest) who magically "Found" the book of vayikra. Eventually, when I went to other jewish communities, and couldn't find a group of people or a marriage partner who agreed with my radical leftist political values in which I wasn't even the slightest little bit a sexist and racist, I eventually gave up on all jews entirely and stopped keeping even the holidays. I didn't tell my mom or dad this stuff in quite as much detail. I don't know that I want to destroy their faith the way mine has been destroyed, because they like the community. Plus they themselves are pretty sexist and racist, and they don't like when I point it out to them (which I do every time they are, since I was a teen). But once you know it's fake, if you are a person of principle, like I know my parents are, you can't go on living that way. And even though I'm not sure I could convince them judaism is not true, I don't really even want to risk doing that to them unless they come to me asking about it. Their careers and social lives are built on their religion, and they like the community.
4. My mom apparently thought I was some weird pathological messed up liar as a teenager. Because I was constantly being caught lying to them. Because I was trying to hide the fact that I was secretly not religious and had secret boyfriends they would not approve of because I knew she wasn't about to let me go off to spend weekends hooking up in hotels with my boyfriends, and I figured she would hate me for not being religious and dating boys she clearly disproved of because they were never religious, like me (I always dated other OTDers). Which kind of came true. Plus all these other incidents where I got accused of lying because I saw through bullshit, or would not back down when I was abused by someone, or got accused of messed up things when they happened, because I refused to just fit in and do things I thought were stupid. And I was a weirdo who liked reading in the woods (ha, that so describes me now as well). But I explained to her that that whole time I was secretly OTD and that was why she was always catching me sneaking around, and that she and my dad are actually the only two people I have ever lied to, and it was mostly about being a horny teenager and wanting to date boys. And I didn't do any of these things I was accused of doing, and was not lying about that. And that I actually hate liars (due to all these experiences). And I don't think she has ever considered our history in that light before either.
5. I talked to my dad about a whole bunch of different things me and my brothers went through as kids because people in our family didn't really care what other people thought - like for instance, my little brother wore a tuxedo to school for an entire year as a kid (and got really bullied for it) because he really liked them. Now he works at a job requiring a lot of fancy uniforms and has a side job doing musical stuff where he dresses in fancy tuxedos frequently. In retrospect I think that was about him wanting to be like my dad, who he saw wearing a suit to work all the time. He just thought that was what men did when they left the house- they wore a suit. Ha. My dad interpreted this as me reminiscing about the past, and I was like "Hey, that's what normal families do. It's nice, aye?"
So in a word: PROGRESS! Massive progress. Saying things that needed to be said and clearing up misconceptions that have been around for 17+ years.
There are several misconceptions they have about B too. They say they can't get any read on him. I know it's because B hates them after the way they have treated the two of us (and especially me) for the past 7 years, and they have poisoned their relationship. So he is afraid of saying anything around them, because he is afraid he will tell them what he really thinks, and he knows I want to get along with them. Meanwhile I pointed out that they are not themselves around him either. Another thing they had never considered.
Some day I'm going to break it to them that when you reject people because they weren't born to the right vagina, and ask them to get a quicky fake conversion just for the sake of being a "jew," and then won't even meet them when they don't do it despite the fact that they are marrying your daughter, and refuse to go to your daughter's wedding, when everyone knows if his mom was jewish none of this would be an issue, it comes off as super racist and bigoted to most normal human beings. And that when you don't come to weddings, and act like a bitch to your daughter, her husband doesn't feel kindly towards you. But somehow in a nice way.
I actually think I will one day have to take more of a stand on this. That day will probably be when my brother gets married to his girlfriend (Who he lives with- she is awesome and not jewish). My parents know about her and have already said they will not come to the wedding. That was their first reaction to finding out he has had a secret girlfriend for 3 (now 3.5 or 4?) years that he is terrified of telling them about, and they had moved in together. But if they are going to be like that, really, how am I supposed to let them get to close to C? So they can not come to her wedding when she inevitably marries someone who isn't jewish? So that is when I will make my stand. And if not, they can know her as well as B knows his dad's dad- they met for the 5th or 6th time at his dad's funeral, and it didn't even occur to us to invite him to our wedding.
But meanwhile, progress for now, and hopefully things for my parents to think on. And next June we plan to drive up there- all 3 of us. I invited my parents to come to the bronx zoo with me, B and C. So far no response. We're staying at my OTD brother's place (with his now not secret GF).
We used to have a christmas eve tradition of appetizers that my father in law always put together, but this year we went out for chinese food and watched a movie. which is kind of my christmas tradition from when I was younger- I used to have a christmas eve jew open house party at my parent's house (without their knowledge) when I was a teenager and young 20something and my parents went away for christmas for vacation every year. Later I hosted similar parties at my apartment in Philadelphia before I started celebrating christmas for real with my husband. My friends from back home in NJ would come down to visit for christmas or new years, one year my best friend from back home (the boy I met the night before my 15th birthday, the first OTD I ever met who introduced to me the idea that it was even possible to go OTD) came to visit, and we want to get chinese in chinatown with a bunch of friends and then went to see the Life Aquatic at the indie movie theater in philly. Another year he brought a couple of other OTDers with him. A couple of years these visits ended with going to a hotel hippie party and show with a bunch of our friends. One year it coincided with chanukah and we fried up a bunch of latkes to bring with us.
B and I have decided our christmas tradition is going to be christmas eve chinese food and a movie, presents christmas morning, and dinner in the afternoon. And then we'll have appetizer new years, where we will try new foods (as per our rosh hashana tradition). Tonight we are trying two types of caviar (I've never tried either) 2 new types of cheese (Champagne cheddar and fontina) and 2 types of champagne. We're having "2013s": Champagne with strawberry-white cranberry ocean spray. C is having a bottle and night 2 of sleep training.
B got into a minor fender bender with C while in the car today, so it's like 2013 is giving us a little "fuck you" kick on they way out. But this was an epic year. Pregnancy, the loss of my father in law in January, the June o' 5 paper submissions, not being able to walk most of the summer, C entering the world on July 26th, learning how to be a parent, and a new brother in law in October. I went on trips to Wilmington NC, Asheville NC, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Indiana. I stepped foot in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and South Carolina . Only one new publication came out this year (an encyclopedia entry) but my favorite article (based on the main thesis of my dissertation) finally got accepted for publication after many years and revisions (I've been working on that paper since 2007!) and I just sent back the final page proofs. I finally successfully grew a pumpkin (but just one) and was able to eat my first homegrown asparagus, blueberries, meyer lemon and saffron from my perennials.
2014 will be the year of toddlers, blackberries, more asparagus, research, beach trips, zoo trips, and more. Happy new years!