Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why arn't I trying anymore?

Someone commented on a post of mine suggesting I go to Israel for a summer maybe and really give myself a chance to really learn about Judaism before I do something irreversible (like marry B). So leaving B completely out of this, this is why I'm not going to:

As for going to Israel the summer...Well, first of all, it's logistically impossible. I don't get any financial help from my parents (and haven't for years) and I need to work in the summers in order to live (I teach summer college classes, since I don't get a stipend during the summer- I'm a phd student). Even if somehow I got a full scholarship to an Israel program, I still would have to pay rent on my apartment while I was gone (which is over $1000 a month) not to mention I have 2 cats that would somehow need to be taken care of. Technically i have savings that I can dip into, but they are savings so that when I get my PhD and move off to wherever I land a faculty job, I can buy a house. I don't think learning in Israel would be a good alternative investment.

Second of all, I also have already been to Israel several times...i lived there for a summer when I was 14 (in a lovely west bank settlement), and visited 5 other times with my family, and went on birthrite when I was in college. I talked to several rabbis/rabbinical students each time I was there (especially on birthrite when our trip director was a rabbinical student who I highly respect) and I've never heard anything that would have changed my mind.

Third of all, I feel like I HAVE had a good jewish education. I went to a yeshiva for preschool, elementry school middle school and high school. There were 3 different schools there in the north jersey/nyc/NYS area (I ended up in a different school for 7th and 8th grade than the rest of elementry school) and it may be that those particular schools might have all sucked, but they are all 3 pretty well respected schools in the Jewish community. I also learned at a weekly gemarah shiur with my dad from the time I was 10 until around 17. I admit I didn't do the year after college in israel since I was already pretty sure at least orthodox Judaism was wrong at that point, and the thought of spending a year learning more wrong things sounded pretty useless to me at the time, and I was eager to start college where I could actually learn things I wanted to learn about.

While in college i went to a weekly "lunch and learn"s with the local rabbi for 3 years, went to other talks about judaism all the time and participated in a bunch of jewish events including Birthrite, Shabbatons (that I organized in some cases), regular shiurim and I just generally hung around Hillel all the time (i was even VP of Hillel for a semester, and on the executive planning committe of Hillel for 3 years). Me and some of my jewish friends (from varying backgrounds) used to sit around and have long debates about various religious subjects. Even in grad school, for the first 2 years (I'm in my 4th year now) I went to a thousand jewish grad student events, even as i was more and more convinced that judaism was misguided and wrong..because for a while the Jewish community was a place I wanted to be. I have talked to awesome rabbis who were orthodox, conservative, reform (not reconstructionist though), people who were considered leaders of their community, most of whom were people I respected.

And I have never heard a convincing explanation for all the contradictions I see, and I have never been convinced that the religion was made up by God and not people. In fact, if anything, the more I learned, the more i was convinced the religion was made up by people. Pretty smart people to be sure, but people nonetheless.

I feel like I have given it a shot, and I forced myself to give it a shot even in the face of my huge amount of skepticism. Not only that, I WANTED to believe in it. Do you know how much easier my life would be if I did? Most of my family apart from my parents/brothers don't talk to me anymore becuase they know i'm not religious, and my relationship with my parents is certainly strained as a result. My brother still lives at home at age 24 (and my mom still does his laundry), but I was cut off right after college and told I couldn't live at home because of my beliefs (and in college i only got tuition paid by my parents at my cheap state school, and I paid for everything else myself). I LIKE my family, or at least I did before they were such douchebags to me, and i never wanted to get ostrasized by them. Not to mention the built-in jewish community that exists everywhere and that I could instantly be a part of if only i could bring myself to believe, or even pretended I believed (which I did for many many many years..)

Even as I was keeping less and less mitzvot, I have tried every brand of Judaism out there, hoping one would stick. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't that I didn't believe in God, it was just a problem with i went to Conservative and Reform and Reconstructionist services on several different occasions, trying to find one that felt right. I went to several different kinds of sevices for each, including different orthodox services (on the premise that it may have been the particular community I grew up in that I had a problem with, and that other orthodox people would be better). And nothing.

So why arn't I orthoprax if I see all the advantages to being so (which I do)? Why don't I even pretend that I go to conservative services or just suck it up and sit through them or something (which would make my parents overjoyed at this point). Why don't I keep dating jews with the hope that one day I'll meet someone I can fall in love with depsite our religious differences? In sum, why have I given up on trying?

Well for one, I've never been a good liar. I don't know what it is, but it's both totally repugnant to me to lie about who I am, and I wouldn't be very good at it if I tried. But I did try! I lived a double life for many years, even after i was "out" to my parents (who i found it impossible to lie to given that I saw them on a regular basis), I met many other jewish people at the hundreds of jewish events i went to, and everyone operated under the assumption that i shared their beliefs, because I didn't tell them otherwise. I only dated jewish guys, but I looked for the jewish guys who had absolutely no affiliation with judaism, and who just knew that they were jewish (and there are a lot of guys like that out there, beleive me, i've dated many of them in my area. they are pretty easy to find on jdate).

Anyways, i don't know if any of you have tried it (and presumably a lot of you skeptics have), but living the double life sucks. I lost my beliefs long before I left the Jewish community, and interacting with other Jews who assumed I beleived the same things as them made me extremely uncomfortable. I felt fake. It made me nervous. I fell into long bouts of depression (months long) where I would force myself to go to jewish dinners, and then would come home and sleep for a day and feel like crap (well, not like crap, more like nothing would ever matter and life was crap). I started smoking things that I won't mention by name here (but that rhymes with "read") before friday night shabbat dinners on a regular basis (which I went to the first few years of grad school around twice a month), because when I did I could at least get over the uncomfortableness I felt enough to actually get myself to go there, and once I was there I could pretend all I wanted with no problem, as long as I was still fucked up at the time. Then I stopped smoking (mostly because my guy moved to california), and I started getting panic attacks instead. Before shabbat dinners (especially on the way over), before and after dates with jewish guys (especially when they wanted to go on a second date), even seeing the Hillel program director in the distance made me start to hyperventilate. It got to the point where I was having at least one major panic attack a week..usually on friday nights. I ended up going to a shrink for a year, which i'm not going to go into...but anyways, as a result of a heck of a lot of introspection, I ended up distancing myself from the jewish community. I also took a long time off from dating. And you know what? I haven't had a panic attack in almost a year and a half now. Not one. And I also have only been to one friday night dinner that whole time. And I started dating people who weren't jewish. Well, not a lot of people. Actually, B is only the second person I went on a date with who wasn't Jewish, since I was still of the mindset that I should date jewish people if possible (since I knew that my parents would flip out), but I decided that I shouldn't close myself off to not-jewish people, as long as I felt a connection to them already. I had no panic attacks after me and B's first date (which wasn't even really a date, we just hung out alone and talked for a few hours, didn't even go anywhere, but that would have previously been enough to send me off)...just butterflies cause I liked him so freakin much.

Actually, that's not true, I did have one panic attack earlier this year...when my dad offered me a free trip to israel with him to visit my cousins in the west bank. I initially accepted, and then had a panic attack after thinking about what it would actually entail (including spending shabbat in a settlement with no buses running at my extremely relgious orthodox cousin's house) and ended up backing out of the trip. So yeah, I don't think at this point a trip to Israel is going to be so helpful to me :)

I don't really know how to end this, other then to say..i have tried. I felt I've tried enough, and at this point there is nothing more i can do. I still actually read a few orthodox blogs, to see if there's any new ideas out there that will resonate with me...and there's nothing. I feel as if I don't have the personality to be able to be religious. Or something. I wish I could...sometimes, although I gotta say living my life the way I want to live it with no laws or bounderies other then the ones I set for myself is totally awesome. But at this point religion makes me physically ill, so I'm going to have to stay with the life I've chosen- and I gotta say, even with dealing with crap from my family and all the negativity that comes from that, at this point in my life I'm pretty much the happiest I've ever been. Part of that might be B, but before meeting him I was also the happiest I've ever been. So I'm going to stick with that :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

sheepllamas and sewerghosts!

On a somewhat off topic note, here are some interesting facts I've learned in the midwest the past week:

1. People have llama farms! We saw a farm of like 30 llamas! It was awesome!

2. One use of llamas (after we had a discussion about why the heck people would be raising llamas) is to guard sheep, or to be a "sheepllama" as I now like to call it. llamas are not afraid of coyotes, and will start yelling and charing at a coyote if one comes near their llama herd. They still do this even when they're not in a herd of llamas, and are in fact in a herd of sheep. Therefore, some people in the west have started using llamas instead of sheepdogs to scare away coyotes! Here is an article about it.

3. In the midwest (cause i've never seen this on the east coast and apparently it's common here) sometimes when it's below freezing temperatures, and maybe because someone took a hot shower or something, but for whatever reason, the sewer grates will start putting off steam. Not huge plumes of steam like in NYC, but just enough steam to catch the light from the headlights at night, look like a shimmering ghost, and scare the bejeebus out of me. I almost didn't say anything to B when I saw it for fear he would think I was insane, but it turned out there was a rational explenation for it! (I kinda muttered "i feel like I'm seeing ghosts..." and B was like "I saw it too!") We turned around and drove past it again so we could look at it again. :) B says it happens all the time and he even has an awesome name for it...sewerghosts!

I've always found the idea of ghosts especially scary, and I blame Jews for it. When i was a kid my great grandfather always told me not to whistle or clap, becuase that would draw the shadim (Jewish word for ghosts with chicken feet) to you. When I was around 10 years old, my dad decided that for my Bat Mitzvah me and him would learn Gemarah Brachot (see, my dad is kinda modern...I learned gemarah!). Anyways, I don't know if you all have read it, but there's a whole bunch of stuff about shadim in there. You shouldn't go into abandoned wearhouses cause the shadim would cause it to collapse on you, there was a story about some rabbi who went to his grandmothers grave and talked to her ghost, and there was something about how if you burn up a black cat which is the daughter of a black cat which is also the daughter of a black cat, and then sprinkle its ashes in your eyes and look in a mirror at midnight you would see shadim! (I don't know if the details are exactly correct cause I learned this 15 years ago, someone plz confirm). Also i think there was something about sprinkling flour around your bed at night and in the morning you would see the chicken feet prints from the ghosts which had chicken feet, and who run around your bed in circles at night for some reason. I wanted to do that and see if it would work, but I was always too scared to do so because what if it DID work? and then I knew there were chicken footed ghosts running around my bed at night? I would never sleep again! The fact that I remember all this stuff 15 years later (and I don't remember anything else that was in that book) probably points to the huge impression all of this made on my 10 year old mind.

Now of course now I realize that this was all based on the superstitions of the people who were writing the gemarah, and that this stuff about ghosts (along with everything else in there) is a bunch of crap. But when I was 10 or 11 (and younger when my great-grandfather- who died when I was 7- told me about not clapping or whisteling), this stuff really scared me! I mean, at that point I still trusted everything rabbis said, and it didn't cross my mind that rabbis who wrote the gemarah might know...WRONG. So yeah, for years I believed that ghosts were real..i think even after the time at which I decided god was probably not real (which I realize makes no rational sense, but there you go)

Article on intermarriage

The Biblical Case for Intermarriage: Why You Can Marry Anyone You Want
By Ariel Beery

The Jewish community is fighting to prevent Hitler’s posthumous victory. Across the denominational spectrum the threat is the same: intermarriage, scourge of Jewish continuity, boogey man of every caring Jewish mother and father. To defend good Jewish boys and girls everywhere from the threat of marrying out, communal resources have been poured into projects which seek to engage youth in hip new ways so that they will choose to remain within the fold. Above all else the goal of continuity-seeking Jewish communal professionals and those who fund them is the same: prevent any non-Jewish partner that might be crouching at the door.

It is not enough to dismiss the fear of discontinuity driving this panic by claiming, as did Simon Rawidowicz half a century ago, that the Jews are “an ever dying people;” the Jewish community really does have a crisis on its hands. The Jewish People is losing quality members to a general society that has so lovingly embraced it. But the culprit isn’t intermarriage qua intermarriage, and aiming communal energies at this particular symptom will not cure the true illness that has beset the Jewish People: indifference.

Intermarriage is not the source of the illness because intermarriage itself has been with us as long as has Judaism. Let it be said: Moses did not marry a daughter of Israel. Neither did a good number of the greatest heroes of our tradition. Joseph married an Egyptian princess. King David, none other than the prophesized forbearer of the Messiah, married Batsheva, whose former husband was a Hittite–one of the original and circumscribed non-Israel tribes in the land of Canaan. Solomon, the ‘wisest’ of the Jews, followed the tradition of his ancestor Moses and married an African, the Queen of Sheba. And let us not think that mating with those outside the tribe was reserved for the biblical men of our tradition—the Jews would have been decimated had Queen Esther not slept with the uncircumcised. Since we Jews have a long tradition of learning from the actions of our wisest of ancestors—what is now known as their Da’at Torah—one can’t ignore the lesson taught by this overwhelming minyan of heroes.

True, the decree to stay away from the daughters of the other nations came early. Before we entered the Land of Promise, Moses relayed the Law that Israelites may not make marriages with the daughters of the tribes of Canaan because they may lead the Israelites to worship other gods. But that call came from the same Moses who had married the daughter of a foreign priest with divine sanction, Tzippora. When Moses’ brother and sister complained about his choice in a life partner, God punished Miriam with leprosy. In other words, it wasn’t intermarriage God seemed worried about: it was whether one would use intermarriage as an excuse to leave the community and follow other gods, or whether one would remain loyal and cleave to the covenant.

Our heroes, then, might strongly disagree with the contemporary sages who have made stopping intermarriage their primary focus. Sociologist Steven M. Cohen of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College writes that “we cannot ignore a critical master-theme for Jewish policy formation: Intermarriage does indeed constitute the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity today.” Relying upon the highly-contested data generated by the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01, Cohen states that those Jews who have intra-married are many times more likely to raise their children Jewish than their peers who marry someone from outside of the fold. This situation, he continues, has created two Jewries: one that benefits the Jewish People while the other detracts by disassociating from communal institutions and depleting our numbers. Intermarriage, in this line of thought, is the existential threat—and those who would marry out are actively, if indirectly, inviting the destruction of the Jewish People.

But the real inconvenient truth is that intermarriage is not the cause of the downturn in communal affiliation. In the science of statistics one learns that sometimes, when two things move in union, there is actually third, hidden variable that is pulling the strings on both. This is known as a hidden variable bias, an affliction of many who try and proffer causal explanations for real-world events. In the case of intermarriage and lack of affiliation, such a not-so-hidden variable is one that few are willing to talk about, and some even dismiss out of hand as unimportant. That variable is the indifference felt by marginal members of the Jewish community to the Jewish People primarily, and the Jewish tradition, as a byproduct. To put it bluntly, most people don’t know why they should give a damn.

The reason most Jews don’t know why they should give a damn is a subject worthy of an essay in and of itself, but suffice it to say that historical circumstances have thrust the Jewish People to a place we’ve not been for thousands of years. A state of sovereignty has arisen beside the warm embrace of open societies that want no more than to be our one true love. And surrounded by would-be suitors, many Jews view their Jewish identity as something which detracts from their otherwise post-modern experience: placing limits on the foods they eat, cultural traditions they follow, and the people with whom they are allowed to fall in love. Faced with a lack of deep philosophical justifications for remaining Jewish, but somehow socialized into maintaining an affiliation to the Jewish People in name only, those with a foot and a half firmly planted in the New World look at their roots with the indifference that only a spoiled child could bring to bear upon a rich heritage.

Indifference is the major difference between those empowering intermarriages of the past, the empowering intermarriages of the present day, and those intermarriages that siphon off our fellows and lead them to leave the Jewish People behind. Each of the married-out heroes of the Bible cared deeply for their Jewish brethren. They understood their membership in the People of Israel as a cause worthy of life and death. And it is based upon this supreme lack of indifference for the Jewish People that the Biblical narrative makes its case for intermarriage: every marriage out can potentially tie more bodies and souls to the destiny of our Tribe. A person who lives the life of a Jew and sees oneself as inseparably bound to the Jewish collective can marry whomever he or she wants, because his or her deference for the People is so great that his or her partner will ultimately come to live among the Jewish People, recognizing that their partner’s people are their own.

Take Roy Sparrow, who grew up in the Baptist South, as an example. When he met his soon to be wife, Miriam, in the 1960s, Sparrow told his beloved that she’d have to take him as he was (not Jewish) if she truly wanted to be with him. “I told her that she’d have to trust me to do the right thing,” recounts Sparrow, “and sure enough we were married, and once we had settled down I decided to become a Jew.”

Sparrow continued his journey from the Christian South and ended up co-founding and co-directing NYU’s program for nonprofit management and Judaic Studies, playing a role in the strengthening the Jewish future. Would those who think like Cohen say that Roy and Miriam, due to their initial intermarriage, belong in that “Other Jewry,” the second one that has no stake in the continuation of the Jewish People? I’d hope not.

Even if he hadn’t converted, Sparrow became a communal Jew from the moment he decided to marry Miriam. “Your people are my people,” he told her, and it was due to her belief in the importance of her Jewish identity that he then later added on, “your God is my God.”

It is no coincidence that the term ‘convert’ is foreign to the Hebrew tradition. Instead, we have ger, which literally translates to a person who “lives among.” When we let the ger in to our community, and we ensure that our community nourishes a Judaism that adds positive value to the individual and the world, that person may chose to become a part of our People. A member of the Children of Israel who believes in the importance of sustaining a Jewish life will, more often than not, share that conclusion with the person she choses to live her life with. And, if the relationship is a healthy one, odds are that commitment to Judaism will permeate the relationship, and perhaps even inspire a shared allegiance to Judaism’s values and traditions. When we use tactics of fear to push away non-Jews, however, we communicate the message that Judaism detracts from the world and restricts one’s choices unnecessarily—instead of drawing others into our community.

Not to say that we should encourage intermarriage. But we should recognize that whether or not intermarriage depletes the Jewish People is dependent upon the content of the Jewish life lived by the Jewish partner in such a pair. Therefore, instead of investing in matchmaking for the masses, the community could do better to inspire answers to the questions facing Judaism and the Jewish People in today’s post-digital world. Instead of focusing on the growing trend of intermarriage, we should develop a culture of devotion to the Jewish family that follows the example of our ancestors. Instead of pushing families who marry “out” into the camp of the Other Jewry, we should be setting up their tents right next to our tents of Jacob, living with them as they live among us and bind their destiny to our ever-living people.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas eve

I can't help but think of the contrasts between B's family and my family.

My parents are MO jewish. B's mom is around the same level of religiousity, but catholic. (B's dad is an atheist but also goes to church with his mom all the time). I guess an example of B's mom's religiousity would be..when B was 16 he was supposed to get confirmed at church, and he didn't want to (being against the catholic religion then). As a result his mom kicked him out of the house until he agreed to get confirmed at church (which took around 4 days). B's sister is also a pretty religious catholic, and spends summers working at the local church (she's in college).

And yet they have dealt with us dating each other in such different ways. You can all read about my parents reaction in my blog. On the other hand, I'm sure B's mom would love for him to date a nice catholic girl, but she seems to have accepted that B is never going to do so. And both his parents and his sister are so welcoming of me. I mean, I'm staying at their house for 2 weeks for pete's sake! We've been here a week, and B's parents have taken us out to dinner every single night so far (and to nice places, no fast food or anything). B's mom gave me a big hug when we got there. Tonight we opened christmas gifts, and his parents got me gloves and a 2008 calander with kitties on it and $125 (!!!!) worth of gift cards to best buy and borders. $125!!! Wow! I don't think my own parents have ever gotten me as expensive a gift, and I haven't even been dating B a year yet! (although pretty close) and they only met me for about a 4 day period before this trip! And his sister knitted me a scarf :)

And then theres my family. My parents refuse to meet him, my youngest brother (the religious one) leaves snarky comments about me dating B on my facebook profile. If I ever mention anything regarding B when I'm talking to my mom she loudly talks over me until I change the subject, so I've given up even mentioning him to her. My dad has sent me long letters about why I shouldn't date him. In fact the only one in my entire family who has met B has been my also-not-religious brother. Sigh.

I wonder what it is is. Is it just individual personalities- that my parents in particular suck and that B's parents are awesome? Is it that B's parents have given up and mine are still holding out hope that I'll return to the fold? Is it something particular to jewish people (being in a minority, my dad being the child of holocaust survivors) that makes them so much more against inter-religious dating? I think it may be a combo of all 3, plus a bunch of other unknown factors. But the contrast is especially vivid tonight

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stuff that's been going on

Weird progress and then regress with my parents.

Last sunday I was talking to my dad on the phone, and mentioned how i'm going to B's parent's place for 2 weeks for winter break/christmas (ahh the joys of working on a semester-based schedule), and he was like "so does this mean anything is imminent? Like marriage?" um, no. But to my dad I think going to an SO's parent's place for 2 weeks means we must be getting's a weird mindset.

But then the wierdest thing dad was basically like "so when do I meet with B?". What??? My dad, after a year of telling me that if I marry B i'm going to go to hell, all of a sudden wants to meet him? And i basically responded something like "well we can come visit in January when we get back, or you can visit us, whatever"

Anyways, then on Tuesday I saw my parents (breifly- for about 2 hours, when I took a train up to my little brother's graduation and then left right afterwards), and in 5 minute car ride from the train station to the graduation, my dad took it back. He was like "that was a weird conversation, it's like you're selling your soul and I would be shaking hands with the devil if I met B! I don't know, I think I should ask a rabbi" etc. So basically he took it back. But I think it's a sign of wavering/progress/good things to come. Maybe. I think it's a sign that he'll break and accept that I'm with B at some point, and not disown me! Or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

In other news, I've been in Bumblefuck since Wednesday at B's parents house. I don't want to disclose too much info, but I'll say that it's in the midwest, there's corn fields everywhere (well, what will be cornfields in the summer), and it's an hours drive to the nearest city (if you could even call it that). Not a jew for states around us. It's kinda weird being in a very christian the bookstore there was, I swear, NINE rows of bookshelves on "christian interest" whatever that means. And last night a pickup truck thing with carolers in the back singing drove by. And pretty much every house has christmas decorations up, and they lean towards the jesus-y side. Weird.

Me and B also decorated a christmas tree with a bunch of ornaments (i went through like 12 big boxes of ornaments, and left off all the ones with jesus on them). His mom has 2 big one which we decorated, and another smaller one with only bird ornaments. She also seems to have about 1000 christmas themed sweaters. :) We also went shopping yesterday and bought some awesome presents for his parents and his sister and for each other, and I got a yellow submarine hoodie (yay!). I think later today we're going to wrap presents and maybe do a bit of last minute shopping.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


The only reason I even knew it was chanukah is that on my walk to the class I taught this afternoon, the chabadnicks were handing out latkes on campus. I stopped and got one (and some of those chocolate coin thingies).

Have I become so far removed from the jewish community that I don't even know when holidays are happening anymore? Apparently so...

Am I sad about that? Not really.

Happy chanukah to those who celebrate, and happy first snow of the winter to those who live in my neighborhood, and happy last day of class to me! (on an off topic note, my students applauded me after I finished teaching my last lecture of the semester today. It was freakin awesome).

Thursday, November 22, 2007

thanksgiving update

Got here 2 hours ago, just had an hour long heated conversation with my parents about god, and atheism. I straight out told my parents that I'm an atheist (i don't think they knew that before...they just knew that I wasn't religious. We discussed all about how from my perspective following all these rules doesn't make sense because I don't believe in god, and my dad was all "but what if you're wrong and then when you die you don't go to heaven" and I was all "what if you're wrong and spent your whole life following all these rules for nothing?" And then my dad told me if i have kids with B they won't "get their place in the world to come" because they wouldn't be "all jewish". And i was like "seriously? you're telling me my kids are going to hell because they will only be half jewish, even if they are all jewish according to jewish halacha since I'd be jewish". And apparently they will becuase they won't be "pure" and i"ll be destroying years of inbreeding or something.

But so far no outward fights. Plus my dad was all "we wouldn't disown you if you marry b, we'd still talk to you". And I brought up the point that If i marry b i'm not exactly going to be comign to visit if I have to leave him behind. And that if I have kids, it's probably in their best interest to invite us all over, cause then they can teach my kids about judaism. And how if they aren't inviting b, i'm not exactly going to leave him in the car and come inside with my kids for a visit.

Yeah, so that's my thanksgiving so far. My extended family should be here at any moment, and there is delicious smelling turkey cooking. I'm kinda starving actually.... Also this morning I took a cab ride with some random strangers who were waiting for the bus (which never came) with me! That was fun.

Happy turkey day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

feminism vs orthodox judaism

on her own was blogging about feminism, and othodox judaism, which reminded me that I meant to blog about the topic at some point.

When I was a freshman in college I took an awesome class called "Women and the media". And then I took another class that summer called "Growing up female." Eventually I took up a minor in women's studies. Last week I sent in the paperwork to get a graduate certificate in gender studies to complement my phd in sociology.

All bragging aside, It's not clear to me to what extent learning about women's studies has influenced my move out of judaism. Well, maybe it's a little clear. In that first ever women's studies class-women and the media- the one I took becuase my college had a requirement to take a class addressing gender-we spent the first third of the class talking about images of women in the bible. Later, in the "Growing up female" class I took with the same prof (since she was so freaking awesome) one of our assignments was to write an essay discussing the extent to which gender affected the way we grew up. It was the first time I really thought about how my family was influenced by gender roles, and how orthodox judaism treated men and women differently.

Ok there's the standard men and women sitting seperately in shul, with women kinda off to the side or in the back of the room (depending on the minyan). And that bracha men say every morning - Thanking god for not making them a woman. A teacher explained that away by saying that it's because they are acknowledging that women have a harder time in life, but I didn't really buy it. And how my brothers got to get up in front of everyone at their bar mitzvah and read from the torah, but when i tried to sit in and learn the accenting system, i got shooed away. And how women have to cover their hair and elbows and knees and collarbone because it might turn men on (???) and it's not "modest".

When I was writing that essay for my growing up female class, I couldn't help but reflect on the gender roles inherent in the my family and every other jewish family i knew, and that pervaded every aspect of orthodox life...the women were overworked housewives, or overworked working women who still did all the housework. My mom, who owned her own small business, and who acted as a secretary for free for my dad's business, still did all the cooking and cleaning and everything, because as my dad put it, his contribution to the household was 'bringing in the money." In high school halacha class the only halachas we learned were the ones about cooking. And in high school art class we drew paintings of brides. And they told us we couldn't wear the color red becuase it's not modest. One Fall the president of the sisterhood of my synagogue had a huge fight with the rabbi because they had decided that since there wasn't enough room for shallas shuddes in the sukkah for both men and women to sit seperately, the women would have to eat inside.

Later on these ideas stuck with me. When I was applying to grad school, my dad asked when I would fit in having children (I was engaged at the time) and how a good jewish mother should stay at home, becuase kids need their mothers. A few years back my cousin got married- the next youngest female cousin in my family (and I am the oldest). She was 19 at the time, had been on dates with 3 different men, was engaged after 6 weeks of dating, and as far as I know did not touch a man until her wedding night. A few months after her wedding we were talking at some family event, and we got to talking about sex..i told her i had had sex (she was shocked) and she was like "how do you get over the embaressment of being naked in front of a man, it's been 6 months and I still want to shut the lights off every time." Then she informed me that when she got married, her Rabbi had told her at Callah classes that it is forbidden to use birth control until she has a boy and a girl. This was 3 years ago. Now she has two children and is expecting a third. She just turned 22.

I recently had a conversation with B about gender roles, and the way my family is- with my mother never sitting down during a meal, doing like 3 days of cooking for every holiday, serving everything, and cleaning everything, while my dad sits there like the a king with a servant. B was shocked that people like that actually exist, that I knew a whole bunch of other families like that, and that not just my immediate family, but my entire extended family is the same way- both sides too. In fact he was shocked that my parents aren't divorced as a result. In fact, when I think about it, many of those other families I grew up with- orthodox families- are getting divorces now as their kids are getting past high school age. I on the other hand was shocked when I went to B's parents house this past summer, and his dad cooked dinner for everyone one night entirely spontaniously- we all went out for the day, and when we came home dinner was all cooked, his mom wasn't even home yet, and she hadn't told him to make dinner or anything as far as I know. He just did it! I know this shoudln't be shocking, that some men are capable of cooking and doing these things that were only ever done by my mother- despite my dad claiming he doesn't "know how" to do any of these things. I mean, B does these things for me! But it was kind of a culture shock..i grew up in the culture of patriarchy, and anything different is strange to me.

Now I know this isn't entirely the fault of judaism. And I know there are many non-jews out there who have traditional gender roles, and many individual jews who are progressive about gender roles. But I can't help but feel that orthodox judaism is worse than most. From the outside looking in- and I feel like I have an outsiders perspective at this point- some sects of orthodox judaism are up there with some of the more extreme muslim sects in terms of the treatment of women. Think I'm exagerating? What about those women in israel who were beaten up for not moving to the back of the bus? How is that different? How is a shetel and stockings (With a seam!) and clothes covering almost every part of a woman different than a burkah? How is telling a 19 year old CHILD that if she uses birth control she is violating the will of god, and that she has to have sex with her husband of course, because of pru urvu, how can you NOT call that enforced pregnancy? And if women are forced to have children, how can they ever be thought to be close to equal?

Ok, i know they are different in the extent to which they are extreme. But I don't think they're that different in kind. I feel like the way orthodox judaism is headed is towards a state in which women are no better off than some of the worst-off women in this world live.

So while I didn't really think of feminism and judaism as connected at the time..even as when i was learning about one i was leaving the other- in retrospect, much of my skeptisism about judaism came from my exposure to ideas about gender, and critically thinking about judaism through my new "feminist lens". it was my studies of both feminism and sociology that "lifted the veil" so to speak- for the first time I recognized that their was something wrong with all the thing I had taken for granted. Well, the gender things. I think that's what pushed me off the derech entirely. Up until then, even though I was fairly skeptical about god, and didn't really believe in judaism, I was keeping most of the laws, at least outwardly. I was still doing it for the "community". Once I saw the gender inequities inhernet in the orthodox world, i became disgusted with the jewish community as a whole, and once I became disgusted, it became impossible for me to stay in it, and subject myself to being in an inferior social position.

The postscript to this whole story is that I went to grad school, am currently working on a phd in sociology, specializing in gender and the family. Right now I teach a sociology of the family course, and try to pass on some of the ideas that were so eye opening to me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dreading Thanksgiving

So this thursday I will see my family for the first time since my grandmother's funeral. In addition to my parents and one of my brothers (the other one is in israel for his post-high school year), we'll be joined by my counsin from Israel who barely speaks english and is super orthodox, my cousins from America with their 3 kids who are also super religious, my senile grandfather (husband to the deceased grandmother), and my cousin's wife's parents from georgia, who are up in the area because my cousin with 3 kids just had the third one last week and they are helping out. Who are also super religious. Oh and possibly my other grandparents, who every time they see me tell me I need to improve my life, because even though I almost have a phd from an ivy league university, am teaching my own course at said ivy league university, am financially independent and pretty happy in my life, all that means nothing because I'm not religious.

Can you imagine why I might be dreading this trip?

Every time I've seen my parents since I started dating B, I wonder if this is the last time I will see them. If this is the last time I will be in the home I grew up in. If this is the last time I will celebrate a holiday with them. I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing my parents later this year in December, at my brother's graduation. But this may in fact be the last Thanksgiving I spend at home. Next year me and B plan on moving in together, and my mom has straight out told me that the only thing I could do that would be worse than marrying a "goy" would be to live with one and not be married. Actually, she said the only thing worse than that would be being a lesbian. Also if I had a kid out of wedlock. There's lots of things that are the "worst thing I could ever do" apparently. I wonder what would happen if I moved in with a goyish lesbian and had her baby? :)

Ok, so the entire trip probably won't be horrible. With so many people around, it won't be too hard to escape notice, and I can probably spend the majority of my time hanging with my little brother, who is also not religious- although he still lives with my parents, so he's a lot less open about it. And I'm kinda looking forward to talking to my dad on the ride to and from the train station-> the train station is around half an hour away from my parents house, so we have about an hour (total) of talking time during the trip which is when we catch up. I really want to ask my Dad if he really beleives that god wrote the torah, and if he believes that god wants people to follow all the minutia of orthodoxy. I've never really asked him that before, and I'm curious as to what he believes- or what he will profess to believe.

Maybe it won't be horrible if I never go to my parents for Thanksgiving again after this year. In reality, I hate these trips back to my parents house. I'm going for as short a time as possible- taking the train there on Thursday morning, and coming back Friday morning. My cats (and B's cats which i'll be taking care of while he's away by his family) are a great excuse for that (my parents don't realize you can leave a cat alone for longer than a day or two, and that as long as you leave plenty of food around they will be fine)(actually they might know that, but that's my standard excuse for not staying long, and they standardly accept it).

In reality, I don't want to spend shabbas at their home, and I've succesfully avoided doing so since moving away for grad school. Apart from the religious thing, the longer I stay at home, the angrier I generally get..angry becuase my mom refuses to talk to me about anything real in my life since it doesn't fit into her notions of what a proper life should be, and angry at my dad for saying more and more obnoxious things the longer I talk to him, also revolving around religion. Also, everytime I go there I feel like I'm transported back into my immature teenager hateful state of mind. I think it's just the environment...staying in the room that I haven't lived in since I was a teenager, talking to people I haven't seen on a daily basis since I was a teenager, it fucks with my mind, and I really feel like I lose years of maturity when I'm staying there, which kind of sucks. I also get all emotional (like when I was a teenager)...somehow the things that don't affect me much when I'm not there seem super important when I am there.

I kinda got slammed in my halloween post about looking forward to christmas. But really, at this point, I'd rather spend all holiday's with B's parents...just becuase they are what my ideal of a family is. All hanging out and joking with each other, telling stories about days past, making fun of each other a little, but in a congenial manner, bullshitting. It's just nice! And maybe it was different becuase I was there, but according to B it was a pretty typical visit.

All my family occasions are covered with this cloud of tension becuase of religous differences. I can't remember a single family occasion since moving to grad school that was not covered with these tensions, and where the issue didn't come up.

Hmm, so maybe instead of questioning why my dad believes in what is clearly (to me) bullshit, I'll make an appeal that despite our differences, we should all try and get along, and that I'm tired of all this fighting and tension because I'm dating someone not jewish, and becuase I'm not religious, and that maybe we can agree to disagree on that and move on with our lives and have a meaningful family relationship. Because, despite all the hurtful things my parents have put me through, the thing I want most in the world is to be able to get along with them. Well, not most in the world, obviously not more than my need to not follow orthodox law, and not more than wanting to date B. But that's really what I want in my relationship with my parents. A relationship that's not covered in tension becuase of religious difference. I'm not sure if it's possible, but I'm going to give it a try. Once again.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Should I keep writing this?

Hmm, so I started this blog back when I was having major issues with my dad right around the time my grandmother died. But I'm not sure it should continue. Here's why:

1. Dwelling on things I hate about orthodoxy is probably not very healthy mental-health wise. In fact last night after talking about it with someone I had a dream (or nightmare rather) that I had to go back to my orthodox jewish high school becuase something had gone wrong and even though I already have a masters, I had to go back and finish my high school degree again. ugh.

2. I'm supposedly supposed to be writing a dissertation right now, and need less distractions, not more

3. I wrote this blog to get out feelings I had about judaism, and put them into one place. But of course random strangers start commenting on it. I don't mind that when people are giving opinions, but of course it attracts the occasional random spiteful orthodox jew telling me I'm going to hell, and really, do I need that in my life? I already get enough tsurris from jewish people I know in real life.

4. When I'm not having a crisis with my family I don't have much to say...haven't been having many crisises lately, mostly becuase I've been avoiding talking to them (crazy work schedule makes an awesome excuse). Although I'm going to my parent's next week for thanksgiving so that may be dramatastic. And i'm sure there will be more drama in the future, but in between major drama I have nothing to write about, and feel bad about not updating

5. I'm kinda over talking about judaism in general.

A few years back I went to therapy becuase I kept having panic attacks (like 2 or 3 a week). After a year or more about talking about why I had anxiety, and why that led to panic attacks, I was just over it. My panic attacks went away (I haven't had one since feburary of this year, and generally now only have 1 or 2 a year). And talking about things I was anxious about just made me more anxious about it. Eventually I got to the point where I was just over talking about what was making me anxious, and moved on with my life. I kinda feel at that point with judaism now.

So has this blog served it's purpose and it's time to move on? Maybe. Maybe I'll keep it up and write the occasional update when things go horrible wrong (like next week, when I see my family for the first time since my grandmother's funeral, yay) and just not update it in between. Maybe I'll take it down. Who knows.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

One of my favorite parts about not being religious and/or jewish anymore is being able to celebrate the holidays that (when I was a kid) i was horribly jealous of everyone else for being able to celebrate. Wow, that was a grammatically horrible sentance.

Anyway, halloween is one of my favorites. When I lived in NYC for college I went to the halloween parade for a few years, and it was pretty much the best most fun/memorable time I ever had. Last year me and a friend carved pumpkins, which was the first time I ever did that. It was awesome! I love crafty things of all kind, and carving pumpkins is a unique crafty experience...kind of like sculpting, but first I drew out my design, so there was drawing involved as well. I was too busy this year to take the time to do so (I had a comprehensive exam for my phd program last week), but here's a picture of the one I carved last year:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This year I guess my costume is a responsible adult, since today (like every other day I teach) I "dressed up" in a suit. Little do my students know that behind my suit-disguise is a former-dreadie mama neo-hippie/deadhead. :)

This year I will also celebrate christmas for the first time, when I go to B's parents house for both christmas and new years. I'm excited to go out and get him and his parents some gifts...I've never actually done holiday shopping before, but I really like the idea of one day a year where everybody gets presents! I'm going to get his mom a weird/funky teapot of some kind, since his mom has a teapot collection...not sure what I'm going to get his dad yet (maybe a cookbook? He loves to cook and watches the food network all day).

Reminder to self: post about B and gender roles....

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Denial-Treatment

I don't know why it irritates me so much, but I just can't stand when my parents make comments that would only make sense if I was still religious. I don't care if they don't ever want to talk about religion; I'm fine with that. But why do they just proceed as if I AM religious? Why do they have to call before jewish holidays and ask every time what i'm doing for the holiday? This puts me in the situation of either a) lying/making something up or b) once again reminding my parents that I'm not religious and that I'm not doing anything for the holiday, which just puts further strain on our relationship.

So why do they ask? Are they just living in a deep state of denial? Is it just automatic to them to ask about religious holiday plans? Are they just hoping that eventually i'll be like "Yeah, my plans for rosh hoshana this year include attending orthodox services, keeping all the laws of the entire holiday and dumping my non-jewish boyfriend!" I don't know...

The point is, it is extremely irritating every time I have to remind my parents I'm not religious, because I've told them this about eleventybillion times before.

Why is this irritating me now? Because my cousin is coming to America (from Israel) around Thanksgiving time, and I just had to remind my dad that no, I cannot have her stay at my house for a few days, becuase I don't keep kosher so she would have nothing to eat. And then my dad got all silent and didn't acknowledge anything I just said, but was like "Ok I guess you are too busy to have her over".

Gah! At this point I'd rather get the silent treatment than the denial treatement.

Monday, October 15, 2007

thoughts of the future

I'm not really sure anymore what the difference is between what I want, and what I've been socialized to want.

Like weddings. I definitely don't want that big pagentry wedding and being on display all the time. But at one point I was pretty certain that WAS what I wanted. Do I want a big cake and a big white poofy dress (I never freakin wear white. ever), and a bunch of people I barely know or like there? Yesterday me and B were talking about what kind of wedding we would have if/when we get married...and we talked about something small, with maybe 10 people there. My parents certainly wouldn't come. Maybe 1 or both of my brothers would come. And then his parents and sister, and maybe a few close friends. But even that kind of gives me anxiety, when thinking about planning stuff and putting all that shit together. I think I would be happiest just getting married in front of a justice of the peace. But then I think it would be nice to be able to say vows and stuff in front of my friends, and the family that's willing to be there. I don't know.

And kids. Do i want kids? I'm not even sure. I definitely don't want kids anytime in the near future. maybe not ever. Maybe one day. Ok, i kinda want kids with B, now that i've found a guy willing to take on the bulk of childcare activities...I definietly don't want to turn into some stay at home mom or anything. But up until a certain point in my life I pretty much assumed I would have them at some point. I was supposed to want them. Every other girl wanted them. Then if I have kids, how much do I want them to know about judiasm? I definitely don't want them to go to jewish day school, but do i want them to attend hebrew school and learn about their jewish heritage? Well, but I hate all the religious parts about judaism. Why would I even send them to hebrew school? Is it because it was hammered into my head my whole life that jewish kids go to at least hebrew school?

Leaving Judiasm has definitely introduced a lot of uncertainty into my future. At one point- that in between point, when I was highly ambivilant about the idea of god and religion in general, I held on to a lot of ideas about my future that were based on the way I was raised. Even if i wasn't "religious" i would still be "Jewish" and my kids would OF COURSE go to hebrew school even though I hated every second of elementry school and high school, espeically whenever I was forced to sit through all those classes on jewish stuff. I was miserable there. Why would I want to subject my kids to that?

But when you grow up a certain way, with certain expectations, it's hard to think beyond that. OF COURSE i would have that big pagenty wedding. And when I was engaged previously, that was the kind of wedding I was planning. And I would have had the most awful time there. I hate jewish music, I hate wearing white dresses, I hate most of my family, and I hate being the center of attention. I think jewish brides are completely objectified- the engagement papers are signed by fathers like they are trading cattle, and the women don't even get to say anything during the ceremony! But yet I had signed on to that, and I didn't think there might be a different way of doing things. I was willing to push the boundries a bit..I argued with my dad about walking aorund 7 times and not speaking during the ceremony, but ultimately I would have done it their way.

But now...the possibilities are endless. I can get married in a red dress in my backyard if I want, and only invite my 3 best friends. I don't even have to invite them! (although I want to). We can have a big cake, or some small finger food, or a sit down meal, or wine and cheese, or shrimp coctails, or no food at all! I can send my kids to public school and teach them nothing of their jewish heritage. I can have chirstmas dinner with latkes, or a big christmas ham. I can carve pumpkins with these theoretical kids at halloween, like I never got to do as a child (but which I did last year with a friend of mine, and which was super fun!). I don't even have to have kids!

I'm free. It's kind of scary. Having a pre-made vision of the future is defnitely easier..I knew exactly what the future would look liike. Now I have no idea. And even though it's kind of scary, it's also kind of nice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

neurological basis for religious experiences?

Finding god in the brain

Moreover, no matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation f God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.

Interesting read...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Stepping off the derech: the role of independence

Last entry I talked about the role of community in helping me step off the derech- the lack of community ties among orthodox judaism, and the new community I built for myself.

Now I guess I want to talk about the role of independence. I'm reading this book for an exam I'm taking on the sociology of the family, and it's about the rise of this time period between youth and adulthood when individuals don't live in their family of origin, but aren't married yet either. The author traces this phenomenon to the rise of interracial and same-sex relationships, since children are no longer under their parent's rule while choosing their future partners. He also connects it to the rise of activist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, since there was this new group of individuals who weren't being controlled by parents, and who had little or nothing to lose, since they weren't married.

I almost didn't have such a time period in my life. No matter how much I begged them, my parents wouldn't let me move away from college, which is why, for the first two years of college i communted almost 4 hours each day (2 hours each way) to get from my parents house in new jersey to my college in new york city. They finally let me start dorming when I was 20 years old...not because they were all of a sudden happy about me being on my own, but becuase i proved that it was financially cheaper for me to dorm (the dorms cost $250 a month and transportation cost almost as I would be paying for everything apart from my dorm and tuition with the help of 1 or 3 part time jobs). Also, as my dad so elequently put it, "he could trust me not to sleep around becuase I had a boyfriend at home." At that point I had been dating my ex about 3 years, and even though we weren't engaged yet, my parents knew we would be soon. And (coincidentally?) my ex had just moved into my parent's neighborhood, about 4 blocks away from my parents and into his own apartment- so my parents probably figured I wouldn't be around him as much if they let me leave to go to a dorm.

It wasn't all independence then though- even though i wasn't home during the week, my parents would only pay for my dorm on the condition that I would come home every weekend for shabbas. They knew I probably wouldn't really be keeping shabbas if I lived in a dorm.

But they were safe in the knowledge that I would soon be married to someone who was jewish (and they had at that point resigned themselves to the fact that he had converted). A year later we got engaged, and we set the wedding date for a few weeks after I would be graduating college. And to me, the fact that I wouldn't have to move back into my parents house after graduating college was a major plus for me when I was thinking about getting married.

Of course, that all went to hell when we broke up. But i had already been applying for graduate programs, on the assumption that my ex and I would move somewhere when I graduated, so that I could go to graduate school. We broke up (in part, i think, becuase he didn't want to follow my career), and a few months later the acceptences started rolling in.

A little known fact about PhD programs is that many of the good programs completely fund their students- not only are students given free tuition, they also get stipends that are presumably high enough to live off of, and health insurence. It's not a huge amount of money (my first year the stipend was around $15k a year- now it's at $18k a year, but I get more money for teaching and working over the summer), but it was definitely enough to live off of.

So that brings me where I am today. I'm compeltely financially independent from my parents. They don't give me a dime, I'm not on their health insurence plan. THey helped me get set up as a graduation present- in that they paid for moving expenses and a bed and a few basic peices of furniture (futon couch, some bookcases, a desk) when I moved to graduate school, but that was over 3 years ago, and they haven't given me anything since. Actually, that's not true- the only money they give me is when I take the train home to their house, since it's expensive, and they know if I had to pay for it myself I would never come.

Now that I have that complete independence, i'm in that place in life where I don't depend on my parents, but I'm not married yet. IF i needed my parents for any money, or even if I lived closer to them than I do now, I doubt I would have the courage or even the ability to date someone not jewish. I would have too much to lose. Even for the first 3 years I lived on my own, I didn't date anyone not jewish- becuase there was still stuff to lose. But given my already strained relationship with my parents, and my financial independence of them, i am able to date someone I want, no matter what his religion.

I know that parents (or my parents) are afraid that if they let their children leave for college they will "become assimilated" and change their values and leave the jewish faith. But I had already left the faith in my head...i just wasn't able to in practice until I was financially independent. I remember when I was 15, counting the days till I was 18 and could move out of my parents house (so I thought). It took a little bit longer for me to be able to support myself compeletely, but once I did, i didn't "assimilate" into contemporary culture...i wasn't influenced by outside people. I was finally able to live the way I wanted to, outside of my parent's control.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

stepping off the derech: the role of community

One of the things i've noticed (at least in the blogger world) is that people who no longer believe in the jewish faith, and yet don't stop following it, are doing so because of "community". That is, they don't want to give up the community ties given to them through their faith.

I was never part of the mainstream jewish community. I was kinda the weird kid in high school who didn't really have a lot of friends in my school (with the exception of the one satmer girl in my school who also was ostrasized for being TOO religious, oddly enough). I never really fit the mold of what jewish girls should look like...i didn't shop at the right stores, I didn't know how to do my hair in the right way, and I certainly didn't know how to not stop questioning pretty much everything that struck me as ridiculous.

However, i was part of A jewish community, which I remain a part of to this day. I was friends with all the other people who didn't quite fit in. They didn't actually go to my high school (for the most part); mostly we found each other because we were the ones hanging out outside of NCSY instead of actually going to hear speeches. We were the ones who were most likely to be kicked out of ncsy all together. and quite a few of my friends were. I remain friends with many of those people to this day.

When I got to college, I found a built in community of jewish people. They weren't all religious...actually most weren't. But there was a pre-made community that I could easily step into, based on mutual faith that I didn't really believe in. It was comforting, and easy to make friends at, even though I (in general) wasn't really good at the whole talking to new people thing until the end of college. I even was the vice president of Hillel for one semester, and was on their executive planning committee for a year or two.

However, towards the end of college was when I started havivng a personal crisis with judaism, and started staying away from hillel. IN fact, my entire senior year of college i maybe went to 1 hillel event. At the same time I was eating non kosher chicken, and then beef for the first time, I had for years not kept shabbas, and I was "coming out" to my parents as not being religious.

At the same time, however, I found a new pre-made community of people. I'm not going to go into the details cause it's not really relevent, but basically i found a group of people who listened to the same kind of music and met up at shows and festivals and stuff. As I became more and more entrenched in this group of people, it became easier and easier to leave the jewish community behind.

I think community IS important, and it plays a very important role in individual's lives. If i didn't have that new (non jewish for the most part) community of people who were there to talk to and hang out with, I don't think it would have been as easy for me to give up the jewish community. And I still am friends with a lot of my (mostly not religious) jewish friends I've met over the years. I just no longer go to organized community driven activities that have to with judiams specifically anymore. Now the only "organized" community-like activities I go to are music shows and music festivals (and parties thrown. by my music friends)

Of course, after college I started grad school, and I went right back to the jewish community again (for a while anyway). Moving to a new city where I knew 1 person was kinda scary, and even though I kept in touch with my music friends through the internet, it was hard not really knowing anyone in a new city. The weekend after I moved here i went to a grad student jewish shabbat dinner, and met up with my friend E, who introduced me to a bunch of other people, and i was once again sucked into the jewish community. That is, until 2006, when I started to again spend most of my free time with thsoe musically inclined folk. Once again, I didn't really need the jewish community, and given a choice between hanging out with my music friends, and hanging out with the jewish community, i picked the music.

So the jewish community has served as a "back up" community to me even as i move farther and farther away from the jewish faith. I went to a jewish event at the begining of last (academic) year..although it wasn't actually faith based, it was a jewish open mike night for grad students. But i once again felt like I did in high I just didn't fit in with the type of people who were going there. The only thing we had in common was that we were born jewish, and once again i found it hard to talk to people with no similarity besides the jewish faith, especially when I didn't share that faith anymore. I literally had nothing to say to these people. I guess the other thing we had in common was that most of us were in grad school, but I don't really like to bitch about grad school all the time, which is really the only thing people in different grad programs do when they meet up with each other. Plus most of the jewish grad students are business students or law students or dental students or med students...and I'm a sociology and demography phd student. Not a lot in common there either.

Monday, October 1, 2007

stepping off the derech part 2

My second "major" transgression came a few weeks after the first. So first I was tearing toilet paper. That summer I volunteered at a local hospital (I was a blood courier! coolest job ever). Every day we volunteered, we got a $5 voucher for a free lunch. There were no kosher options though. Actually, scratch that, there were kosher options, and for the first week or so, I ate reheated frozen dinners. I remember once that the reheated kosher meat thing had purple on the edges...ew. Meat should not be purple.

Anyways, a few weeks later I was eating at the salad bar. I knew that the utensiles they had weren't kashered, and they were probably cutting veggies with the same knife they were making chicken salad out of. I even had the pasta salad once in a while, and I freaked out once when I figured out that what I thought was tuna-pasta salad was actually chicken-pasta salad. My second major step, then, was eating non kosher vegetarian food (and fish) outside of the house. I stayed at that level of observence (kosher-wise) until the end of that was around 6 or 7 years where I didn't go further beyond the realm of kosherut.

My shabbat observence stayed around the same as well..I was tearing toilet paper, but not doing much else. That stayed the same until my senior year of high school..which i'll go into later I guess.

Oh and I guess there was one other thing i was majorly transgressing on at the time...the whole shomer negiah thing. I had a secret boyfriend when i was 15...he was modern orthodox, and sometimes when i told my parents I was going to the hospital, I would take a bus to his house instead. His father had passed away before I met him, and his mother worked full time. So during the day we would spend hours making out in his apartment. We didn't have sex, but we did pretty much "everything but".

Eventually my parents found out about him, and I got grounded for about 4 months, becuase as my parents said, I wasn't allowed to date unless it's for tachlis (marriage) and i clearly wasn't going to get married at age 15. Also they found out that his mother had converted and his father was a cohen..which apparently makes him a bastard or something? (cohen's are not supposed to marry converts). Thus started the long line of boyfriends who weren't jewish enough for my parents, even though up until this year, they were all jewish. The next one had a non-jewish father, the one after that had converted to judiasm, the one after that was adopted and didn't re-convert when he had his bar mitzvah or anything. Out of the 7 or so guys I would call "boyfriends" I think only 2 were fully jewish enough for my parents- and those were two of the shortest relationships I had. Interesting.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Atheists allying?

so the Atheist Alliance is having an international convention this weekend in Washington DC apparently. That just strikes me as you really need a big group of people to sit around talking about how you don't believe in god? Big groups of people meeting up to discuss god strikes me as religious in some way. Kind of like that south park episode that goes into the future and has the United Atheists Allience fighting the Allied Atheist Allegience and the United Atheist League...

Then again, i enjoy talking about atheism with my internets-group of bloggers, so who knows.

I wonder what they're going to talk about there?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stepping off the derech: little things

When reading the blogs of people who have recently become less religious as a result of their atheism, i'm struck by one thing: when people first violate a law of judaism, they all seem to do it in secret. Or rather, it's between them and god. This is probably true of Atheists becuase they don't actually believe in god, and keeping rules when you are alone gets kind of ridiculous if you don't beleive there's a god watching over you.

On the other hand, a friend of mine from college who went on to start the Footsteps organization, said that her first major transgression was calling her grandmother on simchat torah. That seems less alone to me. But (and I've never asked her this myself), I suspect that she's not an atheist; that she's more of an agnostic, and just doesn't believe in the laws of judaism. I could be wrong on that however.

So is my theory true? (and feel free to chime in with your experiences)

It's been 10 years since i took that first step off the derech, but i still remember it clear as day. I was probably around 15 years old, and one shabbat someone had forgotten to put tissues in the bathroom. I had already used the bathroom before noticing this, and at that point my choices were a) don't wipe (ew) or b) tear the toilet paper. I opted for choice b, although that first time I was super careful to tear along the perforation lines so that it wouldn't be THAT bad.

I find a simliarity between this and Lubab no More, who recently talked about turning off an alarm clock on Rosh Hashana as his first "major" transgression. I find two things in common with my experience 1) the secrecy involved- no one else knew he was doing this and 2) the inconvinience factor. He knew that if he didn't turn the alarm off it would go off the next morning and annoy the heck out of him and his wife. When you don't believe in god, and are only practicing judaism to keep up appearences or make other people happy, and no one will find out....well then the next step is starting to transgress when you are alone. The problem is when that leads to not practicing in public, or when you get caught; that's when the social consequences start coming into play.

After that first time tearing the toilet paper it was a slippery slope to just using toilet paper all the time, and not caring about the perforations. I'd say by a month later that was my regular practice on shabbas. However, i'm somewhat joking about the slippery slope thing..because for me, it was a very very slow process, that hasn't really ended yet. There are still so many foods I haven't tried! I refused to try bacon until a few weeks ago, because I was holding on to that last remnent of jewish tradition. Next on the list is lobster I think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friends from a past life

One of the unintended consequences of leaving judaism, is the part where you have problems with friends from the past who still keep Jewish laws. Not problems in terms of disagreements, but just logistical problems in hanging out when you no longer keep the laws.

Now I don't have this problem with most of the people I grew up with. Maybe I was naturally drawn to other skeptics, or maybe I was just in the "bad" crowd, but most of the modern orthodox kids I grew up with are no longer religious by any stretch of the imagination. I've spent saturdays at festivals with people I first hung out with at NSCY shabbatons...only this time we were cooking on saturday,going to music, not following laws of kosher or shabbas. At a recent festival this summer I hung out with no less than 5 such people at once, while we were all not keeping any of the traditions we had grown up with. As many as 15 of my close friends in high school are people I have now actively violated traditions with. In fact, just today I noted that on one of my old friends' profile under "religious views" she had put "Jewish- Without the god part"

Of course I have unintentionally (although to some extent deliberately) put distances between myself and those "old friends' who continued to be religious. Partially because some of them don't want to associate with people who are no longer religious. Although I haven't really found that to be the case in general...even my old Satmer friend (who is still just as satmer) still calls me every rosh hashana to wish me a happy new year, even though we don't really hang out on a regular basis. I also moved about 200 miles away from where i grew up after I finished college, which means only the strong friendship survived.

I still have those 1 or 2 friends though who are still religious though. And hanging out with them is just HARD. Why am I ranting about this? Well a few days ago a friend I grew up with (who went to the same synagogue as me), whom i have kept in touch with through all the years, called to tell ask if we could hang out and if he could crash on my couch tonight, since I'm halfway between where he's coming from and where he's going, He should be here in about 2 hours. And he's one of those friend's who remained religious.

So now I have all these problems like...what is he going to eat? Ok that's really the only problem in this case, but it's making me a bit worried. I haven't kept kosher in years, so obviously he can't eat off the plates in my house,even if we go to the grocery store. But not only that, I have no idea where any kosher resturaunts are in my city. The one time my parents came to visit me down here we went to this place way out in the middle of nowhere. I know in theory that some must exist, since there's a significant jewish population in this city. i just have no idea where, or how to go about finding them. I don't even know anyone in this city who keeps kosher, who I could ask.

But hey, at least this guy is one of the "cool" jews (I refuse to hang out with the other kind). He knows my boyfriend is not jewish, and still wants to meet him. So that's good at least :)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Recent happenings

My rosh hashana dinner with B went awesomely...we had challah and honey, pasta + sweet and sour meatballs from my mom's recipe (which she always makes for jewish holidays) and i even managed to find some pomegranites, which was quite a production (B decided the best way to get the seeds out was to break apart the pomegranites in a giant pot of water...we got a bowl full of seeds that we enjoyed till they ran out yesterday, but it was a pretty messy ordeal. But man, those seeds are awesome! Almost worth going through that again a few more times during pomegranite season).

Talked to both my parents on Erev rosh hashana. My dad tried to convince me I should go to his friend's synagogue downtown...he told me he had already arranged for me to get in for free (all i had to do was name drop him). And it was conservative so just my style! Or not, since I'm an atheist, not conservative. Then my friend/officemate tried to convince me to go to conservative services at my school with her and her (also not jewish) boyfriend. Skipped out on both of those, since they both started at 7, and I wanted to be at home in time to cook for dinner for me and B, which we had at 8.

Oddly a bunch of my not jewish friends have been talking about how they went to rosh hashana dinners at their friend's houses. It's weird how some of my friends who arn't jewish are more plugged into the jewish community than I am...

Also on tuesday while talking to my mother I gave her a list of around 15 recipes I'd like her to send over, and she said she would photocopy them and send them over next week (which I guess is this week). I told her I wanted them so that I can make new and interesting foods for holiday potlucks. That is a complete lie. Really, I'm afraid that if I marry B, my parents will cut me off, so I'm trying to get the stuff I'd my mom's recipes...before that happens. Also, you never know what's going to happen even if they don't cut me off. I would have loved to have gotten my grandmother's rugeluch recipe before she died, but didn't even think of that until it was too late.

In other interesting parent/jew news, it seems my complete and total atheism has opened up some doors for my younger brother. My brother is not religious either, which my parents know about, but which they never have really talked about...he pretends to be religious while he is at home, and they pretend they don't know that all shabbas long he is watching movies on his computer in his room. He lives with them, so is a lot less open than I am about not following much. Also, he is going to this academy thing this semester to train to be in law enforcement. The academy runs all day long, and he lives there during the week. Initially he was planning on going to my house or a friend's house on weekends, since there would be no way he could get back to my parents house before shabbas started. But my father has decided that "some shabbas is better than no shabbas at all" and that my brother is allowed to come over after shabbas has started. It seems he's admitted defeat in getting all his children to be orthodox, but is trying to get all of us to have some connection to my brother can come home after shabbas, and he's trying to get me to go to conservative services.

Since i'm talking about all my family here with no real rhyme or reason, i just found out my other brother, who is doing his post-high school year in israel, was forced to shave his beard off by the rabbi at his school. I thought this was really weird at first, especially given that most rabbis I know have beards. But if you look at it from a cultish/brain washing perspective it makes making everyone at the yeshiva look the same and remove the parts of themselves (literally the parts of themselves in this case) that do not conform, you start breaking down their sense of individual identity. Which makes it a lot easier to impose the identity you want them to have on them. And indeed, after less than a month there, my brother is now talking about how he is becoming more and more religious.

Which brings me to my final story in this entry. When I started dating A, my ex-fiance, who converted to judaism, my parents were freaking out becuase they thought he wasn't jewish enough for me. All that lip service about being cool with really is just lip service. My grandmother even told me she was praying for me to break up with him. My parents (of course) consulted their local rabbi on what they should do about it. His solution? My parents should send me to Israel for a year so that I would be away from him and get back my yiddishkeit. Of course I refused to go, which led to several months of arguing. It was then (around 17) that I stopped going to my parents shul entirely, becuase I was disgusted with that answer. The solution to me dating someone my parents didn't like was to send me off to a foreign country to get brainwashed for a year? Right.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

on weddings and marriages.

Oh weddings. Weddings have been on my mind a bit lately for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which was B dropping the "m" word right and left this morning. (ack! I'm too young!)

Jewish Atheist was blogging about jewish weddings and funerals in response to my post about my dad's reaction to his funeral. Part of what he was talking about was how in some Jewish weddings, people get so involved in the ritual that they forget the couple involved.

When I was planning my wedding back when I was engaged 4 years ago, I wanted this band Soul Farm (now called the Humble Kings, who I incidentally saw at a festival a few weeks back) to play the wedding- they played jewish music, but it was in a more hippie-ish, jam-band style. More my style that is. Soul farm played secular music (that is, music in english), but also plays traditional jewish music, including a song i believe they wrote called "Ani l'dodi" from that line "ani l'dodi v'dodi lee" (I am for my love and my love is for me) which I thought would be great to walk down the aisle to.

My parents balked at the idea of having a non-traditional band at the wedding, even though they played jewish music. They wanted the "traditional" jewish band, which includes some really bad musicians playing keyboards, drums, a trumpet or two, maybe an electric guitar...anyone who has been to an OJ wedding know what I'm talking about. Not very high up on the musical talent list, and music has always been very important to me. The real point of contention here was the jewish dancing...i HATE jewish dancing, it seems stupid to me to run around in a circle, that would not be entertaining to me, and I didn't want it. I wanted my awesome jewish jam band, or if not, just some classical music playing during dinner.

But of course, even though OJ's say that the jewish wedidng is all about making the couple happy, it's not REALLY about making the couple happy, and the morning that me and my ex broke up, I had finally given in on the jewish band thing. My parents insisted that I need Jewish dancing or it wouldn't be a "real wedding."

All this is to say the other day it hit me..if I had married A, my ex, I would still be stuck in the jewish world. I would probably be going to my parents or his parent's place for rosh hashana this week, I would have to go to orthodox events on a regular basis, and I would have to pretend like I was still orthodox. Indeed, from what I know of A and his new wife, that's exactly what they're doing..pretending to be orthodox, but secretly not keeping shabbas or kosher. So it would be like the wedding would have been...our marriage would be more about keeping other people happy while secretly hating every minute of it.

So maybe A breaking up with me was the best thing that ever happened to me. And maybe dating B and being forced to confront my issues of belief, which I spent many years being ambivilant about and intentionally not thinking about, was even better.

Tommorow is rosh hashana. It'll also be 8 months since I started dating B. I've decided not to go to the grad student dinner..instead me and B will be having dinner together. There will be challah and honey (my favorite part of rosh hashana was always challah dipped in honey), and sweet and sour meatballs that i just made from my mom's recipe (that she always serves on holidays). Ohh and a pomegranite if I can find one in the grocery store tommorow! There will also be no prayers, and no wine, and no religion of any kind. Only two atheists marking 8 months together, and the start of a sweet new year.

Friday, September 7, 2007

In other leaving fundementalist religion news

Warren Jeffs' 'lost boys' find themselves in strange world

ST. GEORGE, Utah (CNN) -- Franky admits he's conflicted about the life of polygamy he has left behind along with the nearly three dozen brothers and sisters he's banished from seeing.

He also has mixed feelings about the man he once considered a religious prophet, polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, he says, was good to him. He taught him the values of family and the need for structure. "He ain't what everybody portrays him to be," the 21-year-old says.

But still Franky rejected Jeffs' polygamous lifestyle and the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). He's now trying to make it on his own, one of the estimated 400 so-called "lost boys" who were kicked out of Jeffs' sect or left on their own.

It's not a term he particularly likes or embraces. "I'm not lost, because I ain't running around in a circle. No, thank you," he says.

He pauses to ponder what the term might mean. "Lost in the head? Lost as in: They don't know how to cope with it and deal with it and move on?"

Gary Engels, an investigator for the state of Arizona, has seen many "lost boy" cases. The reasons for leaving are many. Sometimes, it's because parents are too strict. Other times, it's for minor reasons.

"They leave because they have been caught talking to a girl or if they have been caught out at one of these beer parties or just not obeying the rules," Engels says.

He adds, "How a father or a mother can suddenly take a child and kick them out and never speak with them again, that's just unbelievable."

Jury selection began Friday for Jeffs, who is accused of being an accomplice to rape by arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Timeline »

About a half dozen "lost boys" filed suit against Jeffs and the FLDS, saying they were thrown out of the FLDS community to allow older men to have more wives. The suit was partially settled earlier this year, with an agreement for a $250,000 fund to be created for housing assistance, education help and other aid to boys who leave the FLDS.

Jeffs' trial is unrelated to that suit.

Franky, who was not part of the lawsuit, left the sect three years ago -- just weeks after his father got kicked out of the sect. He decided to leave because he didn't want to suffer the same fate as his dad, growing up in the FLDS and then having his family "pulled away."

Franky left behind three mothers and about three dozen siblings. Two of his sisters are married to Jeffs. He's not allowed to contact any of his family and nervously agreed to speak with CNN. Members of the FLDS have been banned from speaking with outsiders.

"[Jeffs] would be very angry that I am talking to you," Franky says.

Quite simply, he says they're not supposed to talk "to you outside people."

Learning to cope is another thing altogether. When the boys leave their structured religion-filled lives in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, they find themselves totally unprepared for society. Most have no money, no real education and nowhere to live.

Dozens of "lost boys" gather in homes like Robbie Holm's to blow off steam and drink.

"They're going to do what they feel is good to them," says Holm. "Drinking alcohol and drugs are one of those things they want to do."

Franky says he soaked up pot, ecstasy and cocaine to "cope with the outside world and deal with where and what it is."

"I couldn't have done it without the drugs," he says.

But it came with a price: He went to jail for drug possession.

"It's almost a natural consequence for them to get involved to some extent or another with alcohol or drugs," says Greg Hoole, a Salt Lake City-based attorney who represented the "lost boys" in the civil suit.

One group is trying to help the boys and young men adapt. St. George, Utah, just down the road from the FLDS headquarters, has become an epicenter for the lost boys. Next month, a home will become refuge for 10 "lost boys."

Franky and others who have left the sect have volunteered their time to paint, tile, and clean up the house and call it simply "the house off bluff."

Michelle Benward, a psychologist and activist for the lost boys, sees it as much more.

"It's really a transitional home. It's an opportunity for them to have a place to stay, food to eat, and a time to sort of adjust," she says. "We like to think of it as a bridge between the two communities."

As for Franky, he remains perplexed about the man he once knew as "prophet." He still admires Jeffs in some ways and comments that "he enlightened my view of how to perceive things."

"He figured out how to distill people's hearts into loving one another unconditionally."

Sometimes, he still longs for his old life. "I miss the society of it. Somebody that cares. Somebody that you know that you can go home and have a good plate of food, home-grown cooking sat in front of you."

That cozy home cooking may soon get replaced with a heap of gossip. Jeffs' trial is expected to put the highly secretive organization's beliefs and practices of faith, power, isolation and sex front and center.

"It will be very quiet out here all through the trial. I am sure they will be fasting and praying for his release," says Engels. "Most of them believe that God's going to step forward and free him anyway and punish us 'bad-doers.' "

Engels believes there will be celebration among the flock if Jeffs is freed. If he's convicted, Engels predicts, the FLDS will "go more underground and they will continue to scatter out into the world."

I've bolded the parts i thought were most interesting.

Father drama continued

Today is shloshim for my grandmother, meaning my dad can shave and do whatever other things you can do 30 days after your parent dies according to Judaism. My dad (for some reason?) is giving a speech, and he (for some reason) emailed the speech to me. The speech is basically a rehash of the eulogy, with a lot more religious stuff added in (the eulogy also had religious stuff, but that was contianed to a page...this is more like 6 pages of religious stuff and 1 page of stuff about his mother).

Anyways, after that long email I sent him that said how insulted I was by the eulogy, when he kept saying how he has to make sure his children are jewish, to which he responded that he hears what i'm saying, all that stuff is in this speech too! (wow that was a run on sentance) What the hell! It's like I told him how i felt about it, he acknowledged it, and then did the same thing all over again! argh. If he has to do this bullshit, why does he have to send me these speeches!

Anyways here are some excepts:
Many people have asked me how I am doing and how this has changed my life. When speaking to other people who have also lost a parent I am impressed that the most concrete way this has changed our lives is that we are constantly under pressure to keep track of the minyanim and try to make it to every kaddish we can.

wow, so the way my dad was most affected is that now he has to go to minyan every day? that's some cold shit right there...

The first reference in the Torah to something like the kaddish prayer occurs when Yaakov is surrounded by his sons and is about to prophesize to them. He loses his "ruach Hakodesh and suspects that one of the them might give up their faith and Jewish culture in the future. They respond together by saying "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad." Don’t worry, we believe in the same one G-d and faith that you believe in. Yaakov responds by saying "Boruch Shem Kovod malchuso l’olom Voed." Since this is a prayer normally said only by the angels, we whisper it except for Yom Kippur when we are compared to angels. Since the angels don’t speak Aramaic, the literal translation is "Yeheh shmey rabbah mevorach l’olam ulolmay olmayah" That, we can say out loud.

Think about it. When we say the kaddish we are doing the same thing that Yaakov and his sons did as he was about to pass away. We take a painful moment in our lives when a parent has passed away and we honor our parents by reaffirming our faith in G-d’s name and his eternal plan by following Jewish customs, culture and traditions. We are always aware that we stand on the shoulders of giants going back to our patriarchs and matriarchs thousands of years. In a sense, it is very much like the Olympic torch tradition. One runner hands the torch off to the next one as the event continues. By saying the kaddish prayer, we take up that torch and promise to keep running with it until the time comes to hand it over to our children in turn.

This olympic torch metaphore was in the eulogy, and i don't think it's that inspiring. But yeah again, my dad's lesson o' the day here is that when your parents dies you realize you have to be jewish for some reason. Also that this means he has to make me jewish.

The mystics teach us that we help elevate the neshama by repeating the Kaddish prayer every day, magnifying and elevating Hashem’s name. Our sages tell us that, even more important than repeating the kaddish prayers, we can magnify and honor G-d’s name by observing and following our mitzvos and traditions. This, more than repeating the kaddish, acts as a tikkun for the neshamah of the deceased.

When we say the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer we pray that the soul be bound in the bond of the living. What exactly does that mean, the bond of the living? Some interpret this to mean that we only actualize ourselves and truly live in Olem Haba’ah, in Heaven. Another way to interpret this might be that the souls of our loved ones will always be bound with us, the living survivors so long as we continue to cherish their memories in our hearts, follow their examples and maintain the Jewish traditions that made them who they are. By commemorating my mother’s shloshim together today, that is what my father, my sister, myself and the other survivors, family and friends, can only hope to do.

ok so maybe i'm overreacting. Ok i'm pretty sure i'm overreacting. But i'm tired of getting mussur speaches via email, which are disguised as eulogys and shloshim speeches. So we can't love our dead relatives unless we maintain their jewish traditions? My grandmother wasn't even religious! She just sent my dad to jewish school so he wouldn't have to go to public school, and then he became a baal tshuva! I don't understand this idea that when someone dies you start going crazy religious...i mean my grandmother died, and I don't suddenly believe in god.

Ok so here is my response i probably won't send (i probably won't send any response, becuase at this point i've just about given up)(also it's kinda mean)

Dear Dad,
Glad to hear that you have become even more of a fundementalist jew since your mother has died. I still remain an atheist. As such, if you have to tell all your friends about how you are more religious now that your mother has died, please don't forward the speeches to me. I have about the same level of interest in hearing about your religious revelations as you have in hearing about my non-jewish boyfriend.
Abandoning Eden

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Is judaism also an ethnicity?

In response to someone commenting on my blog about being an atheist living in jerusalem, I wrote a comment that totally went off on a tangent:

Well it may be strange, but you have the advantage that in Israel there are a whole bunch of "secular jews"; jewish people who identify as jewish, and who may keep some traditions (like holidays, sabbath meal) but otherwise are not jewish in any way. When I was in israel on birthrite back in college, I stayed an extra week or two and stayed by a friend who was at bar elan for the year...we went to shabbas dinner at a family like that, where they had a meal together but took the religion out; so they had challah and wine at the table, but they didn't eat it first or say blessings over it or anything.

To some extent, that's the kind of jew I am now; I still like going to non-religious shabbat potluck dinners at my friends' places, where we have challah and wine. Next week I might be going to a rosh hashana dinner at my grad school (mostly to catch up with old friends, and becuase one of my friends doesn't want to go by herself and keeps begging me to come with her) but I'm not going to services.

I think just becuase we are atheists doesn't mean we have throw the baby out with the bathwater...the bathwater being the religious aspects, and the baby being the unique cultural/ethnic background we come from. Just a silly example, but I still love yerushalmi kugel, and will make it occasionally..just like my boyfriend (who is from a sicilian heritage) makes this crazy sicilian meat sauce thing that is awesome, even though he's rejected catholisism. The problem is that for jewish people, the culture is all intermingled with the religion, while (maybe because other religious groups are larger and more spread out), in other religions people have their cultural/ethnic background, and then their religious background.

so I wonder. Is judaism also an ethnicity? Is there a way to seperate this jewish identity/ethnicity from the religous aspects? Can we (and by we I mean atheists) celebrate Rosh Hashana next week the way people in American who are of Mexican origin might celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Or (perhaps more appropriately) the way Chinese people celebrate Chinese New Years?

As I mentioned in this comment, one of my fellow grad students keeps asking me if I will go with her to the grad student rosh hashana dinner next wednesday, since she doesn't want to go alone. I keep putting her off..I know i definitely don't want to go to services, but do I still want to sit in a room where there will be kiddush/hamotzi/benching/maybe zmirot? The answer to that is definitely no. But on the other hand, do i give up my ethnic background and stop celebrating jewish holidays entirely becuase I don't believe in the religion? I'm not sure what the answer to that is.

I like celebrating new years in september, becuase for me (and anyone else on an academic schedule) september really is the begining of the new year. I like dipping challah/apples in honey to have a sweet new year. I think that's an awesome tradition, and there's no real religious significance to that and many other traditions (like eating a new fruit) that I can see. Yes I know that you're supposed to eat a new fruit because of the shechiyanu on the second day or whatever...but come on! That sounds to me like a religous explenation that was put on a tradition after the fact. Like the church claiming christmas has anything to do with christ, when really it was just the appropriation of the already widespread winter solstice celebration.

I guess the real question is, why should former religous jews who are now atheists reject everything about judaism? And the other side of that is, how do you seperate the religious aspects from the cultural/ethnic aspects of judaism?

I'm still not sure if I'm going to go to that dinner or not, especially since lately i've been feeling very alienated from the jewish community around here...i've went to two or three jewish grad student events last semester, and didn't really feel like I had anything in common with the other people there. But maybe if I don't, i'll go find some challah and honey and a pomegranite, and share them with my boyfriend.