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:

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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.