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).