if(order && destruction){return true};

I was walking with a friend the other day when he saw my Ahavas Yisrael pin, which I happen to cherish dearly and it’s the only blatantly Jewish pin on that particular jacket. I had just told him I was a Jewish Studies major. “Wow, you must be really into it,” he said. “Not really,” I said, “not really at all anymore.”

I explained it to him and he was the only one so far not to say , optimistically, naively, “You can still be Jewish!” He said something very interesting. He said: “Maybe you were looking for a sense of order.”

It makes sense. It makes so much sense. It makes enough sense to possibly qualify as real closure. It started in community college in 2010, when I wanted to be a philosophy major. I wanted objectivity. I was really against Continental philosophy. I wanted to be against something. I liked the raw logicality of analytical philosophy, and I hated anything that threatened it. I liked my logic classes; ethics I found wishy-washy. Interestingly, that was also around the time when I started thinking I wanted a different way of life…I had just come back from art school, after a failed relationship (if you want to call it that), a failed music career (if you want to call it that), and a failed freshman year of school (literally…I dropped out). Music–what I had always assumed I would do since age ten–had failed me. Being gay had certainly failed me. I had originally enrolled in community college wanting to be a business major (!), but ultimately chose philosophy. By the end of my two years there, I was hooked on Judaism. It was only natural that I would end up choosing Orthodoxy.

This need for order–along with my new goal of becoming a philosophy professor–led me to get something like a 3.9 so I could be accepted to William & Mary (a decidedly traditional school, which was exactly what I wanted). I was still planning to convert to Orthodoxy. I changed my major from philosophy to religion to Jewish studies. I was going to go to Hadar when I graduated, or Drisha. I had it all planned out. And by the end of my first year at William & Mary, I was basically on an inevitable path. Why stop at Modern Orthodoxy? I took an Aish course online, and considered joining their women-only BT seminary. Never mind that I wasn’t technically Jewish. It was painful to think about. It disrupted my order.

That was just the beginning of my growing sense of disorder and liminality. But I was still ignoring it at that time. I withdrew from my classes at W&M and transferred to Brooklyn College. I bought my food from Pomegranate and my undershirt shells from the Shell Station, and not without tons of stares. I didn’t care. Soon I would fit into the framework, if I would only try. I was talking via email to a BT rabbi who lived in Brooklyn, and he was giving me so much encouragement. “I know how you feel, since I felt that way too,” he’d say. I found a minyan and a rabbi who would convert me, and I filed a conversion application with the RCA. Everything was going really perfectly, and of course I considered it a sort of divine will, although I never would have admitted it except to other very frum, religious people.

But then things started changing. I started noticing the stares more. I started getting annoyed by them. I started getting annoyed at other converts, people who seemed too religious, too by-the-book, annoyed at the texts, annoyed at Orthodox Brooklyn.

And then my annoyance disappeared and was replaced by disappointment. Everyone around me seemed to be doing just what their parents did. The “Orthodox culture” everyone had told me about was appearing all around me, suffocating me. I noticed that people were just as religious about having seltzer water on the table as they were having challah on it. I noticed people didn’t finish birkat hamazon sometimes. I noticed that gemara had gaping holes in it, and I noticed that people didn’t seem to mind. I noticed that people were forming their own pathways to get around the inconsistencies. And I noticed that those pathways were called “customs.” Judaism wasn’t being held up by a timeless and flawless system; it was being held up by people.

And, just like that, my sense of order was shattered.

That is what I try to tell people when they insist that I shouldn’t have left Judaism after coming out. I was accepted by the community that I had formed around me. Sure, that encouraging rabbi had stopped emailing me. But my real friends were still there. It wasn’t that. Homosexuality proves to me that Judaism is a flawed system; a human one. Its only answers were to either ignore it or to require celibacy. It took me a long time to get over this, obviously. I felt deceived. When you think you were brought into a situation by some kind of divine imperative, told the system has no flaws, and you find one, and the very people who told you there were no flaws have no answer for the flaw, of course you are going to feel deceived.

I don’t know whether to decide that I need to find my order elsewhere, or that searching for order will ultimately fail us. I used to think that order was a sign that God existed. But there is so much disorder in order that I am not sure anymore. If God exists, it is certainly not in the ordered way that books describe. I used to be completely fascinated by the idea of God, and now, frankly, thinking about it makes me nervous. I lost my sense of ego to my idea of God for two years; and now facing that void scares me. The sense of order that I got from being religious gave way to complete bewilderment. It was really like going from having everything–all the answers–to having nothing at all. I felt as if I had lost everything, and all I could do was pick up the pieces. I had built up trust in this thing for two years, and it was gone within a month.

I’m not sad, though. I was sad at first, and really just mortified and embarrassed for quite a while. I’m not really embarrassed to talk about it now, because I think that everyone goes through something similar. But now I still have to tell people I am a Jewish Studies major. “It’s a long story,” I say, although I am getting a little tired of the story. I am feeling more and more distant from my summer in New York, although it seemed so real and immediate and important at the time.

It makes sense that I am newly interested in computer science, since about six months ago. It’s tiring that my interests change almost every year, but there is a common theme at least. Logic, order, reasoning.

And religion couldn’t stand up to that after all.

my disillusion with affiliation, or: orthodoxy when you’re less than 100%

me: “they were talking about marriage and i was like really guys? i was the heckler.”
amy: “i knew when you left that you’d end up being the heckler”

It’s interesting. I’ve come back to W&M and in some ways it’s like I never left. I still have my gemara open in the middle of the dining hall (sitting by myself, usually). People still come up to me asking “what language is that?” or “is that a Bible?” At least now I know how to learn gemara instead of just reading the ArtScroll commentary (thanks Drisha!) and at least for now I’m a little nicer to the people who ask me what language that is.

But it’s also not really a pressing issue in my life that much. I think I’m having a quarter-life crisis because nothing is as clear as it was before I left. In fact, a lot of times I think I have nothing left. I think this sometimes when my friends from New York don’t text me back, so I think such things as “my entire time there was a lie” etc. I know it wasn’t, really. But in a way it was nicer having that idealized view of New York. I still like it. I just know I can’t be a part of it. So now what? If hadar doesn’t accept me, I don’t think there is anything left for me in judaism. (I mean, I could still go into jewish communal service if I wanted, but I wouldn’t have a true blue community or anything.) But if hadar does accept me I’ll have to reevaluate what I want from judaism all over again. Like, starting from the beginning. Either way, whatever I’m going to do next is a mystery to me.

Just like it was very weird to sit in the shul on yom kippur wondering whether I’d even be religious anymore at all in the next few weeks, it’s also very weird to learn gemara not knowing whether you’re going to give up out of frustration in a couple of weeks/months. You can only go so far by yourself, you know. And any time I’m feeling exasperated with my secular life/friends, I think “well I still have judaism” and then I think “well maybe I won’t still have judaism.”

Quarter life crisis.

There is something still brewing though and that’s the idea that the denominations are an illusion. I’m realizing that this whole thing…it’s all just me and judaism like david and goliath. It’s all just about that and what I want to do with it. There’s no orthodoxy or conservative or reform. Obviously, I think Conservative and Reform are especially an illusion, but I also am thinking more and more that orthodoxy is its own self-perpetuating box. It’s made out of people. It’s made by people. I mean, you do hear “we’re orthodox, so such and such” as often as you hear “we’re conservative, so such and such.” Things can be halachic but not orthodox. Things can be orthodox and have nothing to do with halacha. I know that community is important but sometimes some of these things that make orthodoxy what it is (and so stable) leave people out. And that’s how I know it’s not real. Orthodoxy leaves jews out and how can judaism leave jews out? Sure it can make demands and say that it’s possible not to live up to those demands. But judaism can’t just leave whole groups of people out in a ditch. That’s no religion; that’s just a social group.

And orthodoxy isn’t a democratic process. There are still authorities and hierarchies and structures. I’m realizing this. I’m still as radical as I’ve always been and I don’t really love all that. I can see how it’s necessary for the crazy world we live in, but I simply can’t abide by these structures.

This is where things got weird. People would tell me, “well you better stop trying because that’s non-negotiable.” People also told me, “you can become orthodox and then if you’re not observant after that, fine but you’ll still be jewish at least.” And I learned from that: you can’t go by what people tell you. I tried to abide by the structures. I went to aish classes (!) and I wore my long black skirt. But you can put all that external stuff on the outside and that doesn’t mean it’s gonna change anything that’s inside.

Being gay is not a choice and I know because it’s not very fun most of the time. So it’s not like I have this great homosexual “lifestyle” as they say to go back to when I’m rejected by judaism for being gay. It’s not like I’m in some great relationship where I can say “oh I don’t even care about judaism anymore cause I have this great thing in my life.” A couple of people who I really liked talking to stopped talking to me when I told them or when (presumably) they found out. They were both orthodox and very kind to me until (presumably) they realized WHO I TRULY WAS~

And that was pretty sad but then again, I had people tell me “you should just give up now it’s not worth it” and I had people tell me “you can still be jewish and gay it’s not a big deal.” And I learned from that: you can’t go by people who reject you. They have their own interpretations. But orthodoxy is one of those interpretations; one that is a whole system and as I said before if one piece breaks the whole thing breaks. And even though you shouldn’t worry about what people think it gets pretty grating when everyone and their mom wants to tell you that you’re single-handedly ruining the orthodox system.

And it’s for something I’m not really getting much enjoyment out of or anything anyways. I wanted to be orthodox because it seemed most genuine to me and I wanted the least haskala-influenced interpretation available. Whatever I was going to end up being, I knew it would be influenced by orthodox thought. But even orthodoxy isn’t purely jewish. It’s been influenced by other cultures and eastern europe and even conservative and reform. Orthodox is a very nice way to be but I can’t be it. I wish I could just learn gemara myself and know all the answers but I’m still not knowledgable enough to know whether there even was a time in jewish history when people just learned for themselves and didn’t rely on a rabbi OR custom. It’s the minhag that will get you sometimes.

The thing that was getting to me the most was the fact that only reform and recon accept patrilineal. I wasn’t thinking about the majority of jews who wouldn’t care. I was just thinking about denominational lines. And even though I never wanted to be any denominations, I couldn’t stop thinking outside denominational lines. This is why I would really like to know hadar’s position on the issue, which I can guess based on hearsay, but if they’re pro- then the whole linear denominational “well only reform accepts it so I can’t be halachic” thing would go out the window. Really, at the “end of the day” (as everyone at drisha would say) at the moment I really only care what hadar would say because that’s where I think my views align. Which is why I really need to go there and find out if that’s actually true once and for all.

I don’t feel like a convert and I also stopped living as if i’m trying to convert. Therefore I stopped feeling like I had to pick a denomination. It’s very freeing I suppose. It’s not something I could just CHOOSE to stop feeling but this whole brooklyn thing where I was unwanted for something I didn’t even choose was quite jarring.

See what happens when you play by the rules?

 

the million hour work week

So, while applying to the summer hadar program, I discovered that apparently hadar believes in 30 hour days because it is an 8 to 9 schedule! That’s like 10,000 hours! I mean, I knew it would be like drisha on steroids, and I’m not THAT scared, but I hope I can keep up, If they accept me, that is. I did include my whole “my mom isn’t Jewish, yeah sorry, what can I do about it” thing, and I know that’s kind of a standing issue for them, so I might just be a liability.

They also want you to daven there and have shabbos there and have sunday evening lectures there. I feel like that, if anything, would make me decide what to do about this fork in the road. After two months living in the west end shul, I think I’d have an answer. I mean, I practically lived at drisha in july, and look what happened then.

I think I might go to grad school for social work. I say this after I realized how many schools apparently offer concurrent Jewish Studies or Jewish Communal Service certificates along with the MSW degree, and if that’s such a thing I think that’s a pretty good sign. And my Jewish Studies degree could actually be worth something, maybe. What I don’t like is that a lot of the schools will only let you concentrate in boring things, like “Old Age” or “Child Welfare.” There is at least one school, University of Toronto, that will let you concentrate in “Diversity.” There’s also Smith, which obviously has lots of “How to Treat LGBT Clients” courses. I guess that’s pretty neat.

don’t judge me i’m on rumspringa

I’ve been doing this since I was about 18 or 19. That’s really weird to think about! So far “all of my adult life,” as they say, has been Judaism-themed. Or, at the beginning, philosophy-themed and philosophy of religion-themed. It’s very strange! I wonder if other people’s lives have themes. Probably not. I mean, if you got really into your major your life could become themed. I was really into theater for a while and I guess that kinda became a theme. I just assume that people pick majors that they don’t care about that much (English is a popular default), and that’s it.

I’m just more into Judaism, academically speaking at least. That has been exponentially exploding into an all-consuming hobby. Jewish sociology. I asked for Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism for my birthday, and The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World and Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution for xmas. (Last xmas I asked for some halacha book I’d found on feldheim or something.) It feels quite strange to still be reading so much about it when I’m all otd now. The BORDERLANDS! It’s like cultural appropriation now.

It’s kind of stressful because I am still a Jewish Studies major. Well ok, it was still weird even then. Especially when jews would ask me: “So, what’s your major?” “I’M STUDYING YOU PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Just awk.

So I’m on rumspringa. I mean i know I haven’t made a completely clean break, as evidenced by the fact that I’m reading Orthodox by Design right now. But no one’s really mentioned it as much as I thought would happen. Of course, there was my friend’s “So you’re not Jewish anymore?” which couldn’t have been worded more terribly but whatever. I guess if people see you wearing pants they pretty much assume and don’t have to ask questions.

I’m feeling the pressure both to go back as it were (because of my jewish studies degree like what else am I gonna do), and to never do that again (which is both external and internal, mostly internal because I don’t know how I got to the way I was and I don’t know how I’d go back to the way I was…also, not being FFB is a huge strike against your future happiness and integration, at least in new york).

I always kept saying I “didn’t like institutions,” but I have to admit that without certain institutions (drisha, hadar, and i’m just assuming NHC and perhaps pardes among others) I wouldn’t really have much reason to try anymore. And maybe that would have been a good thing.

Might as well keep plowing on and stop over thinking it..

“i got no choice, i got no choice at all”

I said I was gonna leave Judaism forever. That’s pretty funny. I was hoping to avoid all the questions. It didn’t really work. How could I even begin to explain? I don’t even know how to explain it to myself. Then I decided I would just be cultural, you know like the people I used to think were so lazy, I made latkes.

But life with religion is much stranger. Judgmental OCD people who use religion as an excuse to boss you around. Ladies who daven weird next to you in shul and you make fun of them in your mind but then you feel guilty but then they look over at you with glaring eyes cause you’re not singing the songs and you go right back to making fun of them in your mind. Feeling like EVERYTHING that happens to you must have a rhyme and reason…but trying to figure it out gives you an angry headache. Feeling guilty all the time over everything. Wondering why you put yourself in a community that’s 70% retired people and 30% really, really “normal” people who like to wear earrings and floral print dresses on shabbos. And sometimes velvet house robes. Not being able to cook for three day yontifs because your roommate takes over the stove, even though you don’t care at all and would cook all yontif long if she wasn’t home. And being with people who literally can’t stop talking or thinking about religion for ten minutes was really a culture shock, even though I was and possibly still am that person.

-Me, circa October 2012

I found myself wanting to go around the block for another round. I don’t know why. Maybe cause I’m in the same environment I was in where this all started; if I couldn’t handle New York then how do I know it’s not just me being an exhibitionist where I know I’m the only one so I can really do whatever I want all day long? It’s a different set of rules when you’re somewhere where there are, like, other Jews who actually know what they’re doing etc.

Here’s something stupid. I know this is stupid; that’s why I’m saying it actually. I remember when I first came to W&M and I was still trying to find a room; I remember deciding the logistics of davening in front of a roommate. (And by roommate I mean roommate, not housemate.) Would I wait till they left? Would I tell them what was going on? I had decided I would just daven in front of a roommate. And I thought about it a lot. And I started to get pretty excited about it. I don’t think I knew how to differentiate “being a complete religious exhibitionist like the worst of the worst” and “doing necessary administrative details because there is no private realm and there is no public realm.” And I decided I was a terrible showy ostentatious person, look at me not only being a flaming BT but being a flaming BT in front of the goyim like that is just plain pointless really, and then I wondered why the christians tried to talk to me about it all the time.

I guess it was disgusting but necessary part of the journey to be like that, I look back now and I was really flaming and judgmental, at least I know I wasn’t the only one in the world. It’s always extremes with me. Of course I was gonna try to leave Judaism forever. (EDIT: I was so hilarious though!!!)

I kind of knew immediately that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s weird to think about.

I’m writing a book, by the way. No, really.

It sounds so dumb. I know it does. For one thing, why am I so sucked in? Also, I think I had a pretty solid theological reason for leaving religion forever? How can I just crawl back cause I’m remembering how good it was? What about the bad times, eh? Do I have to feel bad now about all the bad things I did before?

Does this mean I’m back on the derech now? I’m not keeping kosher or anything. I’m really not doing much except for a bunch of solitary contemplations.

I want to daven again but I don’t know if or how I could go back just like that. Would the whole cycle start all over again? After all, I’m about to start W&M in January…aaaaaaaaaaall over again. (Well, OK, i’ll be a senior this time.) Why am I doing this?

So I want to daven again but when I get in the mood it’s not even zman anymore. How do you deal with that one? I don’t know what to say without my siddur, man. I’m not gonna start saying maariv anyways. And then what? If I do that do I have to start getting up for shaharis all the time again? I can just see it all over again…the cycle of guilt (“oh no I didn’t get up for shaharis!”) At least it’s not like last time where I didn’t know what I was doing so I felt like it had to be more methodical. I really, really, wanted to get into the habit of getting up for shaharis. Maybe that was what was stressing me out. Well nonetheless, I’m not so methodical these days of course.

And then what? Do I have to start keeping kosher again? Maybe just sort of (I like those steamfresh vegetable and cheese sauce packets, dammit). Should I, like, bentch again?

I already did hanukkah, really just cause it’s like the light of my childhood, not cause I’m trying to be religious. I don’t want to rush into things. After all that, you know. I don’t even know what I’d do first if I wanted to try to be frum again. What’s even the point anyway. I live in RURAL VIRGINIA!

I like Nick Cave; I don’t even care.

i am young and stupid

Car radio: “The husband is the giver, and the wife is the receiver…”
Me: “Whoa!”
Friend: “Oh, did I miss a turn?”
Me: “No, it was just something on the radio….’the wife is the receiver?!'”
Friend: “Oh yeah, that’s something you have to grow up with to really get the full implications of…”

I was telling my roommate a couple days ago, it feels really strange to be not religious no mo, going through the same situations which you had seen through a religious lens just a few months ago. My roommate keeps inviting me to Aish talks. Before, I would have taken any opportunity. I really liked kiruv. But now, while I still think it’s good for what it is and I’m not disparaging it, I’m a little annoyed by it myself. And it’s interesting now to see the same events without blindsides.

My roommate won’t stop talking about this thing she learned in Aish where you know all the Torah in the womb then the angel punches you in the face and that’s why you have that weird philtrum above your lip. I learned that in Aish, too. It’s one of those things they teach you so you can start to see God and Torah in everything, although in another light if you consider it’s just explaining why we have a moral compass AND a philtrum, it’s also a cute folktale. But they still teach it, and in Aish you can’t really tell what’s a folktale and what they actually think really happens. That line was definitely blurred when I was doing Aish.

Anyways, I was walking with my roommate and a friend down the street and my roommate started talking about it again and then my friend started talking about it and they asked me what I thought.

“I know…um, I know the medical version.” I told them about how the face forms at approximately three months, and that indentation is just where it gets done fusing together.

“Oh, that makes sense,” my friend said. “That actually supports the idea about the angel, in a way…” They just couldn’t give it up. It reminded me of myself; I went through a long time where I’d spend a whole lot of effort making sure every new thing I learned somehow corroborated with the Aishish things I’d learned. It really did go from just wanting, like, the exodus to be true to finding it very important that everything I learned in Aish be true. It made me feel like if everything they told me wasn’t true, then nothing could be true. I was walking on a thin wire. I don’t blame Aish, though. That’s what I wanted at the time. I was tired of the wishy-washy answers I was getting from liberal rabbis. But I think if you do start to question before the process is complete, you’re going to fall off the wagon.

So I fell off. And I’m going through these situations with a whole different view of the world.

A slightly irritated view.

I don’t know why it annoys me now.

Maybe cause I know that Judaism was the best thing I had in my life, and now if it’s just another dumb thing, then what does that make my life?

This Must Be The Place: third annual obligatory tisha b’av post

I read an article in the Jewish Week yesterday by this guy who said that sometimes we have to subject ourselves to pain so we can “better understand the pain of others.” I do not comprehend. This does not seem like a sound reason to subject yourself to pain. It sounds nice, it sounds kind of crunchy if you really want to know, but as David Byrne says, “You’re talking a lot / But you’re not saying anything.” Are we doing this to understand how in some countries they don’t have enough food? Fine. What do you want me to do about it? How is fasting helping them? Furthermore, when did this become the reason for tisha b’av? There’s bringing “modern meaning” to it, and there’s painting over the whole fact that it’s damn hard to connect to a holiday about a Temple which according to Rambam was only supposed to be temporary anyway.

I get that it’s not about wanting to rebuild the Temple, like actually rebuild it, at least not necessarily. You can look at it other ways, too. Someone in my class said that instead of mourning the Tmeple, we’re mourning the fact that we don’t even know why we’re mourning. Still, it’s not really high on my list of sad things in my life right now. I am more busy having teenage boy hormonal outbursts than I am worrying about a highly theoretical Temple right now. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s worthless. I’m having trouble with religion in general right now, and that’s just personal and has nothing to do with tisha b’av.

It’s really hard to think about the Temple and religion and theology for so long, and to have all your activities dictated by whether or not it appropriately shows that you’re sad about the Temple, for so long, when there is something in your life so much more immediate. When there’s not, it’s fine, and I can go long distances, but when something comes up, something that distracts my every thought, it’s a bit hard to think about religion, especially when you’re not really seeing any immediate results. It’s hard to think about God when he seems so distant and not very active.

This day–more than others for some reason–just makes me frustrated. Why can’t I listen to music? That’s not how I mourn at all, Temple-related or otherwise. And if Judaism is so “life-positive,” as they say, why are there three weeks straight of mandatory mourning? Who does this? Why are there so many fast days? These are the things you don’t notice for a while, until one day you do notice. And for three weeks, you’d think we’d have a better explanation than “it helps us understand others’ pain.”

Mourning For Others

A lot of the liturgy is us-centric. In theory, it’s a very altruistic idea. But it makes me wonder: What is prayer in that case, and what is it meant to do? To extend this idea, what are communal fast days meant to do? Sometimes I feel us-centric, and sometimes I really don’t. Sometimes, I feel like it’s just a plain lie to do so much just to be supportive of the “community.” Especially when I’m not really entirely a part of it. If communal fast days–like tisha b’av–are meant to make you aware of the community’s needs AND make you sad about the Temple/other theological things, what if those things don’t apply? What are you doing here? Also, what if those things don’t happen? I don’t know if fasting is halacha, but I’m really doubting that not listening to music is, although maybe it is, but in any case what if it’s absolutely not doing any good? I feel weird doing it.

I’m not one of those people who needs a specific modernishe reason for every single thing that we do, but tisha b’av is one of those days where it’s just ingrained enough to make it Very Important, but No One Is Sure Why, and People Write Articles About It On How It Help You “Relate To Others’ Pain.”

Similarly, us-centric liturgy is good if you really expect your davening to affect the community. I don’t, not really, especially since (as I said above) I’m not exactly a part of it anyway. It feels so awkward and so lame to daven for the needs of some community I’m so deeply and palpably not a part of. (Impostor syndrome.) It’s hard to think of a new thing every day to base your tachanun supplications on, for instance. “Hear our cries” is just one of those things. I usually end up relating it to myself. Is that selfish? Is that “selfish” like not saying kaddish for a complete stranger when someone asks you is “selfish”? And yet, it makes me feel a little left out, like I’m missing the point.