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?