I love tzitzis and glitter and skateboard helmets, I love them especially all at once

“Where are my presents?”
“You got your present.”
“What present?”
“That the Hanukkah Man gave you.”
“That thing from last year?”
“I’ve been gypped by the Hanukkah Man!”

So, I came across this picture:


Those were good times, yet terrible times. They were the best of times and the worst of times.

I look at myself and think: “Why didn’t they ship me to hadar immediately?” Then I think: “How did I get to a place like w&m?” Then I think: “How did w&m get someone like me?”

Want to know what those pins say? They say: “Moshiach, we want moshiach now” and “Tzitzis, we want moshiach now.” They were a gift, OK? (Once, a guy in Prospect Heights saw one of my pins and said, “So, you want moshiach, huh?”)

I don’t try to be eccentric, you know? I am a walking collection. For instance, my mom got me a skateboard helmet for my birthday and so I was sitting there like derp listening to Matisyahu wearing my skateboard helmet. And now I have glitter because the “hanukkah man” aka my mom gave it to me aka she re-gifted it from when I didn’t want it last hanukkah. Also, I collect stickers on the back of my computer. Look closely and you can see a real live leopard.



I don’t want tzitzis to be a fashion accessory. I don’t want it to just be a part of my collection of things I seem to acquire. But I know from experience that–unless you’re a halachically jewish orthodox man–there’s absolutely no threshold you can cross where you won’t still be questioning your motives. (I say orthodox cause it’s not really expected so much outside of orthodoxy.)

Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether I’m just trying to have a fashion accessory, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. When I look at a woman with tzitzis I don’t think: “She just wants a fashion accessory.” I think she must be really dedicated to put herself out there like that. I look at that picture of me and I think “Why was I so hard on myself?!” If it were someone else in my situation, I would have judged them favorably. If they showed that kind of dedication, I wouldn’t have done all that, like, pilpul. I wouldn’t care what their lineage was, either.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves gentiles converting to judaism, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves jews converting to judaism. I think the way you see yourself makes you see your conversion quite differently. Maybe it was being in new york, but I don’t think you can dismiss subjective experience so easily anymore. There’s no “official answer,” which I was in denial about for a long time. Of course, though, not having a right answer doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers. I’ve known people who wanted to convert–who believed they had jewish lineage, even–but whose resolve and tenacity I doubted. Oh, don’t think I don’t still judge people! If someone told me they wanted to wear tzitzis and then in the next breath told me they’ve decided to follow Jesus/the Buddha/whoever, I will probably doubt their dedication.

But I also have friends who are converting, whom I wouldn’t doubt for one second, and whom I treat as jewish.

This, so far, is working better for me in everyday life than my outdated system of judging people solely by halachic standards as if I were their conversion rabbi. A conversion rabbi, of course, is concerned with the integrity of the system, but this is sometimes to the detriment of a person’s psychological well-being. I know this well. I can’t know which way of looking at people is the right one. Maybe I really am compromising the integrity of the system. But if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, all we can do is guess. And if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, we can’t exactly feel bad about making a best guess. That goes for anything, really.

And that’s all well and good.

I don’t know what all this means for me, though. I don’t know my own motivations most of the time, but I tend to believe that I should (like most of us, I presume?) And so I analyze it to death, a sound and fury signifying nothing. If I wanted to wear my tzitzis again, it’d have to go beyond “which mitzvos a non-jew can do” and “what does patrilineal mean philosophically.” It would have to go deeper. I’d have to enter a whole new system. I know I can’t be orthodox, and I know I can’t be conservative, reform, or recon either. It’s kind of an open field right now. Everything is free for the taking. I could be anything. I could be renewal (I’m not). I wish I didn’t have to convert (and therefore pick one…currently it’s RCA and currently I don’t want to change that). I wish I could just be. You know, in the margins. Like I do. I don’t feel like a convert. I don’t want to continue acting like I’m converting. I don’t want to be a gentile. I don’t want to be a righteous gentile. I davened like a jew. I learned gemara like a jew. I went off the derech like a jew. I came back like a jew.

Something has to change here.

The religious element

“We’re chained / we’re chained / we’re chained” -The Pixies

I saw this coming and everything, but now that I’m leaving the womb of brooklyn, I’m getting a little nervous. Before I came here, sure I lived in rural virginia but I had 1.) a conviction and 2.) a hope. Now, Judaism has taken out my heart and thrown it into the road and drove over it with a truck and stabbed it with a thousand knives.

So as it stands I am getting really burnt out on religion in general and theoretically I need a detox I think (sucks to be a religion major right about now). But at the same time I’m not really down with people jestfully insulting jews and joking about lame overused stereotypes just cause they don’t know any better or whatever.

Like, on one hand I want to be like “wtf why is my roommate playing her stupid lipa remixes and crap israeli adult contemporary music or whatever to get ready for this motzei shabbos party right now so they can just talk about sephardic guys some more, she’s lame and her friends are lame,” but I can’t say that to my non-jewish friends cause they’ll take that as permission to say stupid anti-jewish things. It’s like, maybe I think my mom did something weird but if I tell some stranger then THEY’RE going to think my mom is weird, and they don’t even know her! Not good.

I don’t know man. It’s very strange. I’m torn between two lovers. Actually, neither option is particularly spectacular if you really want to know but they both have their pros and cons I suppose.

Life after religion is vague and nebulous. It’s a world of cultural relativism and gentiles making bad jewish jokes and everything that happens to you has no rhyme or reason and you kinda just make up morals as you go and codified secular morality is called philosophy and we all know how well THAT turned out. And you kinda just drift in and out of different circles, making base camp by happenstance. At least with judaism I have an edah and even if I get annoyed by things about it every day at least I sort of know where I stand.

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.

I can’t speak for them, but once you’re burnt out you’re burnt out and no matter what you do you don’t think you could ever see yourself having kavana ever again. I mean sometimes you bentch when everyone else is just to time yourself for fun or something but you don’t really think it would matter whether you did or didn’t bentch ever again, in the scheme of things. Like, I saw it happening as it happened, first with my not fasting then laxness with kashrus then wearing short sleeved shirts in the 100 degree summer came next, I have no idea how that got to be the order of things but there you have it. I can’t really put all the blame on that book about homosexuality and judaism by rabbi chaim rapoport. I think that was just the first domino, probably. The thing is, once one thing comes toppling down a lot of other things do too. I feel like my aish way of thinking taught me this. I know some of you liberal jews out there will say that you don’t have to “have all or nothing,” as you say, but for me I don’t see the point in doing just some of it if I don’t believe that the whole thing is worth keeping. Cause really, if I’m just doing parts of it because they feel spiritually good or right or whatever, you can be certain I’d be doing almost none of it. I definitely wouldn’t fast. I probably wouldn’t keep shabbos if I thought it was “just a good idea.” I definitely wouldn’t give tzedaka. I wouldn’t not gossip. I don’t see what would make it so different from secular morality which says it’s not nice to gossip etc. But at the same time, at this point I have absolutely no idea what it would be like to GROW UP believing in torah min hashamayim in a community where THAT WAS JUST THE NORM and to NEVER HAVE QUESTIONED IT!

I guess here I’ll just refer you to this page. I mean I’ve been encouraged by an insane amount of orthodox friends to try to stay in the fold and convert anyway despite my issues, which is very nice of them but to me it tends to prove that my orthodox friends are nicer than jewish law actually is, which confuses me if I think about it too much. On one hand, I’d like to think (and surely it’s technically more rational to think) that orthodoxy is the sum of its people and I only have to worry about them, not some amorphous law code which changes with the people anyways. But on the other hand although believing in the supernatural religious aspect certainly got me to do crazy things like move to brooklyn, after reading that book on homosexuality and judaism by rabbi chaim rapoport really sealed the deal on how ruthless jewish law is. I know that despite what anyone says, the talmud and rambam and shulhan aruch etc. still say what they say no matter if it’s actually the 1500’s right now or not.

And why does the law have to be made gentler/better by contemporary people anyways? What does that say about the law itself? And why do people say that God is so kind and forgiving when I don’t really know where that came from given that 1.) his autobiography doesn’t really paint him in the best light, and 2.) it’s not like trying to get to know him isn’t a completely one-sided endeavor. Like, people say God does this for them and God does that for them but when I look around I can’t really say I see it.

Sometimes you think you see it, but then it turns out it wasn’t something at all, you thought you saw a pattern but in reality it was all just a horrible joke. It’s like you spot some candy in a hole so you go down and get it, but then you realize both that the candy was really just a stick and you can’t actually get back out of the hole again.

The ladders of life we scale merrily
Move mysteriously around
So that when you think you’re climbing up man
In fact you’re falling down
-Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Couldn’t get ahead / I just couldn’t get ahead

So, I’ve lived in Flatbush for about 24 hours so far, and I have to admit that I definitely feel like everyone who looks at me knows that I am from out of town. It’s kind of funny though, since I’ve been trekking from here to the Upper West Side, and when I’m here I feel so modern, but when I’m in Manhattan I feel way too frum (but it’s cool cause I and hopefully everyone else knows I just came from Flatbush and that’s my excuse). I don’t really know what people are thinking about me in Manhattan, particularly the guys with black hats on the train going back to Brooklyn. They also probably can tell I am from out of town. I really do wonder what image I’m projecting; I feel like they’re like, “Why u even tryin’?” Also, there’s a giant seminary here so all the kids know way more than me even though they’re 12, and it’s stupid because now the tables are turned and I am that fool who doesn’t know the basics. Touché.

So, you ask, what do I see here? I see lots of guys with long coats but I also saw a guy with techelet. I saw a great beard on the train today, and I see lots of black kipas, which you can get at Eichler’s, and they come in like 40 different sizes, but only one color. As for the ladies, I see lots of baby carriages, lots of sheitels, lots of long black skirts, and lots of frum woman “shell plus plain shirt” fashions. There are also some MO people here, which I can tell when the men wear cargo shorts and the girls wear hoodies and band tees, which I also saw today.

However, I’m worried. It’s not that I want to be an Upper West Side person, it’s just that I keep messing with my own plan. It’s not even that I want to be egalitarian. (Whatever that even means anymore.) I moved here of my own free will specifically to get away from the old go-to, the “Do Judaism Laura’s way” free-for-all which I’ve been doing for the past two years. It’s not working. It would be easier to just be UWSMO (I made that up; it’s beautiful)…but that would be more of the same; more of what’s not working. I don’t want to do the old “pick whichever halachos make you happy;” I want a system. I’m already taking it for granted that I’m not going to fit into that system very well…partially because I’m me and partially because I’m coming from the outside…but what would I be doing if I just went straight to the trad egal/YCT world? But what would I be doing if I went to the “frum but only cause we were raised that way” world? I’m coming here to change inherently, although I wouldn’t have said that before obviously. I know it would be really simple to just stay the same and then put chavura Judaism on top of it or whatever, like nothing ever happened. I could wear my tzitzis again. But what would it do if they just let me do whatever I wanted all over again?

However, even if I try to stay and make it work in Flatbush, I’ll probably be found out pretty soon that I’m too modern. I thought I was just pulling off the “Oh, I’m just 21 and with it” look, but I just don’t know. The problem is that these other girls buy their clothes special apparently, from special tznius stores or something, and all my clothes are from Goodwill and it’s weird–you wouldn’t think this initially but even my denim skirt isn’t, like, standard. And that costs money, mate. I feel like being poor is going to play a pretty big part in my being modern, cause I can’t afford these specialty store clothes. Like, I’m looking at websites right now and they’re charging $44 for a regular black skirt. Non, non et non.

I don’t want to be modern or egal or yeshivish or frum but with it (whatever that means). I just want to be me, as far as clothes are concerned anyway. But I feel like what you wear kind of determines who will accept you in life. And I might be too eccentric for the normal yeshivish ladies here. But I’m not rejecting the yeshivish ladies. It’s not that I want to do “whatever I want” so much as if I tried to be a normal yeshivish lady it might be laughable. And you might think this is crazy, but I’d rather live in a really frum community and be the liberal one than live in a really liberal community and be the only frum one. I’ve done that already, and it wasn’t cool. (Also, to be clear, I don’t mean liberal like “I secretly believe the Exodus was a feminist myth” so much as “I’m going to Drisha” liberal.)

I was talking so much about pluralism in my last post, and I’m still into that, and this again is why it’s stupid that I have to convert. I have to STAY IN ONE PLACE for a long time. That’s stupid. But I know I need a home base otherwise I’ll just float around and never get anywhere. Converting or not, I still think I need a community, even just in order to branch off from it, you know? It would be cool if I could find an actual frum halachic community which wouldn’t be like “Why don’t you wear pants lol” and would actually have rules and not just let people run amok with their “pluralism” and “subjectivity” but can also appreciate my band pins and possibly taking computer music composition classes.

Is it giving up to want to keep my band pins and computer music composition? I feel like there’s a fine line between giving up your core personality in order to be more frum, and giving up the extraneous stuff that you might be attached to but isn’t helping your soul. However, I would be pretty sad if Matisyahu, for example, my posek, had decided that being a singer wasn’t tznius and decided to be a regular guy instead, I would be pretty depressed. But then again, he has his Chabad and stuff, and he didn’t just decide to be MO just cause they would accept his rappin’ or whatever. Also, Y-Love. Like I don’t know what goes into their decisions but they have their beliefs and THEN they have their rappin’ after that. I feel like if I just went the easy route and went trad egal** or “practice how you want” or whatever, I would give up my beliefs FOR the rappin’.

And that’s wack!

** You: “You don’t believe in egalitarianism?”
Me: “They really have to explain their halacha to me before I get into it. There’s a way egal can work, but too easily can it devolve into ‘we don’t like this halacha so let’s just change it for the sake of equality.’ Like, for me, maybe I’d want to learn gemara, but I feel like if I’m only doing it cause I think it would be cool, it won’t help me very much. Also, I can’t respect an egal community unless women’s ritual responsibilities come with ritual rights, which is where Conservatism went wrong.”

I Don’t Know Why But I’m Tired of My Life

Do you ever get that thing where you might listen to a song that you used to listen to during a certain period in your life, and then it brings you back? But then, and only then, are you really and utterly aware of how bad that time was? This happens to me often. And I think this is going to happen with last semester (and perhaps early this semester). This is no good.

For example, last semester I would really just listen to Y-Love and DeScribe and stuff on repeat, and now I can’t listen to them without thinking of how horrible last semester was. I’m not sure I knew how bad my life was at the time. But I felt trapped! Utterly trapped! And it’s too bad too, because I would still like them. And it’s even worse because I used to listen to them before last semester, and those were good times, only now when I listen to them again I’m going to always think of last semester, the bad times. Why is it always this way? It’s very annoying.

I remember mentioning at one point last semester that I felt like I was living my life online, and that all my Judaism was basically online. I was resigned to this idea, but now I’m a little horrified. I spent a lot of time online, and it got to the point where I felt that if I somehow erased my online presence I too would disappear. And that was pretty sad. Moreover, I was around people who constantly argued with me and it made me really tense…worse, we argued about Judaism, which gave it a terrible flavor. Last semester had a really bad flavor.

So this semester, at least nearing the end of it, I’ve pretty much checked out at this point. Seventeen days left. I’ve abandoned my friends, shall I mention effortlessly, and I’ve deleted every post I’ve ever made on Facebook, and I’m trying to eradicate the mindset that led to my feeling so trapped in the first place last semester. Must start anew. I knew something was wrong last semester–I came in following the letter of the law, and the semester threw me up with nothing to show for it, except eating treif again and realizing that what I was currently trying just wasn’t the way. It was a difficult road to the end of this year, to say the least. Especially since nothing I could have done would have helped. Time heals. It’s like when someone’s drunk, and the correct answer to how you can sober up a drunk person is “Nothing. Just give them some water and wait it out.” You just have to wait it out.

It’s weird, because in small increments, I always seem to find so many brick walls and roadblocks, but when I look at the past two years from afar, I see that my journey here to this point in life telling you all this has been almost effortless. It’s as if no matter what problems I had, I was still being pushed through the sludge to get to where I need to be. For example, when I started school here I had no idea what I was in for, and as the year progressed I thought it was impossible that I was “here for a reason.” I’m still wary of that phrase. Everything went wrong last semester–I hated Hillel, I only made a few Jewish friends and they ended up annoying me to the point I wished I’d never met them, and anything good that happened I think I saw through a filter of “Well, how is this going to help me convert, etc.” I was quite goal-oriented, but my soul had been sucked out.

And yet, looking back on the year, look how easy it’s been made for me! I didn’t get elected to Hillel, which makes it easier to leave (I would have had to resign mid-year), my school gave me $4,000 extra in financial aid, I paid off my old school loans, I met an Orthodox rabbi, who helped me with life, I saw myself at my highest and lowest, I was accepted to Brooklyn College, I sat in my Hebrew teacher’s sukkah and went to her seder, I learned how to explain why I’m leaning Orthodox, and all this within the year. I put things in perspective, which wasn’t the goal of course, but now I think I’m realizing that my goals were smothering me. I think, at least I hope, I’ll come out of this year with a better sense of purpose. Or something.

I don’t know what kind of vibe this year is going to have when I think back to it. This semester is the semester of Matisyahu, Nick Cave, Kate Bush, and Sleater-Kinney. On repeat. So, who knows. Hopefully this was a good and useful semester, because I don’t want to ruin them too, they’re my favorites.

Rava Say Relax

You know, the internet can be a pretty dangerous place. I’m pretty certain most of my readers know by now what I’m referring to, so I won’t recount the details cause I don’t think it needs another trackback. But I’ll admit that I’m naive and never thought something could blow up in such a way. And suddenly, everyone was taking sides! Making accusations! Making statements about how they weren’t making accusations! Even I’m slightly embarrassed by the fact that I’m partially connected to the wreckage by, like, three degrees. My first inclination was, like human nature I suppose, to get involved and argue in the comments and things like that. But as it went on, and as more blog posts were written as commentary, fueling the flames (this one included now lolol)…I started to realize that it’s really, really easy to get off track.

I’d been doing it myself…I’d been doing exactly what people on the other side had been doing; latching onto what I don’t like about other denominations and writing polemical essays based solely on a mélange of found examples. And using unwitting individuals as paradigmatic pawns. And worse, turning a small, semi-private affair into a big public spectacle for no good reason. And as I saw the implosion go down, and I saw how much anger and derision and explicit sinat chinam went into a simple blog post, and I thought to myself “I can’t become this person.”

I know that the writer of that post supposes the “exposure of Orthodoxy” (a common theme) is beneficial in the end, but in that post, into which so much effort was exerted, I saw a kind of coarse hatred and revulsion I’d never seen before, thrust suddenly into the limelight. It’s been really affecting me since it was posted, and not only in all the mitzvos broken in order to tell the story the writer wanted to tell. But because it spun off into such a thing, and because it was so hard not to look.

When you’re online, it’s too easy to start naming names and saying things like “I know I shouldn’t say this, but…” “I’m saying this because this information will help expose the general practice,” or “So-and-so shouldn’t have said thus-and-so, he shouldn’t even talk cause he once did this-and-that.” I was appalled by how many people spoke lashon hara while simultaneously claiming to be against someone else’s lashon hara. I know I’m no better, and this whole affair was probably the primary reason I decided to start trying to study more. Cause, frankly, I’m wondering if THIS post isn’t lashon hara.

Someone made a wise comment on the importance of tznius in these kinds of situations, and not throwing your business and your gripes out into the street at the expense of others. Even if you’re entirely in line technically (which according to my current read, sefer hachinuch, I believe I am when I criticize Reform cause I feel it’s bringing people away from Torah but not always so I admit I have to think about that too), you still have to ask yourself: Are you embarrassing someone? Are you causing someone distress? Are you publicly shaming someone whom you know won’t heed your well-intended suggestions? Are you publicly shaming someone who is like a tinok shenishba and doesn’t know any better? Is this a chillul hashem; are you making Torah look bad? Is what you’re saying actually helping anyone? I think one reason that post affected me so much was because I know–honestly–that I’m not above that kind of spiteful rhetoric quite yet, though I suppose I thought I was. I thought there had to be something that sets apart my actions from someone who doesn’t feel guided by mitzvos.

And also, when you say stuff, I recently realized, there are larger considerations. When you publicly denounce something the “Orthodox” do (needlessly, that is), obviously you never know what lost soul is hearing what you say and thinking “You’re right, Torah sounds dumb and outdated.” That’s one reason I really dislike when rabbis tell their congregants things like “Don’t listen to Rashi, he was into magic.” “Urim and tumim, that was put in by the priests so they could tell people what to do.” “It’s OK if the mezuza scroll isn’t kosher, *some people* are just neurotic and will pay $50 extra for one.” “Gemara is just nitpicking.” “Don’t read that; it’s Orthodox.” Do you think that will get people to want to learn Rashi; into being interested in urim and tumim; into being likely to have a kosher scroll; learning Gemara?

But I also know, as far as I’m concerned, that I’ve also been drawn into the indignant observer role, and it’s good for some things, but it’s also pretty consuming. You can spend your time gawking as others go down in flames or you can spend your time improving yourself. Just like how you can study Torah and use what you know to denigrate others, or you can use it to save the world. Pick one.

“Rava said in Berachot 17a, “The goal of wisdom is repentance and good deeds, so that one should not study Torah and Mishnah, and then despise his father and mother because of their ignorance…”

A new playlist for a new year

If there’s one thing I like to do, it’s make playlists. If my CD player wasn’t broken right now, I might even burn this one because I think it’s pretty good. I put it on Grooveshark for you. It includes artists like Popol Vuh, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave, Sleater Kinney, and Idan Raichel.

I listen to like half Israeli/Hebrew and half American/English music (for obvious reasons, it was harder to find my Hebrew music on Grooveshark). Story of my life. I remember reading some article (probably on Beyond BT or something) where it said that BTs will never fit in entirely even if they talk the talk and do everything “right,” because they don’t have the background. They will always remember pop culture and recognize secular music. It almost made it sound like BTs could never be “real Jews,” although obviously that’s not what it was trying to say explicitly.

After reading that, I briefly considered deleting all of my non-Hebrew music out of iTunes (I didn’t even think about my record collection, weirdly). I did get some stuff deleted (I hated the Beatles anyway), but a couple of days later I thought about how dumb the whole scene was. I’m proud of my music collection. I’m pretty forthright about the fact that I don’t listen to “everything,” but I’m pretty knowledgeable about the stuff I do know, I think.

I keep going back between Torah and my secular joys. For most people, this is no problem, and maybe I’m just making it a problem, but I really sometimes feel like I’m the only person trying to mix the two. And maybe it’s just because the “secular” stuff I’m trying to mix is really reminiscent of my rebellious atheist days in high school, so it’s strange to me. Like, for instance, I used to really want to be a musician in high school, writing songs against religion. So now, I guess, trying to pick up the old keyboard again still has a trace of that feeling. When I’m reading a shiur about the kzayis I really, really don’t care about anything else, and I really, really think I could live in that world learning Torah all day. But when I’m listening to my Violent Femmes or watching True Life: I’m Transsexual, I feel like Torah is just keeping me down. I’m really torn.

This isn’t new or anything, but it used to be an exciting adventure, and now it’s just giving me an ulcer.  I guess someone could say that it’s not Torah that’s keeping me down, but machmir interpretations of it, but still I can’t help but wonder whether just ignoring things I don’t like is a great thing to do. It’s not really things like “Who should I listen to?” so much as “What’s really there?” For example, deciding how long your skirt ought to be is obviously up for interpretation (and I’m against letting old men decide such things), but I feel like whether you can wear pants is a more divisive issue. Similarly, I used to wear boys’ clothes in high school. Bad? Like, in my mind there’s no inconsistencies, but in real life I have to wonder if I’m just being idealistic.

The thing is, I can’t just leave it at that. Part of the journey is supposed to be “the struggle,” I guess, but I feel like that doesn’t apply to converts, particularly Orthodox converts. If you’re born Jewish, you don’t know how easy you have it, because you don’t have this “end goal” you have to get ready for. You don’t have to sell yourself to the rabbis. You don’t have to worry about whatever arbitrary thing they won’t like you for. And you don’t have to worry about whether your slate is untainted enough. You think they’d call someone who cares about transgender rights, would rather go to yeshiva than get married, and listens to music from 1996 (from headphones attached 24/7 like a limb) a good conversion candidate? Sometimes it seems that if I’m not 100% certain that I can get rid of all my less-than-compatible beliefs and traits, it’s no use converting (and since I’m like 60% Lithuanian, I also eternally look like I’m twelve. I can just imagine it now—I’ll be 30 and they’ll still be saying “You’re too young, far too young”). Why should I even want to convert anyway, if Orthodoxy means submitting yourself to Torah, when I’m so obviously not willing to?

Other things are less daunting. Like, for example, I don’t find it weird to listen to Sleater-Kinney “Do you think I’m an animal? / Am I not?”, then Matisyahu “Chabad philosophy / is the deepest wellspring”. That is just me and that’s probably not changing. After all, I decided that Judaism doesn’t really come alive in the synagogue surrounded by old people you don’t know, probably, for most 21-year-olds. Many times—and I know this sounds lame—my music is a more religious experience than making challah or going to shul on Yom Kippur or whatever else you’re supposed to do. It’s not a really Jewish thing to “listen to music,” and I’m not really an advocate of syncretism or anything, but that’s just the way. But part of me still wonders whether I’m really committing correctly, like I can’t tell if I’m in it to win it or not. At what point is it too much to “want it my way”? If I don’t like to do it “the Jewish way” every time, who am I helping by converting? But those are just fears, I think. I usually like to push them away. I mean, I don’t mind dressing different and doing different stuff, but what if I actually have to be different?

To clarify: I still don’t think my way of livin’—at its element, anyway—is incompatible with Orthodoxy. I just think that, as a conversion candidate, I’m going to be questioned a whole lot. I don’t exactly have a refined, ladylike personality. In case you couldn’t tell. I’m worse in person. And I say things like “I’m just going to be Catholic instead” or “I’m in love with Carrie Brownstein” and I don’t think that will really go over well with most people I’m going to encounter.


Ideal prayer, according to Nachman, occurs when the individual goes into isolation and pours his heart out to God with all the sadness, pain, and doubt that is in it. This is ‘prayer with a broken heart’…such prayer allows one to overcome doubts that result from futile intellectual arguments... David Ariel, What Do Jews Believe? p 203

unity, groove and teshuva be the new black -y-love

I should do teshuva.

I’m not entirely sure what it is, because if it is what I think it is, I don’t see why you should aim to be doing it all the time. (FYI, what I think it is is falling off the wagon and saying you’re sorry and getting back on.)

As some of you probably know, something terrible happened since I transferred to this school. Look, don’t get me wrong, I like this school. It is a freaking academic powerhouse (as far as a little school nestled in Colonial Williamsburg can be). But I think I referred to this phenomenon as “my soul is shrivelling.” (I love how quickly this happened.)

i.e. I don’t really do much anymore. Maybe it was all the “just be open-minded!” people who got to me. Maybe it was my Yom Kippur vow to “stop judging all those blithe ‘cultural Jews’.” Maybe it was the fact that everyone here seems to think that “Orthodoxy is like a whole different religion.”

But I stopped doing stuff. I use my computer on Shabbat (although I started using timers…an odd time to start, but I was fraught with guilt so I did). I don’t wear my tzitzis (half out of feeling undeserving and half out of conviction that it looks dumb when I do it). I don’t bentch no’ mo’. I don’t daven no’ mo’. I don’t study Torah no’ mo’. I’m thinking the only thing I still do is keep kosher.

On the plus side, I have become quite an active Zionist after learning the truth in class.

But I wonder sometimes. I used to think perhaps teshuva could help cure me. It’s supposed to help every time, right? I could just start doing stuff all over again, I’ve done it before, it’s like riding a bicycle. In fact, I did try it a couple of times. But it didn’t work for obvious reasons. I think I really just have to get out of this place.

But what about what everyone says? It’s “not supposed to matter what other people are doing”! We all know that. And we also know that teshuva is supposed to fix the problem. I mean, I did feel bad that I wasn’t doing stuff. Duh. I’m in an abyss of absurdity right now—look at me, a Jewish Studies major who’s trying to convert to Orthodoxy who isn’t even keeping shabbos! What a mess!

A friend asked me if I was going to “put things on hold” until I graduate. That was the first time I ever considered it. Tragically enough, that might actually be my best option here. Teshuva isn’t working. Trying isn’t working. (Actually, if you’re interested, I’m currently in the “God probably hates me” camp, but that’s not really different from my general outlook.) Even trying to do things is making it worse, like putting salt in a wound. I know I’m not going to start being regularly observant while I’m here, so why do it once or twice? That doesn’t make sense to me (also that’ll tell you I’m not Reform).

Then someone wise made a suggestion that I think about transferring, which I also hadn’t considered. I opened three applications today, because this is my new big idea. I’m going for it.

And I couldn’t help it; I just emailed Brandeis to see if they’d let me apply again. When will they see that I need to be at their school?

Ideal prayer, according to Nachman, occurs when the individual goes into isolation and pours his heart out to God with all the sadness, pain, and doubt that is in it. This is ‘prayer with a broken heart’…such prayer allows one to overcome doubts that result from futile intellectual arguments...

I could do this, who can’t? But how far would it go? Until, like, tomorrow? And if you’re trying to tell me this is a daily event, well I can say from experience that wears a cowboy out.