Feb 12, 2009

The Grumbling Neshama.

This morning, my heart was jumping in and out of my throat. I couldn't eat breakfast, I couldn't smile, I couldn't breathe. I got the shul almost 30 minutes early, I sat in the car, I freaked out. The weather was gloomy, overcast and looking as if the sky would drop at any moment. At 10 till, I got out of the car and walked into the shul.

I sat down with the rabbi this morning, to have our first conversation about my eventual, hopeful, conversion to Judaism within Orthodox Judaism. I sat on the couch, he sat across from me. I was hopeful, I was trying to be positive, optimistic. And then? The questions. Why not Conservative Judaism? What are you looking for? Are you keeping kosher? Shomer Shabbos? You live dozens of miles from shul, how do you want to work it so you keep Shabbos? So many questions. And stories about past, failed, regretful conversions of people who just, well, couldn't crack it. The rabbi told me that the neshama is a delicate thing, it's like a light bulb. A rabbi doesn't take the neshama lightly. You can't rush things, you can't force things.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing, that put me at ease, that settled my mind and my soul for just a few minutes, was that he said it wasn't an Orthodox synagogue -- it was a synagogue that was Orthodox. He wasn't an Orthodox rabbi -- he is a rabbi who is Orthodox. I wish more rabbis, more congregations, more JEWS had this perspective on things. There is the synagogue, there is the rabbi. Our way is our own, no?

He suggested I need to start praying every day (I agree), I need to be serious about kashrut (I wish I didn't like eating out so much or that Hartford had eating-out places for observant Jews), I need to find a way to make Shabbos happen. So? He suggested I start staying with a family every Shabbos. Luckily, we know a family that is more than willing to have Tuvia and I in their home on Shabbos. It can happen, and we'll make it happen.

Where there's a will, there's a way, right?

The rabbi said that, the intellectual side is there -- I know what there is to know -- but that he sees that my neshama is hungry, and he wants to help sate that hunger. So? Every Thursday I'll be studying with the rabbi. I'll be at shul every Friday/Saturday.

But I left the synagogue this morning feeling overwhelmed. Kind of distraught, but mostly overwhelmed. I worried about my relationship with Tuvia and my living situation (should I move to W. Hartford? buy a car? rent an apartment? quit school ...?). I sat in the car for a long time, talking to Tuvia, listening to myself. Wondering and wishing for answers.

I do not feel differently about where I'm going, it's how I'm getting there that is difficult and frustrating. If I lived in a city? Things would be easier. Life would be easier. Without a car, without a home near a shul, without being within the community, there are questions that must be asked and answers that must be sought.

But, let's just say, my neshama might be overwhelmed, but it's still hungry.


B. Spinoza said...

First off I'd like to say that I think you are a good writer. Secondly, I hope you don't let anyone pressure you into taking on more than you feel comfortable. The orthodox tend to push people to observe from my experience. That may be helpful sometimes, but other times it can be too much and harmful. Try to take it easy. Go at your own speed and nobody else. Good luck

EYR said...

The Rebbe of Kotzk is known to have said: "G-d comes in when you open the door for him".

It is overwhelming, transitioning to such an action-centric religion. So taking baby-steps, relaxing into it, is probably the best way to go about it. And one day, you will probably wake up and realize that hey - you've made it :)

Schlomo said...

Having followed you for a while I have every confidence that you can do it. You have the study skills, the knowledge, and most importantly, the desire.

G-d be with you through your journey. It will be fun to read about and we will all have a l'chaim when you exit the Mikvah!

chaviva said...

@B.Spinoza Thank you :) I try my hardest to be an eloquent writer. Believe me, in person? I'm not as eloquent. Your advice means much. I'll move forward at a comfortable pace, I'm not one for being pressured or rushed!

@EYR So glad you found the blog :) The action-centric aspect of Judaism is something to which I intensely connect. With the help of a strong community and caring friends, making it will be a smooth process.

@Schlomo Thank you for the confidence :) It makes the naysayers disappear into the backdrop!

Jew Wishes said...

This is a good post, Chavi! Yes, you are hungry, or you wouldn't be writing about the issue.

it will take time to be totally comfortable in your Jewish skin, but it will come to pass....

JR said...

I'm not sure how many of the commenters are familiar with the contradiction of conversion. On one hand, the rabbis will not be happy until you have been practicing practically all the mitzvot for a reasonably long period of time giving an incentive to get to that point of doing "everything" as soon as possible so that they can start counting the time until it seems like "reasonably long". On the other hand, you're supposed to go at your own pace. If you go at your own pace as a BT maybe you won't be fully observant for 5 years and that's no big deal and probably healthy. As a convert that would mean a conversion would take 4-7 years and it is totally unhealthy to be in this "in between" stage for such a long time.

Joshua said...


Great post, honest, open and insightful.



DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Beautiful post. Very interesting. I went through this, but with less intensity because I grew up thinking I was Jewish. Hatzlacha raba. If you ever have questions about things, shoot over an e-mail.

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