Mar 5, 2010

Have I Become a Monster?

This post has been stewing for some time now. I feel really uncomfortable writing it, to be honest with you, but I feel like I need to write it. Maybe I should really look into a therapist, seriously. I think if I did do this, however, I'd run out of the stellar content I have. I have to precursor this by saying that those of you who know me will read this post with my voice in mind, not to mention my evolution and experiences. Whatever you do, please don't read only this post and attempt to pass judgment on me; you've got to know the whole story. So here goes nothing.

I converted under Reform auspices in April 2006 (wow, I'm almost four years out from that) after about 3 years of personal study, as well as studying with a rabbi. Flash forward to January 2010, and I've become more frum, keeping kosher, maintaining a shomer Shabbat lifestyle, and observing shomer negiah (much to the shock of some friends in the community). For all intents and purposes, I'm a modern frum Jew. Along with this evolution has come many other, small things, that I don't necessarily think about on a day-to-day basis. How I carry myself or the things I say. Saying modeh ani in the morning and the shema in the evening has become old hat for me. It's a reflex, if anything. And that's probably teh most appropriate way to relate these things: They have become reflexes.

Every now and again, I sit back and think, "Wow, I remembered to do this or that," and it makes me smile to know that I'm conscious of living in the manner that I do. But there are some things, some reflexes, of which I am not so proud. They're things that make me cringe and make me wonder whom I'm becoming.

My community, for example, is wonderful; I love my community. It's incredibly modern and the paths of Conservadoxish and Orthodox and Hasidic and other flavors of Judaism cross. But for the most part, if you asked anyone in my community, they would tell you that the number of families that keeps strictly shomer Shabbos is small, and the number of families that keep kosher both in and outside the house is even smaller still. I could count on probably two hands and a foot the number of families/couples I know that understand what it means to be a modern, frum Jew in a manner that is on par with Orthodoxy today, and I'm talking modern Orthodoxy, nothing Haredi or hard-line. Just your run-of-the-mill modern, Orthodox Jew.

At first, I was fine with this. I mean, I pride myself on being non-judgmental. My policy, as it always has been, is that what you do is what you do and it's your relationship with the Big Man Upstairs. I can't say whether Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Scientologists have it right -- it's impossible, I repeat INCONCEIVABLE -- to say "I have it right, and you have it wrong." In my mind, you do what's right for you, and you call it a day. For me, Judaism is right. For others, Christianity is right. The problem comes when you look at those who are rocking the same thing. And I never thought I'd feel this way, but good lord. I think I'm becoming someone I don't like.

Within Judaism, you have Reform, Conservative, Humanist, Reconstructionist, JewBu, Hasidic, Chabad, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Secular, Cultural ... the list goes on and on. If they thought they had it rough back in the day with the Essenes, Sadducees, Dead Sea Sect, and Pharisees, they were just tipping the iceberg. When I was Reform, I was sort of at the "bottom of the rung" as far as the evolution of Judaism went. It was probably the most progressive and most new, and I felt the same -- fresh and new. Then I started picking up more mitzvot, and then I ended up here. Shomer mitzvot, plain and simple. The result, however, is that I look at Jews who aren't shomer mitzvot and wonder, "Why do you NOT want to be shomer mitzvot?" This happens less so when I look at my Reform or Conservative brethren than when I look at those who flatly and boldly identify themselves as "Orthodox" Jews.

I'm coming to realize that I'm not comfortable eating at the homes of people I've felt comfortable with before, because our views of shomer mitzvot are not the same. I find myself looking at friends and scrutinizing how they run their households and the choices they make. I find myself critical of those around me, how they dress and how they observe tzniut. In the beginning I thought, "I'm trying to help figure out who I am and how I'll do shomer mitzvot." And then? I woke up one day and realized that I wasn't doing that. I was doing more than that. I was noticing how frum and un-frum all of these people around me were. It made me uncomfortable, it made my stomach turn.

How do you look at a friend and say, You make me uncomfortable, over something like religion? Or not even religion, but observance of that religion. And like I said, I'm less concerned about those who aren't Orthodox than I am for those who are Orthodox. After all, if you say that you think the mitzvot aren't binding, then they aren't binding to you. Stand proud in your understanding of your chosen path. But if you say, I'm Orthodox, and the mitzvot are binding, then how can you turn around and break Shabbos or go out to eat non-kosher or any of a number of things that most people -- even people in past generations -- never thought twice about.

Who on earth am I becoming? Or have I become. I would like to think the problem is the problem of the people who say one thing and do another. But, as most psychologists would say, there's something I see in these people that I'm deflecting, it's something I don't dig about myself. But I think that's only half the battle. Perhaps the zealousness of the convert in my neshama is just frustrated, extremely frustrated. I look at every Jew and think, "You! You were born a Jew! Stand proud, stand tall, love who you are and observe the mitzvot with the passion and fire that your ancestors surely espoused!" There are those of us who fight, out of nature, to be frum. Not as a competition or because we feel like we need to be MORE Jewish or MORE observant than others, but because our neshamot are insatiably hungry. We need the mitzvot. 

I don't know. This is something that's been eating at me for a few weeks now. I go through these phases of feeling like a horrible person because I don't feel comfortable being around people that a year ago or even six months ago I was completely comfortable around. Is this the ebb and flow of a convert? Do baalei teshuvah go through the same thing? Is this natural? It feels uncomfortable, but expected.

Sigh. Mah la'asot?

Have I become a monster? To look at my fellow Orthodox Jew and think, Shame on you. Stand firm in what you firmly believe is true, no matter what that belief is. Just, be honest with yourself and those around you. Do not be two-faced, do not be double-sided, do not be someone that you truly are not.

Is that so wrong?


Erin (e_rizzle) said...

Is it possible that it isn't so much the feeling of "You! You were born a Jew..." and more the recognition in the hypocrisy? You are living in alignment with your neshama, and it feels amazing to you, and I wonder if it doesn't feel strange and confusing to you that others who claim to feel connected to the same level of observance don't seem committed. I don't think you are a monster, I think you have integrity.

alto artist said...

Agree with Erin, above--you are most certainly NOT a monster. I think it's human nature to think what you wrote in your last paragraph, especially after experiencing a wonderful, transformative personal discovery. We want the rest of the world to join in that thing, because it's great, ethical, correct, etc., and we can't imagine why they don't see it. (I know I've been guilty of this with respect to my own religious practice.) The difference is between thinking, and even acting on it, and saying it. Seeking out situations in which you feel more comfortable than others is part of the evolution of your practice and beliefs. Publicly denouncing those others--which you most certainly have not done--is completely different. I believe that our own messages spread best by our actions. Other people will see how you live your life and perhaps get the message even without your saying it. And if they don't: this is religion, personal and private. It is frustrating to be around those who declare themselves part of a religious community and yet do not follow its rules--but that's the way it is.

Yoel Raphael said...

Great post. As a BaalTzuvah (BT) I have felt and at times still feel the same way. Esp when critizd 4 my BT "tendencies" of being to strict or to excited about various mitzvot. Or too into my learning... whatever. Sometimes the criticism is valid... sometimes its not.

People frum from birth can never relate to the every day struggle and effort of the BT. The amount of energy it takes.

But that is like any ground that was born into itself. Its very easy to take it for granted.

Its also very easy for the BT to ride of this wave of "the BT is better" and that kind be misguided to.

My taylor once said something toe me on this issue while fitting me to a suit. He said "The most important thing is to always look at the G-d behind the man & not the man. Mankind was made with the ability to err and disappoint. Even Moshe errd and disappointed when he struck the rock."

This is why G-d is one. If we always look for the G-d behind the man, and the G-d behind "the religion," we will see the bigger picture and Hakodesh Barachu will guide us down the right path and the right teachers for that path.

But it will also show us that what people do in the name of G-d or in the name of a definition of a particular service to G-d is not always what it seems.

We should not let it effect us and our own spiritual path. Find a teacher. Stick with them. Ask question and grow. You are doing exactly what G-d wants. Don't worry and lead by example. And if it still feels uncomfortable or embarrassing at times remember: Its better to feel embarrassed here then feel embarrassed in Olam Haba.

Yoel Raphael said...

I forgot to say. I good place too look for some guidance on this issue is in Shmuel. When the Jewish people ask for a King. And also Shmuels criticism of Saul after the war with Amaelek and the capturing of the Amalek King.

Anonymous said...

Ah. This will be that post you were referring to earlier this week.

I'm not in a good place right now to write about this properly. I've had a rough couple of days, I need Shabbat like never before.

But, what I will say is, I kind of identify, but in a strange way. Clearly, I am in a different place to you, I'm frehly unwrapped in the 'officially Jewish' department, but this doesn't seem to mean too much to my own neshama and also the attitude of my community. Already I am being ear-marked for some responsibilities that are way, way bigger than I anticipated. Part of me shies away from them, the other part is patting myself on the back for having been so recognised, so soon. But a little piece of me thinks, why don't you, born into this life, with all your experience, just make a bit of an effort?

And this isn't meant to be as awful as it sounds. I'm not judging as such, but it just confounds me that it takes me, new to it all, to fill the shoes of someone else's role, when there were plenty of others to do it all along...

See, I told you I wasn't in a fit state to write.

Shabbat Shalom, Chavi. Keep on keeping on.

Chaviva said...

@Erin I think you're right. Hypocrisy in all things bothers me in a way that nothing else bothers me. Thank you for commenting and for thinking of me as having integrity, it means a lot to me.

@AltoArtist I'd never have the gall to call others out in public, or in private. People choose to do Judaism in their own way. I just wish that they'd take to heart the whole public/private thing. Do what you do in private, and don't publicize it. Be a whole person -- do what you say you do, be who you say you are!

@Yoel I think your tailor is a smart man! I try to keep on the derekh, knowing that there is a much bigger picture and that ultimately, HaShem is figuring it out. This is why this was so hard to write about -- it's a personal struggle, but I needed to say something. I needed to know I'm not alone in my frustration with hypocrisy among Orthodox Jews today. So, well, here I am. Thanks for commenting, too.

@ShavuaTov Sorry to hear you've been having a rough time. I remember those early days after my first conversion. Every Shabbos my rabbi called me up for an Aliyah. It was exciting, but also made me wonder why he wasn't bothering with any of the regulars. I then realized I knew more Hebrew than any of our regulars. It blew my mind and frustrated the heck out of me. Get some rest, both bodily and upon your mind. Catch you on the flipside of Shabbos!

Netanel said...

Wow, what an unpleasant situation to be in! I empathise.... :(

Anonymous said...

Wow...for some reson I thought this was going to be really controversial.

I converted last April...not Orthodox. Ever since then I have struggled and searched and read and changed. My partner has been shocked at my transformation, and having been born Jewish, and basically secular, I think the reality of my religious zeal is quite overwhelming at times - for both of us.

I am so envious of people who were born Jewish. I believe, as converts, we were given this awesome gift. I live and breathe Judaism, yet the politics of it would have many people consider me not Jewish. My soul knows differently though. I believe that the 15 year journey, all the work, all the changes and sacrifices show this.

It's hard to see people "waste" their Judaism.

I know where you are coming from.

Kat said...

I hate to be the odd man out as it were, and I know I'm coming from a different background then the other commenters, but....

Monster, no certainly. But insensitive sometimes? Yes. Back when we worked together, earlier in your journey, there were times that you made me feel really uncomfortable about religion. Not just for myself, but really for my loved ones that you were judging based our association. At one point you posed on your blog about something I had said about my boyfriend, being critical about his Judaism and I was, frankly, horrified. Not for myself but that you would take what I said and judge him without having ever seen any of his religious observance. (He meanwhile thought it was funny). I felt protective of him, of his family who are some of the kindest, nicest, and most accepting though shrimp-eating people I've ever met. They embraced me and I brought them critique.

I don't know, maybe some of it comes from my pagan background, interacting with a lot of pagan converts who can have... somewhat unconvential viewpoints. Did I agree with them? No. Was I uncomfortable with their cultural appropriation? Yes. But no matter how I felt, they felt pagan and that's all that mattered. For better or worse, we were in the same boat together and I was glad that were there with me. And maybe it's having never met anyone who has the same exact beliefs as myself, to always be dealing in situations where I don't jive with people. I've pretty much never met a pagan that was as religious as I am who wasn't Wiccan. There's very few people that I feel comfortably sharing my deepest and most important religious beliefs with and I think during the time we knew each other, you insulted everyone of them.

Because of my history, I know what it's like to feel like you're out of place religiously. I admire your drive to try to create a place, to figure out your needs. I think you're increadibly brave to put it out there and become such a influential voice in the Jewish blogosphere, influencing the discussion and creating a space for converts. But at the same time, I believe that with power comes responsibility. People come to you to hear about conversion, to have support during their path and maybe they might feel the neshamot as much as you do but not quite in the same way that you do and are looking forward to learning from your journey, learning from their relationship with you. Being in the situation I am now, with so few connections to my history and where I am and where I'm going, it makes me sad that you don't know if you should struggle to keep those relationships. That's just me. Even when they're hard, there's a value there. I fight everyday to keep connected to my roots despite the pain and anger that's there, that I have to accept so I can create and reinforce my family.

Maybe that's not what you wanted to hear and maybe that's not what other people wanted to hear, but that's the way human relationships are- messy and difficult. Trying to accept people who we love but do things we can't understand or who are on different paths from us is always going to be a challenge, no matter who or where you are.

Chaviva said...

@Kat Thank you for commenting. I'll start this out by saying I apologize if you understood anything I said as being offensive, hurtful, or insensitive. I'll follow that up by saying that, to be honest, I have absolutely no idea what you're referring to re: your boyfriend and your/his family. If you could refer me to the blog post in question, I'd be happy to address it. I will say that I am very, VERY careful about what I post -- I never post names, I rarely post places, and when I do refer to "a friend" or something, it's usually only if what follows is positive (this post, however, is a unique exception, but I'll get to that in a second).

Next, I'm not sure if you're misunderstanding what I posted, but I feel the same way as you (when you say, "Did I agree with them? No. Was I uncomfortable with their cultural appropriation? Yes."), and I thought I expressed that wholly. I firmly believe that every person builds and forms their own path to whatever entity they feel appropriate, but does it make me uncomfortable? Yes. That's why I wrote this post. When we worked together, I was always fascinated and interested in the new things you had to tell me -- like when you showed me the list of all of the signs and symbols available for people at Arlington National. I'm incredibly confused, and hurt, to think that I "insulted everyone" of your beliefs. On the same note, I don't remember you sharing your deepest and most important religious beliefs with me -- I knew and still know very little -- about paganism and Wicca.

Lastly, I think you misunderstand the crux of my post. I never -- NEVER -- say I want to cut friendships. I am very firm in never cutting ties with people, as I'm sort of a wanderer and I make friends wherever I go. Subsequently, I have very few very close friends who have known me for more than a few years. It sucks, a lot, but people who only see bits and pieces of me rarely understand my story, where I was, or where I'm going. People make assumptions, misunderstand things I'm saying, etc, because they're only seeing part of the story. That being said, I never said I wanted to cut ties. There's a unique thing about the observant Jewish community in that if a concern arises -- such as I mention here about observance -- you have to reconsider whether to EAT at someone's house, not to disown them as a friend. There are plenty of people in the community who I am friends with but who know that they don't keep a standard of kashrut that others feel is comfortable and so, despite having plenty of friends in the community, people might not eat by them for Shabbat or other holidays. That's all I'm saying in this post. I'm questioning whether I should continue to eat with certain families for the holidays and Shabbat, not whether to continue being friends with them. I've never stopped being friends with people for their observance, come on. That's ludicrous!

When all is said and done, I accept all of the people in my community for who they are and for their friendships. I don't, however, always feel comfortable participating in certain things with them because of the hypocrisy they display regarding their observance. It has nothing to do with belief, mind you, I'm talking strictly observance here. That's something that's unique in some ways to Judaism, I guess, in that so much is ritualistic (and I'm guessing you can relate to this from your pagan background, too).

At any rate, I hope this clears some things up. Please email me the link to the blog post -- I really, really am concerned about this, as I don't recall ever blogging about him or you or anyone else from work (outside of The Big Man, but not by name).

Be well!

Tamar Halivni said...

Yes. You have a history of being judgmental which can be backed up blog post after blog post. I'm sure you were also this judgmental when you were Christian. And now you have transferred this attitude to Judaism and sullied it. Who the hell are you to judge your fellow Jew like that? This kind of attitude will be your downfall in the Jewish community, or perhaps your ticket to ultra-Orthodoxy. You make the call.

HSaboMilner said...

First of all Chavi - kudos for you for being honest and wanting to look within to find out who you are, and if you are this "monster". I am sure you know you are not. You are the most accepting person I know - BECAUSE of the journey you have been on until this point.

You have standards of observance that you are not willing to compromise on. How is that judgmental?

secondly, to Tamar HaLivni - to come over here and blast Chavi like that is totally unacceptable and reprehensible. WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO JUDGE CHAVI LIKE THAT? you have no clue who Chaviva is - and you just make yourself look mean and bitter. PEOPLE like you who come on Jblogs to leave nasty comments are the ones who sully Judaism. Lashon Horah much?

alto artist said...


I've been reding this blog for a long time and have never sensed a judgmental tone. (I'm no longer Orthodox, and belong to an unaffiliated community, so am particularly attuned to that kind of tone.) Rather, I read Chaviva's comments as a sincere exploration of all the twists, turns, and issues of her own continuing journey--hers alone, no one else's. Far too many websites and blogs paint one or another stream of Judaism as the only way, which only divides us even further. The honesty of this blog serves as a model for us all to learn from each other's paths and, in the process, strengthen Clal Yisrael as a whole.


TMC said...

oh dear.

Looks like the judgment is coming from all directions. I am not a Jew but I hope you will nevertheless be open to my thoughts. I am motivated solely by our friendship and my knowledge that this has been a concern for you for some time. It is a concern I share from my own experience.

I see in your posts what is for converts to any faith (myself included) an error into which we all slide, hopefully only temporarily, as a part of the journey. The zealousness of a convert, the desire to learn everything there is to know NOW, of actively applying what you've learned to your own life... it is a perspective whose breadth makes it so simple to try to apply your perspective to the lives of others. It is somewhat like a perspective of a child just learning wrong and right; they see everything as either one or the other. As adults, we know that there are endless shades of grey between the two, and that perfection and a perspective of judgment is best left to G-d.

As a teacher I know you will correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that keeping Kosher, Practicing Judaism (and it does require practice, doesn't it?) is to bring G-d into Olam so that He might be Seen (unconcealed?). If you'll forgive my dipping into a typical Xn example... if you tend a lighthouse of G-d, that's task enough without worrying about what the other lighthouse keepers are doing. You can't make sure your light stays bright, glass clean, and the ships in your charge (your family, for example) stay safe while you are running off to double-check on other lighthouses. Each lighthouse knows the Rules but each keeper has their own way based on their abilities, interest and G-d given character. Some might look to be hypocritical to us, their words and actions being in our eyes contradictory but it is not our charge to criticize how G-d shines through other people. We simply can't ever know all the ways G-d shines here. To judge or criticize is to limit the full experience of G-d and wouldn't it be a shame to miss Him?

Take heart, Chaviva. Your struggle is one not unfamiliar to many, many other converts and will, with effort, pass. Focus instead on yourself and Tuvia, communicating expectations for your home and your children.

Shalom, friend.

Shira said...

Hi Chaviva,
Having been unaffiliated, then BT/Frum, then NOTHING, now married to a BT but not Frum, I can see from quite a few perspectives :) I would say that it doesn't make you a horrible person to feel and wonder these things. Certainly there are practical halachic issues with whether you should eat by a person's home who doesn't keep to the same standards as you. But... a BIG but... to call people hypocrites is going too far, in my opinion. I am probably an example of the type of people you were talking about. We just koshered our home, my husband is very observant. We are raising our children observant. But, I am not frum. I don't dress that way, I eat unkosher food, etc. And to say that I am a hypocrite would be very hurtful. Or to say that someone like me, or even not like me - to say that someone who's discrepancies in observance you don't understand must be a hypocrite, can only serve to separate your neshama from Am Yisroel and Hashem. You can't possibly know the reasons for their practices, you can't know their backgrounds, family dynamics, limitations, emotional trauma's, etc... to be able to say that they are hypocritical. I am not a hypocrite. I don't have a spiritual, neshama, feeling that my husband the BT, and probably many converts, have. It can be a very painful thing to realize a person was born into something they can't escape. You chose to be what you are - how is it right to judge those who had no choice? To judge those who may have been raised with one set of values, and then later on learned there is a whole new set of values that just don't fit, but to which they are obligated and born to? The obligation of mitzvot is what makes them meaningful, I've been told - voluntary tzedakah is nice, but not selfless. Perhaps the same is true here? You chose something, and that is wonderful and beautiful for you, and a great thing for the Jewish People, being the wonderful person that you are. But its much more difficult, or maybe differently difficult, to accept something forced on you by your ancestors covenant to a deity for which you feel no relationship, and yet not have a choice since its all determined by your mother's blood.
I hope I haven't offended, but I didn't see this point of view expressed yet in the comments and it felt important to me.
There must be a way to follow halacha in such situations, but to also develop such a good neshama that one doesn't feel that others are hypocrites for not living up to the standards of the community.
Have a good week,

d.a. said...

I read your post and just wanted to say as an ultra orthodox Jew, this is something we all struggle with. I always hear stories of people who are so turned off by orthodoxy because orthodox people "are supposed to be so holy, but do shocking things like x, y, and z"
But orthodox people struggle like everyone else. They may believe in standing by a certain level of observance, but they fall sometimes, because even though they want to keep kosher at home and outside, it's HARD. We need to empathize with the struggle, and only then can we control the monster within all of us that tends to see the negative so quickly. It's not hypocrisy, it's a battle to live by the beliefs we maintain

Mark said...

To look at my fellow Orthodox Jew and think, Shame on you.

This part is a little judgmental. Even within the subdivisions of each sect, each and every person has slightly different practice and levels of practice. That's also part of human nature.

Only God judges us and tells us "shame on you".


Katherine said...

i agree with what's already been said: tamar, you've sullied your reputation with lashon harah. you've judged without full facts and instead of doing so solely in your heart [which can be problematic enough, despite its inevitable happening in the human soul], you've echoed that judgment publicly.

your accusations of a "history of judgment" are not supported by an ounce of cited example nor group knowledge. chaviva's reputation as both a voice of gerim [hello, i am one such geyoret] and of internal orthopractic/orthodox emotional shifts is untarnished.

untarnished even by you.

wishing you, chaviva, and you, tamar, kol tov.

Tamar Halivni said...

@hsabomilner, I am not using lashon hara--it is Chaviva who is calling people hypocrites. Not I. And I do know her, thank you very much. As a born Jew, I did not have a choice about it, and the last thing I need is someone who was not born Jewish coming in and telling me how proud I need to be about being who I was born. I just can't accept that treatment, and don't see this halachically validated. This sort of behavior is very Christian, though.

@Shira, you wrote eloquently on what I'm trying to say, but my emotions are getting in the way, obviously.

YC said...

1) Treat others based on potential and one's self based on experience.
I am not saying you do (from this post I would say you are way better than most) but most people do the opposite.

2) The book of Proverbs gives very good advice when to actually go ahead and try to point out to our friends things to correct. If it will do no good, dont bother except if such a person is mocking God, then one can say something just to "defend" God's name/reputation.
Otherwise if someone is open to listening / already on the way -one can. (These are good people and not always easy to find)

3) Lastly, also from Proverbs
Reishis chochma yiras hashem.
Many people have skipped or lost this step and I think that is one source of frustration for many in the MO world. (I only mention MO world as those is "world" I am in)

Oh, and GREAT POST, not sure if your pain easing would be a good thing. But I assume you and your pain will evolve.

TikunOlam said...

I think your thirst for mizvot and the intense experience of needing them is more common for baalai teshuva and converts than for your modern FFB. I grew up in the modern FFB world. It is rare to find that spiritual thirst there. There is more focus on ritual and the community than there is on growing as a spiritual person. I don't think too many FFBs reflect and appreciate the joy of saying Modeh Ani. You are looking through very different lenses. Most are not like you. Like all Jews, modern "frum" Jews pick and choose mitzvot they keep consistently for many various reasons. And there is no such thing as internal consistency. I have found the converts & BTs to have the most difficulty with this. The lack of striving to forever grow religiously is just not a part of every or even most FFB's lives. It just is their life, their upbringing, their culture, what they do.

Chaviva said...

@Tamar Then who are you? I recognize neither the name you use nor the way you feel about me. I was never a Christian, not in the sense any Christian would identify as a Christian. I spent my life trying to believe and never did. I'm not telling anyone how to live -- did you not see that? Did you not read the post? And I never called anyone a hypocrite -- YOU used that word. I never used that word. You introduced it into the discussion. I think you need to reread the post, because it seems to me that you're missing the point. You're driven by some type of vendetta for me, and I have no idea who you are or how I wronged you. Perhaps if you told me how I wronged you, I could make amends -- after all, I can't be right with HaShem until I'm right with you.

So let's fix this. I'm putting myself out there, will you?

Dunking Rachel said...


I waited a while before posting a reply. This is Something I bring from my past experiences in the mindfulness/Buddhist world , the point of pause, wait, and sit with something!
I appreciate your putting yourself up to such scrutiny. The web-world is often harsh and unkind. Some of the responses do back me up on that. You, in some ways bring your private life into the public domain yet one can comment within the veil of anonymity. A dangerous combination.
Human nature, human psychology is a very complicated thing. We can often believe something within every fiber of our being, yet is seen through our own perceptions….our perceptions are formed by EVERYTHING!...genetics, family of origin, age, social groups religion…..y’all get the point. Yet like a river our perceptions, feelings and opinions are gently and sometimes not so gently moving, changing transforming. What one believes at 8 years can be very different than 18……49…..
I have read your blog for a while, I too am a convert/Jew by Choice ….yet each of us came to that place, that life altering stance from very different paths…..and we are currently standing on distinct roads yet both on that proverbial mountain, perhaps Mt Sinai (lol)
I guess that is what I would like to share with you….Hashem works in mysterious ways! (to borrow the much used and maligned phrase!) Jews come in every version of humankind……every psychological variation that can be….. and within each of us we carry that all that potentiality and possibilities!
Sometimes, being a jew by choice, at my age is an out of body experience. I will be Jewishly (I know not a word but it works!) 2 years old on April 1st….(not a joke…but it is funny) yet this month I turn 49. My peers age wise have raised their kids, are done with Hebrew school et all…and in many ways are not that enthusiastic from a participation standpoint. Many say to me, oh I used to keep kosher or much stricter kosher when the kids were young etc…and there I am the poster child for ask the Rabbi on EVERYTHING…I want to attend everything, do every holiday with gusto and just be the 49 year old/ 2 year old! In my own community in my own way I truly understand the feeling you are experiencing….
What I can suggest is how I help myself be both kind to myself but also how I attempt to expand my own personal insight into my own behavior/thoughts/feelings…. How you have been feeling is just that feeling….feelings are never right or wrong…just feelings….behaviors on the other hand can have rightness or wrongness…. Spend some time sitting with your feelings….sift them…refine them….check your behaviors…have you been unkind in speech or deeds?....that is for you to explore, to unpack from your perceptions. Are your feelings based on an internal or external stimuli…don’t be surprised if it is both. It is easy to go to the concrete…staying focused on the laws and rules which are black and white (but also open to different rabbinical interpretation even with in the most strict communities) but people and feelings run the entire rainbow……allow yourself to explore those colors too….
I always return back to Hashem…who am I to question the depth and breath of the human expression….I embrace me!...and hope to be as authentic as I can be within my own lovely imperfection! ….you have packed some wonderful life experiences into a young life….(now I sound like one of those 100 year old bible people!) age does change ones perceptions too! Allow yourself time and space to explore the ever emerging you remembering our perceptions are subject to change and that what makes us the most human of all is our tendencies to fall…yet with the help of our loving communities, our beliefs and faith we can be kind to ourselves…and then hopefully others. I hope take the time to really experience this time in your life….even if it is one prayer at a time….

Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

A quick comment. Still haven't read through all the comments. It really saddens me when I met Jews who are in no way passionate about Judaism. It has become rote. They go through the motions but don't seem in any way, shape or form inspired. In one of my speeches, I say, "Don't they realize how lucky they are to have been born Jewish? Just Jewish?" I think about the friends who have had day school education, a year in Israel, years and years of learning I wish I'd had. They know so much more than I do but have so little inspiration.

Sometimes, I find that as a convert, people feel more comfortable discussing their shortcomings. I don't know why they think I'd understand. Generally, I don't. So many of the things they struggle with are things that come quite easily to me, even though my lifestyle has changed so drastically in some ways. People also feel extraordinarily comfortable, because I'm a convert, on calling me out when they don't feel I'm doing things the way they feel I should. Little do they know that I don't stand for the Amidah because I can't hold a siddur in my hands without experiencing excruciating pain. Sometimes, we don't know all the details. I try not to judge. But yeah, it hurts to see people take for granted the things you've worked your ass off to incorporate into your life.

TikunOlam said...

It seems that this "take for granted" issue that has been brought up many times on this comment thread by converts and baalai teshuva may be the one the FFBs are responding negatively too.

Like any people, not everyone likes the cards they were dealt. Some had crappy experiences growing up as a religious Jew. Some feel restrictions were forced down their throats. Some failed in school being forced to have a dual curriculum in school, later school days and double homework. Some girls/women hated having to take a back seat to men all the time, sit in the back of the shul, watch men get to do all the cool stuff and have to hike in long sleeves and skirts.

FFBs did not choose as adults to become Jewish. They were born into it. It meant no prom, no feeling like you had a "normal" childhood, feeling like you missed feeling a part of the broader culture. Your college choices were limited (if given a choice to go to college at all)as well as your choices of who to social with, date and marry. Your access to the arts was limited because who had the time, and if you were a female gifted singer who could have made a career of it (as one friend of mine did) your talents were squashed.

And heaven forbid you didn't believe that what you were doing wasn't founded in truth. Then, as a child, you were forced to live a life you didn't believe in. Punished if you didn't want to daven. Maligned by Judaic Studies teachers for questioning and doubting.

Just as FFBs can't understand the experiences of Jews by choice, I suggest baalai teshuva and converts respect the fact that there is a whole childhood upbringing involved in being an FFB. Not all liked it. Some resent it. And like for you, it isn't easy to leave and be something else of choice. So many FFBs stick around and look inconsistent in the way they observe. It is not easy to leave the community behind. It is all they know. It is not any easier than it was to leave yours. I know, I left to live a life of my choosing. And I can never really feel at home with my own family again. I can understand, considering how difficult it has been on me (when family members criticize you for taking in nonJewish foster children, how do you think that feels??)

Leaving means rejecting the ways of your family, being shunned by many lifelong friends, never feeling you can go back home again.

People really need to be careful not to judge or in this case wonder how a person could not be overjoyed at being an FFB. It ain't all a party for all of us.

Anonymous said...

I am not orthodox but I do spend a lot of time in the orthodox community and it's comments like these that make me question why I do. I like Shabbat. I like being part of a community that keeps Shabbat and has Shabbat meals. I go out of my way to keep my house kosher to a standard so that other people can eat in it even though I do not keep that standard myself out of the house. The thought that someone would not want to eat a meal at my house because of my level of observance even though I got out of the way to accommodate their beliefs is deeply offensive. People have different belief systems and levels of observance even within an orthodox community. If you don't like or respect the people fine, but to not want to go over to their homes because you are worried that they don't have the level of observance as you is truly a holier-than-thou attitude. If you are really worried about it, make it clear specifically what you need to come over (and offer to bring food!) or otherwise just accept them for who they are and enjoy Shabbat with them.

Yisroel Reiss said...

Amazing post. I really admire your honesty. What you wrote about is something that every frum person comes across at one point in his or her life!

Anonymous said...

I guess I am lucky to have Rabbi Awesome in my life and willing to be my Jewish mentor. He encourages my Orthoprax lifestyle and answers all my questions. I know I am very judgmental about my JBB SIL and of who just tattooed the sim shalom prayer WITH VOWELS down the side of her body. They celebrate holidays "around" the time of the holiday. They don't observe Shabbat at all and I have to tell you I get MAD, flaming RED HOT mad, when my in laws hold her up to me as the epitome of Judaism and then bitch at me for being WAY more observant. In their eyes, I am a fanatic.

Rabbi Awesome is a master of standing up for what you believe and doing what you believe. And through his advice I have come a LONG way. I cover my hair, I go to the mikveh, I keep kosher. My kid attends religious school to the tune of $750 a year. I have my values.

So yes, I do get you and I know where you're coming from. And maybe it's the convert's heart that has been so thoroughly gripped by the intensity of our experience...the need of our experience...that when we see people who were born to it and didn't feel that need or have our pain or our struggle we can't help but want for them to feel the same urgency we did. I also like to think that by my example, maybe I bring people closer to their heritage. Maybe. I have also lost friends over it. It is because of the clarity of Rabbi Awesome and his close relationship with me, though, that I have been able to embrace the Judaism I want to live. The rabbi that converted me? Made fun of someone for covering their hair. So not for me.

Now I live kind of between communities and that's fine. My home shul when RA was there was conservative in nature...Reform by definition. Now it's headed more Reform since he's gone. I also go to the Orthodox shul in town. And yeah, I do drive there because there's no other way. I feel more comfortable there and it IS my goal but I also realize "in HaShem's time, not mine". In the meantime, I define my own way, which, as I said, RA calls "Orthoprax" or high Conservative. It works for me and I am blessed to have friends in ALL streams who accept me.

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