Sep 15, 2010

The Bad Day Post

Very rarely do I let the words, thoughts, opinions, or -- in some cases -- knowing glances shake me. LiveJournaling and then Blogging has forced me to grow a thick and necessary skin. I'm happy about this. I'm even proud of it. I consider myself one who is driven and passionate. What I dream of, I seek, what I seek, I find (most of the time), and what I find I get really, really flippin' excited about. I am a passionate person. I am the kind of person who gets geared up talking about Twitter's ability to create communities between people who likely wouldn't give one another the time of day on a street corner. I get all tingly and excited when I talk about my blog and how I've managed to help people get through the conversion process, how I've been able to calm fears, how I've been able to turn around the irrational on the web for those who feel disenfranchised, confused, lost, and on the verge of walking away from everything Jewish. I like that people know about my blog, because, in my mind, this means people get what I'm doing, what I'm saying, what I'm trying to create with my words. I assume that people understand that when I talk about my blog and how many visits I get each day and how many emails I get from readers that I'm not tooting my own horn (although, I suppose in some way this is my way of attempting to help "fix" something that I failed to "fix" in other parts of my life, which is gratifying in a way that I don't expect anyone outside of those who know me more intimately than this blog can aspire to delve). I blog and Twitter and evangelize about Social Media because I see its power. I see its power to teach, to ingather, to calm, to stifle, to ... breathe. To breathe some kind of sanity and kinship in all of us. To bridge gaps and create a New Community. A better community. Not a happier or more equal or wealthier or more satisfied community, but a better community. Better in the sense that we're using these technologies to put ourselves one mile marker ahead of where we were before these technologies. After all, if we can't make ourselves better, then what's the point? Luckily, for us, "better," is relative. But it means ahead of where we were. Different. But different better.

But I'm also passionate about Judaism. Everything that that small word captures. Even more so, everything that the three letter word JEW encapsulates, which, let's be honest, is more than any human can grasp. As a result of this, I'm that student. I'm that student that sits in class and answers every question because I hate waiting for other people to respond. I have a five-second rule, that I sometimes expand to 10 seconds. If there's silence, if people are staring at their books or papers (the class, please don't talk to me move), I speak up. As a result, I'm the dominate engager in almost every classroom I'm in (save the classes where the topic os foreign, such as sociology). The point, I guess, is that I get psyched. I want to talk about Jewish things and Jewish communities, and talk about professors who've said this or that -- when I think it's relevant or will give the in-class professor better perspective as to what I'm saying. I like to dialogue, I like to ask questions, I like to get academically dirty. It's who I am, and it's who I've always been. THAT is the one thing I've always had, outside of what everyone else said or thought or assumed about me, I've had academic engagement. In the classroom, I'm someone. I'm someone more than I am online, at least in my mind.

The reason I'm writing all of this is because I'm frustrated. Nay, I'm dejected. In one of my classes, that knowing glance showed up between a few of my classmates when I piped up with a question and mentioned the name of a professor who was connected to the point I was trying to make. That glance, which I spotted out of the corner of my eye, which killed me, which made me want to shut up and not engage, has left me feeling, well, blah. Is it wrong to engage? To be eager? To be passionate about something? So passionate that you want to ask questions and engage and push and interact? Am I a kiss-ass because I know things? Because I have a background? Because I can hold a conversation with a professor on Greek Esther or a tendency toward revisionist approaches to Jewish history?

Okay. You see, my entire life, I had this problem. And evidently, I still do. I'm the kind of person who wants to fix things, fix people, fix situations. Make things better. I do this by blogging about my personal, intimate thoughts (although, seriously, there's a lot y'all don't get here on the blog) and by learning. I learn to educate others, to better myself, to better the world around me through the light of LEARNING. I am passionate about both of these things. I am not a great ego about them. It's just who and how I am. Other people have judged me my entire life for my weight, my eczema (seriously, this ruined elementary school for me), my religious views, the way I dress, etc. Most people get over it. They grow up. They mature. They realize that life is about more than the details and pleasing other people. The one thing I was never judged on, was my passion for learning and having a conversation. And now, now that I'm here and in this new environment, I'm feeling it. I'm feeling the "you talk about it too much" and "who cares" and "get over yourself" stares and undertones of conversations. Suddenly, this one aspect of me, this aspect that I have always owned fully and completely, is wrong.

And, like I said, I'm not the kind of person to let people drag me down. I've become a much more confident person than I once was. When I came to Judaism, I came to myself. I found confidence and strength. And now? I'm worried. I'm worried that these new classmates of mine think I'm someone I"m not, that they have created assumptions, that these Jewish cohorts of mine, think I'm all ego and nothing more.

Is it wrong to be passionate? Is it wrong to be excited? Is it wrong to be me? Do I exude ego and feigned passion?

On a related note to my "Bad Day Post," at the end of my class this evening, the professor suggested that an unmentioned and unconsidered aspect of Jewish history is the idea of family, a shared Jewish family where we're all connected, across denominations or streams, and that it is family that brings it all together, no matter what individuals or groups say or do. An Orthodox rabbi could marry the daughter of a leading Reform rabbi and the world doesn't crumble in on itself. Family, after all, is the undercurrent of Jewish identity and history. The question, of course, that I immediately wrote in my notes was, "What about the convert?" There is no shared family, no connections (well, for those of us that come to this completely blank, without any genealogical tie to be found). Just the soul, the neshama. Is that why it's so tough? Is that what makes the convert sort of a fringe member of the Jewish family? Because we aren't family?

I try to keep it positive here, but I'm having a rough night. Forgive me my Debbie Downer mood (that'll lift you up, go watch SNL), especially before Yom Kippur. In these Days of Awe, reflection is necessary, but this isn't the kind of reflection I want to be doing. I'm just filled these days with a sense of figuring out who I am now. With a sheitel and a new home and new friends and big dreams and excitement about the New Community out the wazoo (whatever that means ... what is the wazoo anyway?).

I'm not looking for y'all to lift me up or tell me I'm great or that people who aren't me suck or anything. This is one of those "hear me, see me, throw me a virtual hug" kind of posts.

Something more interesting for everyone hopefully will come before the Yom Tov. If it doesn't? An easy fast (tzom qal) to you all! And, you know, I'm sorry if I've wronged you or hurt you or done anything in any way to make you think "geepers, Chavi, you suck."


Tara said...

I had to comment. I am just the kind of person you describe in yourself and it has certainly made me enemies. I served on a board of directors for a national organization and my energy and youth (they were mostly retired) scared them. I had an answer for everything, I did my research, I did good work. But I did not make any friends.

It happens in the Jewish world, for me, too. I have to mitigate my thoughts or my knowledge because sometimes it's more about getting along than being yourself and while I hate it, I accept it. I mitigated it in grad school for the same reason. I let my papers sing and I kept my mouth shut unless I knew for sure I was advancing class (it was especially bad in fiction writing courses).

And, as a prof, I LOVE the know it all students, unless they are just trying too hard. I doubt you are. Just keep being awesome. It sucks when people who otherwise would think you were awesome let this kind of thing get under their skin for whatever reason.

Unfortunately, people fear passion and knowledge. Others do love it and you know you've been, and will be, richly rewarded for bringing those gifts to the world.

Anonymous said...

You said Jewish classmates. That could be the problem... they are Jews. I am a Jew too, so are you.... but have you noticed that Jews are meshugga ? Did you become meshugga when you converted?
I don't know what it is, but we are all "not normal" - not like other people. We are WAY more sensitive, I know that is a generalization but it's what I've learnt after many years on this earth, jews are just weird. Either you get them, or you don't. If you're Jewish, you're weird too, and you have to put up with the fact that it is so.


I know exactly what you're saying, even if you don't agree with what I'm saying....

We get annoyed with other people who have something that we may aspire to have - and that is: self confidence (or apparent self confidence). Maybe you have it, and they don't, and therefore they look at you strangely.
That is what Jews do. We are one huge dysfunctional family.

I bet if it was a class full of goyim, you wouldn't have felt the need for this blog post.

This is all just my opinion, for what it's worth. I'll be very interested to hear what others think.

Anonymous said...

Le Sigh....this is so annoyingly typical that -- ugh, just ugh! Unsurprisingly, I was always the "annoying" kid in class whose hand shot up repeatedly while everyone else groaned. I am now an adult who runs a statewide organization which I am truly passionate about but who experiences such anger and frustration at the apathy I see in so many of my peers. Hang in there. The first few weeks of school are always rough...your passion is necessary and you will connect to others who feel the same.

Anonymous said...

Just by the way, I neglected to say in my anonymous comment above (#2) that you are my favourite blogger. I really love your blog. You are not afraid to say what you think and that is a wonderful thing. (and you say it well)

Suburban Sweetheart said...

I was often the girl who rolled my eyes at classmates who always had their hands raised - but so often, it was envy. Envy that I wasn't on the same level as them, envy that I was struggling to keep up while they were racing ahead with analyzing, with questioning. I do think, though, that that's part of the key: I'm quite certain you ask to learn, not to make others feel inadequate, but sometimes, I think it's important to also take into consideration whether your questioning & racing ahead is hindering the rest of the class's ability to keep up with the basics. And of course you shouldn't hinder your own learning for the sake of the lowest common denominator, but if you are, in fact, ahead of the class curve, I think that every once in awhile it's important to take a step back & ensure that the way you learn isn't hurting the way others learn, on the whole. Does that make sense? By all means, don't censor yourself or your thirst for knowledge & learning - but sometimes, if you notice that other don't seem to be on the same page, maybe you can take a different, more private route - email exchanges or a one-on-one session, during office hours or over coffee, with the professor, for example. That way, you get the in-depth analyses you crave without branding yourself "that girl who knows everything & doesn't care that we don't."

I hope this makes sense & is NOT offensive; I certainly don't mean it to be. But as someone who's found myself on both sides of this coin, I'm just trying to share a little perspective on what I've learned!

Hope tomorrow's better. Lots of love.

Batya said...

I can relate to everything you wrote.
As a very long-time veteran BT, before that was even the "name" for it, I come across people totally insensitive and oblivious to the fact that we're from different places and backgrounds. Quite a few of my neighbors are also converts, so if I'm annoyed when at a shiur (Torah class) the speaker introduces something with "just like we all learned in nursery school," imagine how others feel.
After once sitting boiling with anger and miserable when a distinguished rabbi-guest speaker said that, I decided:
"Next time, I'm going to interrupt and explain that his words were hurtful, insensitive and innacurrate."
Chaviva, that's what I do. The reaction is generally a sincere apology.
gmar chatima tova
ps the word verification here is "chose"

Jacqueline Smilack said...

As an outspoken person, journalist, Jew, who has morphed into an academic, I think it's natural to want to participate in class -- I think, as a current teacher AND student, that I see that my participation can help facilitate the class. I think that your comments, and the reason why you're making comments in class isn't to appear like a know-it-all, it's to help further the discussion (like you said). A question -- are all the students in the class master's students? Are they first-year, first-time master's students? I think that it can be really intimidating to be in a graduate-level class, especially when you are just beginning post-undergraduate studies and feel inferior, out of place and, well, just not as smart as you might have felt in undergrad. You're in your second master's program, have a wealth of experience, both in your journey into Judaism and your professional background as a journalist (someone who is paid to raise questions, pay attention to the facts and create connections between the past and present). You're way more mature than most -- and that can be intimidating. The less mature will roll their eyes and judge. I think taking a step back to realize that perhaps this judgment is less on you and more on their own inadequacies or self-consciousness might help make you feel less alienated.

By the way -- I'm so proud of you and what you've achieved since you left Denver! Mazel Tov on your marriage and amazing academic endeavors! (We should catch up, btw. Lots has changed since we last saw each other in Denver.)

pam said...

sounds like you Grossberged them. I don't say that as an insult - he is my friend! But he drove everyone crazy simply because he was (much) farther along in his education than the rest of us. I think it only raised the level of everyone he was around. I know that's true for me at least. Keep it up, Chavi!

Juggling Frogs said...

"What about the convert?"

The convert is an adopted family member, not sharing the same biology or birth-parents, but mutually chosen (rather than defaulted) to join the family forever.


The convert is the new bride, who comes from a different family, but has come joyfully to become part of this one.

Gmar chatima tova, Chaviva.

Anonymous said...

Chaviva, I think you are too quick to assign negative interpretations to what may be innocuous interactions. You just converted, got married, moved, and started school - you are going to be emotional, perhaps even depressed. When you have the urge to assume someone is having negative thoughts about you, stop yourself. In all likelihood, people are as insecure and worried about what people think as you are! You are going to make yourself crazy and forget to enjoy this amazing experience if you keep assuming the worst.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Anon I don't think so. In fact, another questionable interaction this week led me to believe this as such. And I know that look, that "She thinks she knows everything" look ... so, I know when someone's thinking X, Y, Z.

(Everyone else: I'll respond once, you know, this class that starts an hour later than it was supposed to gets over ...)

Lucky said...

I had this problem as a graduate student in undergraduate class sections (the 4000 and 7000s were together). My strategy became "sit back and watch the class dynamic" because of that look :) In my creative writing class, I did not speak AT ALL because I could tell the students in class would not like the kind of person I am

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Tara Thanks for the self-reflection and kind words. I'm also glad to know I'm not alone. I suppose I'll leave my moments of inspiration and excitement for papers and private conversations with the professor. If he/she wants to bring up something I said, all the better.

@Anonymous I said Jewish classmates because, let's be honest, a lot of these classes are Jewish students in a very Jewish degree plan. And yes, they're crazy. I was already crazy before I converted :) But I love the dysfunction of the family. I just ... you know ... wish people were nicer. But, to be completely honest with you here, if it were a class of goyim I don't think I'd be getting the look. Chances are, my level of knowledge would be *informative* and not *destructive* to them. Jews competing with Jews is a whole other ballgame of "So you think you know more than me?" As such, I probably wouldn't have blogged about it. ALSO: Thanks ... I feel really loved right now! I'm glad I have readers, readers that read and listen and care and react. It's why I do this -- I'm trying to rock us all out.

@Balebusta Thanks for the boost :)

@SS But should I sit there in silence and let the professor be irritated and answer the question himself? So he thinks the entire class is incapable of answering or asking or anything? That's not only uncomfortable for the prof, but also unfair to him AND the students. Sigh. It's such a balance, but I do get what you're saying. And, you know what? You never offend me. You're part of my e-mishpacha, so it's always good.

@Batya That's something the prof actually mentioned (and, by the way, that I am *constantly* mentioning to Jews in any classroom setting). There is no "we" in a secular institution. And even in religious institutions, saying "we did this" and "we did that" is insensitive to those who ARE NOT from the typical Jewish background. We all didn't go to camp and Hebrew school and have a bar or bat mitzvah. Just as much as "we" don't all know what "Tanakh" is. So you've hit it on the head. PS: That is AWESOME :D

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Jackie Ohmigosh Jackie! Man alive. Ahh the good ole days of Denver. I always tell people about how much I love Denver. One summer there and I was in love. If I didn't have such a strong desire to move to Israel, I'd move to Denver (or, of course, Chicago). So to answer your questions: Yes, all of the students in the class are master's students, save one who is a PhD. Becuase the course is a required first-year course for MA students, everyone is in their first year, although most of the students are older and have varied/diverse backgrounds and levels of knowledge. All, however, are Jewish, grew up Jewish. But most have an undergrad degree in Judaics, work for a Jewish organization, etc. But you're right. I gotta put it all in perspective. And, by the way, your pride in me means so much. When we met, I was working on my Reform conversion. Man, the world has changed orbit since then, right? I'd love to catch up. Email me!

@Pam Grossberged? Ha ha ha ... I don't say things that would necessarily be beyond anyone's comprehension ... I just... I dunno. I ask a lot. I answer a lot. Le sigh.

@Juggling Frogs Thanks for the kind words. I think about this, about being a member of the family tree as an adoptive member, but it sort of undermines the idea of family, of the bloodlines. It's like, you can call the grass purple all you want, but it's still green. A convert can be treated positively amazing (I'm treated this way but nearly everyone I come into contact with, thank G-d), but there's still this curiosity within me about not having been born into the bloodline, for being an "at a later date add-on" of the Jewish people. Almost punished because my neshama got lost on its way from Sinai to now. V'gam gmar chatima tovah lach!

@Lucky In undergrad classes, I *never, never, never* over participated. In my first M.A. at UConn, I was very sure not to do this. Luckily, I spent a lot of time out of class talking to the prof and the other grad students. Here, all of my grad classes so far have been specifically only with other grad (both master's. and PhD) students.

Sophia said...

Chavi, I have the *exact* same problem. Every time I ask a question, or try to start a debate about something interesting in class, people start huffing and puffing and rolling their eyes.

Just get this: You are amazing. You're an inspiration. And I'm not just telling you this to cheer you up or make you feel better, I'm telling you this because it's the truth.
People are jealous. This world is full of jealous people. People may be jealous of your knowledge, your passion, your enthusiasm, your intelligence. People are jealous of what they don't have.
Just ignore them. You know you're there to learn, and you know you're not doing anything wrong - quite the contrary. The kind of people that exchange glances when you raise a valid and interesting point, are simply not worth wasting your thoughts on.


Daniel Saunders said...

Re: the convert and the Jewish family - see Isaiah 56 (the mincha haftarah last Sunday).

Re: participating too much - it depends how you do it, I think. There was someone I was at secondary school with who would try to answer every question, to the point of getting visibly annoyed if the teacher picked someone else. I think that is taking things too far.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Sophia *THANK YOU.* Seriously. Your words, as you know, mean oodles to me. I can't take a compliment. But I'm trying.

@Daniel I don't think I've ever read Isaiah 56 ... but I'm now completely caught up with what "b'nai ha'nechar" means and why it's chosen over "ger." Both, it appears, mean "alien" or "foreigner." But why "b'nai ha'nechar" and not ger? And does it really refer to the convert? When the Bible speaks of "ger" it doesn't mean convert, but really just a resident alien, one who is outside the bounds of the community while within it. I might have to blog about this. Have you?

Laura Cooper said...

You know, I wouldn't be surprised if we either have crossed paths or will in the future. OK, this is going to sound weird, but I'm just warning you that I only got this information from your posts and links...You're in Connecticut? I was born in Connecticut and lived there for seven years! You've gone to Middlebury? I'm really considering going there for their Hebrew program soon. You've lived in Chicago? I was always in the Argo Tea on Broadway [ ], or the one downtown. (This was last summer though...and I never met anyone there; granted, I probably looked depressed from living off of honey buns that summer)...What's next?

Anyway, I sometimes have the same problem. I don't know what's wrong with kids—some of them are there for strictly utilitarian reasons: get in, get out. Anyone who prolongs the lecture or takes it even a little off course is a threat, I think. I think I missed it if you said this, but are you a graduate student? If these people are graduate students, what the heck are they doing there? My peers have an excuse, at least—we're at a community college.

the professor suggested that an unmentioned and unconsidered aspect of Jewish history is the idea of family, a shared Jewish family where we're all connected, across denominations or streams, and that it is family that brings it all together, no matter what individuals or groups say or do.

Whenever hear this, I cringe inside, even though I know it's true. I'm also converting, but this means I'm only coming in with "book knowledge"—I can argue about the Mishnah with the rest of them, but I don't know what page is coming up next on Friday night, you know?

(As an aside, I love how the conversation often drifts to Jewish law, especially at the Conservative synagogue here. I don't remember ever hearing this sort of thing after the few Christian services I've been to. I like it!)

I can relate to Batya's comment about nursery school; once during Hebrew class, we went around the table telling everyone our Hebrew names...I very obviously was the only one without one. Some things you unfortunately can't avoid.

But believe me...I've been thrown into a sort of reflection this past week that I never had foreseen! Sometimes you don't want to slug through the harder problems, but you often come out afterward knowing that it was "good for you" in the end.

Karen Zampa Katz said...

a huge smile came across my face when I read your post...I am seriously older than you...AND STILL despite years of therapy (lol) fall into he same hole you did..... my most recent adventure in being "too enthusiastic"!.....has been my recent election and participation with my synagogue’s board…I go to the meetings talking to myself…”Karen do not speak…do not ask any questions!”….over and over I say that to myself, until the topic is tearing at my body and soul and I have to be involved! Lol
There are those who love the discourse, the exchange , the debate…..and then there are those who just want to get the whole thing over with…. I have always learned and thrived on the exchange …the interconnection of the moment. I always sat near the front in undergraduate and graduate school…always had the question that moved the moment forward…always had folks who roll their eyes etc… …even when I first got involved in my synagogue, I was on our Chesed Committee (caring committee) early on I nicknamed a long term member “the eye roller” every time I spoke up she would roll her eyes…but bluntly after two years I have won her over!
What I have learned for the most part is to be myself…this is who I am…and it sounds like who you are…I try to make sure I am aware of my actions verbal and non verbal, aware of the flow in the space….leaving room for others to speak etc….but ultimately the reason I have been elected to the board is my enthusiasm…is my vocal nature and my intellectual curiosity.
good your self!

David Tzohar said...

There is one sentence in this post that bothered me. "Just the soul, the neshama?. Only the neshama is important. Are you still concerned with "bloodlines"? One of my rabbanim used to talk about "spiritual racism" It sounds almost like an oxymoron,but he meant that we are all family in the spirit, not in the blood.
It is a principle of Mussardik introspection that it must be concentrated on the search for and magnification of that positive part of our soul that nitzotz, spark of the divine that has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with the spirit. Negative introspection is in the end just a form of self indulgence.
Gmar chatima tova
David Tzohar

Daniel Saunders said...

I haven't blogged about Isaiah 56, although it's a beautful passage that often comes to my mind. It never occured to me that "b'nai ha'nechar" might not be converts, although interestingly Artscroll simply translate the term as "foreigners".

Now you mention it, it occurs to me that a ben ha'nechar might be what later was referred to as a ger toshav, which might fit the bit about the Temple being a place of worship for all peoples better than if it was a convert.

Anonymous said...

People can be so cruel. I can't believe people would make fun of eczema. I too had eczema in life and it has not been fun. Ridiculed constantly for it. Used to call me pizza legs in gym class. LOL. I laugh about it now. AND I love your blog. Keep up the good fight for all of us irregardless of where we are on our Jewish journey.

LT3aG4S said...

Why have you let this effect you?
You are faithfully and intellectually passionate! You should feel pity towards those that don't have your level of passion rather then feel judged by them.
Despite our differences, you have been and continue to be an inspiration to me both in faith and intellect. I am jealous of your passion!

Anonymous said...

*Hug* I've had those days and classes too. Have a better day. M

Anna said...

I can absolutely sympathise with your feeling of discomfort with the reactions of others to your participation in class, and the knowledge that you should not have to feel this way. After all, what are your fellow students doing there if they are not interested in learning and having a discussion? I think some of us just came that way, and our natural curiosity is part of a healthy educational interaction.

But naturally sometimes you come across those who, for whatever reason, resent your contributions. Sometimes this is purely down to their own insecurities about their academic or indeed social profile. I experienced some astonishing aggression from a fellow student in a seminar at university - which left me wondering what to do. She responded to me in such a personal and vituperative but also childish way that it was clear she resented not only my contributions but what she considered to be my social background and thus persona.

What I found ultimately helped was simply allowing this fellow student to see my human side, in interaction on a casual basis with other members of the class. As she saw that I was just as capable of chatting and joking with the rest, she became less angry and defensive and began to treat me respectfully. While I'll never be close to her, I feel like the situation was resolved in a positive way. So what I'm trying to say, in a long-winded way, is - where possible - let them see a casual side of you before and after academic sessions, and perhaps they'll stop feeling threatened and join in the lively debate.

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