Nov 29, 2011

Gam Zu L'Tovah: I No Longer Am Consistent

I thought about making a podcast. I thought about writing a cryptic slam poem. I thought about just saying that this blog has taken too much out of me and I've passed up on many a chance to focus on me, to be and live for me. But this blog has been my baby, my internal dialogue, my therapy. You guys are the flies on the wall of my mental canvas. You get to see the inner workings of a stranger. The world gets to see the inner workings of a stranger. So what would be stranger than me simply disappearing from the blog, citing stress, questioning everything I know about myself, family drama that cannot even be described, and new people in my life?

The weirdest thing about being divorced is feeling like I was never married. Is that normal? Is it normal to look back and think, where did the past three years go? Who was I? Was that even me? Don't misunderstand: I got married because everything seemed to fall into place. I sought the physical and emotional comforts that marriage and relationships provide. But looking back and reflecting on it all, I did myself a great disservice denying my own feelings about the whole thing. To put it more simply: I have no clue who that woman was over the past three years.

There are clear moments: Graduate school, my Orthodox conversion, Israel. But all of the things that should matter, that should stick with me are as if a fog. Like watching a tragic movie with a tragic woman who wants nothing more than to be that image of the Orthodox woman living the Orthodox life with her Orthodox husband in an Orthodox world. And I got that. I dressed the part, I spoke the part, I ate the part, I lived the part. I was that person that people strive to be, and for those who read this blog and look for guidance on conversion to Orthodoxy, I was that example to follow.

And all of the important stuff was honest. It's the superficial stuff that I'm starting to wonder whether it was real. I believe everything -- I believe and have a firm conviction in all that Orthodox Judaism provides and demands, but I've hit this point where, because I'm unraveling who I was for three years, I don't know that I am capable of following through as that person. Not right now.

Man. I sound like I'm being cryptic. Like what I should say, what I want to say is so obvious. But, you see, I've placed myself under the microscope of so many people, at least 55,000 a month. And as you start to question yourself and where you're going, it's like the sun is shining so bright you're on the verge of combustion. In the Jewish community, for me at least, the fear of retribution, exclusion, denial are beyond words. The fear that, if I decide that eating out at a vegetarian restaurant is something in which I want to dabble that I will be rejected wholly by those around me. That if I decide that I'm interested in someone who isn't Jewish that my readers and friends will look at me with judgment and horror.

Oh how the mighty might fall.

In one of the segments of Ask Chaviva Anything! someone asked whether I put too much emphasis on being a convert, and I said that it's impossible, because being a ger is the very fabric of who I am. It defines my social life, my diet, my clothing, my approach to everything in life. A Jew can go "off the derech," and we scoff and laugh and pray that they come back into the fold, no matter how nominally affiliated he or she is. But no matter how not Jewish he or she chooses to date, he or she will always be Jewish. An ancestor's ketubah or picture of a grandparent's grave, and matters are solidified. A convert? Well, I have a folder that holds both my Reform and my Orthodox conversion certificates. Pieces of paper signed by modern rabbis in a modern rabbinical court in an environment installed with processes and circumstance. But those papers can disappear, they can be questioned, they can be enough to cast away someone indefinitely.

I sound dramatic, I know. But this is a glimpse into my head, my life, my world right now. People tell me that HaShem never gives us something that we can not handle, and others say gam zu l'tovah (this, too, is for good). And that makes me wonder why I currently find myself in the circumstances that I do. The more difficult thing, however, is that I feel good. I feel right. I feel happy. For the first time in a long time, I feel like me.

People are fluid. Our experiences are fluid. From one moment to the next, we cannot expect consistency from either ourselves or others. We're impacted by our environments, our emotions, our genetics, resulting in an ever-changing sense of self that should never stand still. Drastic changes, we assume, must be attributed to some life-altering event or emotion. However, in truth, it seems to make sense that we would be constantly in flux, changing, inconsistent. After all, that's why Judaism has so many installed proscriptions of how to live -- consistency. Everyone works better on a schedule. Or do we? I guess what I'm saying is that we expect too much from ourselves, from others, in the way of consistency. We expect people to have patterns, and when the pattern is thrown, we assume the worst.

Don't assume the worst, please.

Also: As an aside, if you didn't see Mitch Albom's "Have a Little Faith" on TV the other night, then you need to find it and you need to watch it. It had me in tears at the end, and I don't cry easily. The only movie I ever cried during was "My Best Friend's Wedding." But in the movie, the rabbi (played by Martin Landau) poses the following (and I'm paraphrasing) Why didn't G-d create one perfect tree? Why did he create multiple trees, spruces, pines, oaks? It's the same with man and our beliefs. There are many ways to G-d, not just one. (And this, folks, is my comfort.)


TMC said...

No judgment, Chaviva. Just ♥. We're all constantly growing and changing. Go where G-d takes you.

Melissa S-G said...

Life is journey, and so is Judaism. Be true to yourself and follow your own path. We'll be here to support you wherever that may take you.

Anonymous said...

every day is a journey. its how we travel that counts.

Anonymous said...

You are EXACTLY where I was August 2010. Well, for the most part.

I fell off that Jewish wagon though...I stopped going to shul and I started dating someone not Jewish. I regret falling off the wagon, and every day, bit by bit, I come back. It's slow though. However, the really weird thing is that my non-Jewish boyfriend is what is helping me come back. He is the support system I needed...and I will take the criticism for that until the day I die.

I am not saying to go the way I did, but if you do, you do. If you want to test the waters of kashrut, etc. then do what feels right. This whole thing is a really complicated journey, and you have a lot of people that will support you, and some that may shun you. But in the end this i *your* journey.

CrazyJewishConvert said...

I was really interested by your comments about humans naturally being inconsistent. I agree. But I remember a famous quote I read somewhere along the lines of "integrity is being consistent." Consistency is so hard for humans that it is the true marker of integrity. Not intended as some kind of judgment, just a different perspective on the idea.

Emily said...

Sigh. I get it. Well, not the Orthodox part, but the frustration of knowing that if you decide to go OTD too much, that your very status as a Jew can come into question. Sitting at the shabbat table last week and explaining my view on why going to services is important, I was told that I should "try being Jewish for 30 years and see if [I] still feel the same way." If only.

If you wake up and ask yourself every day "what's good enough for Hashem, what's good enough for me?" rather than "what's good enough in the eyes of others?" I think you'll be ok. That's what I'm telling myself at least.

Batya said...

The concept of Teshuva doesn't mean we're always going in one direction. We're a high-bounce ball with problems, issues. You're now a Jewish ball and as you know, Jews are complex people.

Ms. Minister of the Interior said...

I like to remind myself, I'm not searching for THE derech; it's MY derech that I'm trying to find.

And also: אלו ואלו דברי אלוהים חיים

Hang in there, lady. Trust yourself. Only you know what's best for you.

...And if you go to the vegetarian restaurant, ENJOY and betayavon, because I'll bet the service there will be way better than at basically every kosher restaurant, ever. The food will probably be better, too.

(Jk jk!!!! I know there are Kosher restaurants with good service and good food in the world, just not so much where I live.;) )


Anonymous said...

1. You cannot be "cast away" from your Reform conversion, no matter what some misguided rabbi might attempt to do with your Orthodox status. Ever. And really, attempting to "unconvert" a convert is hateful and hypocritical, but what it isn't is Jewish. Conversion is forever and that works both ways. And if it ever feels like it doesn't, there's more than one Orthodox shul and frum neighborhood on this planet.

2. Maybe you feel a sense of relief because you were meant to be an Orthodox single woman all along, not an Orthodox married woman. At least not yet. Maybe that relief is a big, fat, wonderful, cuddly hint from Hashem?

3. The only consistent thing in a well-lived life is growth. We learn, we change, and most importantly, we treat ourselves with compassion while that's happening.

4. Given all of that, maybe, just maybe, what feels like going OTD right now--because your whole former comfort zone has fallen away--in Hashem's eyes is really a necessary transition to the Jewish path your really meant to be on?

5. Hug you. :-)

frum single female said...

try not to be too hard on yourself. you are going through a divorce and you changed cities of residence. change is difficult and often people fluctuate during hard times.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chavi-
Whatever you do, we will always consider you a friend and you will always be welcome at our place.

Ronit said...

I know it's easy for someone in my position to be an "armchair psychologist" but it sounds like you've only just realized that somewhere along the way you lost track of the true You-ness that you were originally after, and started chasing some imaginary ideal iconoclast you thought you had to live up to...

I hope you are now going through the requisite (internal) journey of true Tshuva - returning to YOURSELF and not necessarily focusing on what "everyone else" is doing. The TRUE Chaviva is in there somewhere, and I think it's safe to conclude that she is an amazing person and a good Jew, you just need to work on getting to know her better. It ain't easy, babe....but you have all the tools you need and I know you'll get there in good time, BE"H!

Much luck and HUGGGGGGGGS!

Anonymous said...


I think I understand this very well. There was a time that I tried to be perfectly observant. I learned (the hard way) that that didn't last. I know I am inconsistent. I know that I must be forgiving of myself if I am to be of value to myself (and those around me).

Needless to say, this is easier said than done. I struggle with this every day.

Please don't be too hard on yourself. We all respect what you have done. I wonder if many of us could have done the same.

Love and best wishes at this trying time. Please keep writing.

Pura Vida said...

I am happy that you feel good, that you feel right, that you feel happy, that you feel like you. Celebrate, Chaviva. We'll celebrate with you.

Anonymous said...
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Rachel Rosenstern said...

My Mother-in-law says "If there were 2 Jews stranded on a desert island, there would be 3 shuls".

No one can tell you what is right or wrong for you. We can't even agree about the rules amongst ourselves. We are forever evolving and changing so I say, if it feels right, then it must be.

Hadassa DeYoung said...

Chaviva, Have you ever learned in a women's yeshiva? In Israel they're generally called a michlala or a machon. Maybe you need to go someplace for a few months were no-one knows you and you can have time and space to get to know yourself in a spiritually beneficial environment. Every place is different so recommendations from friends are a must.

violarulz/ducksandbooks said...


I'll be your date to any veggie restaurant in Boulder/Denver! No judging, no fan-girlyness, just 2 Jewish ladies who lunch (we can even get all dressed up for each other if you want, I like getting dressed up for no good reason and it's always more fun to look good with someone else!).

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