Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Day 10 - Do I Want My Daughter To Become This?

There are times that I look at frum people and think to myself that they are wonderful, warm, intelligent caring people. And then there are times that I look at them and see them as racist, isolationist bigots. And while I know that there are good and bad in all populations, I still cringe when I hear some of the things that come from people's mouths. Sometimes it's just plain ignorant, sometimes mean and sometimes their comments display a complete disregard to any life except the lives of their own kind.

A while ago, I was on a frum messageboard and followed a discussion that was brought up. Someone had commented something about intermarriage. Now, as a frum Jew, I think that intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews is a bad thing (no, don't ask me to explain it, just take it as a given from Hashem). I think all of us on the board agreed with that sentiment. But what struck me was when one person on the boards commented that in order for a man to have a complete kapparah for the sin of intermarriage, he has to hope that their non-Jewish children
actually die. One poster brought a story where this happened and stated that the person who did teshuva for this sin was estatic when his son died. Estatic! What sick people! Who rejoices over the death of an innocent person?! There were a few people on the forum who argued with her, but she maintained that her position was the only "Torah true" one.

I'm hoping that this person was an extreme example, but there are plenty of other stories that I can quote, both online and in person, where people show absolutely no feeling or empathy for anyone outside their little circle. In school, it was drummed into our heads that "the goyim" are only interested in hating us and killing us as quickly as possible. "If they could get you alone for a second and weren't afraid of being arrested for it, they'd kill you without even thinking about it," we were told. "And don't be fooled by the 'kind' grocer in the store or the 'nice' postman who delivers your mail. They just want to get rid of you too." Where do they get this nonsense from?

I suppose I must be defective. When I was fifteen years old, young and foolish, I stepped off a street corner into a busy two way street into oncoming traffic. I was simply not paying attention. It could have been the end for me, if not for the young black man who actually ran out into the street after me and pulled me to safety. He risked his life to save me. He could have just stood on the corner, or even shouted "hey you, get out of the street." But no, he actually ran out into traffic and grabbed me. He could have been hit by the same cars that were coming my way. It was then that I began to realize that what I had been told could not possibly be true. That little incident broke me, so to say. I was no longer able to listen to everything that was told to me and began to (gasp!) think independently.

Eventually, I was learned to think and explore for myself. And do you know what I found? Most gentiles want the same things out of life that I want -- to live peacefully, to be able to raise a family according to their values, to make some money, and to generally be happy. Most really don't care about Jews one way or the other. Sure there are some out there who hate us, but those are few and far between.

But I don't want my daughter to grow up to be a racist like most of the people I know. Sure I could try to counter the messages that she gets in school, but why should I have to do that? Why should I send her to a school where they lie about others and have to tell her that the school is lying to her?

But it's not even just school... it's the whole atmosphere around here. Some people here just think that gentiles are subhuman. Others think that they're human, but ignorant savages who wouldn't know right from wrong if it bit them in the butt. Others think that they're human but ultimately worthless and insignificant and not worthy of Hashem's love. But you know what? I'm sick and tired of hearing these things. And I'm sick and tired of dealing with people who are bigots. I don't want my daughter to grow up this way.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Day 9 -- Wasting Our Best Talent

I have a neighbor here who is an amazing guy. He's a member of the local Hatzalah. He's always the first on the block to do a chesed for someone. He's a real go-getter when it comes to doing things for other people. When it comes to bein adam lachaveiro, this gentleman is one of the best that there is.

As for his bein adam lamakom, I can't comment. I don't know how much kavanah he has when he davens. But what I do know is that he learns during the day. The problem is that this isn't what he wants to be doing.

Oh, don't get me wrong... he'll always learn no matter what he does throughout his life. I highly doubt that the day will ever come when he won't open up a sefer of his own free volition. But he doesn't want to be a "learner." What he wants to be is a doctor.

The man is in love with the idea of medicine. That's probably what convinced him to become a member of Hatzalah to begin with. He's spent plenty of time telling my husband that he would love to be a doctor and be able to help heal the sick. With his brains, compassion, empathy and the medical skill he's demonstrated so far, I think he'd make a heck of a doctor. So, what's the problem?

Well, the problem is that he is totally ill-equipped to begin the process. Having learned in a yeshiva that didn't have English studies, he has no high school diploma. Even if he gets his GED, he'd have to find a way to qualify for college and then (assuming he graduates) into medical school. For certain, there would be financial considerations that are difficult to overcome (med school ain't cheap) but that's not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is that he's "stuck" in yeshiva. The pressure on him from his wife, family and community are far too great for him to ever be able to "break free." He's afraid to leave the yeshiva because of what his colleagues will think about him, but all the more, because of what his family and wife will think of him. His wife doesn't want a "modern" husband who goes to college... she married a "learner." His parents didn't raise him to be a "college guy," they raised him to be a ben torah which, by (their) definition, means one who does not seek out "goyish" education.

Lastly, there's the issue of "culture shock." Could he withstand going from a sheltered, insular community to the college and med school campus? My personal feeling, based on what I know of him, it would be difficult. He would encounter such alien ideas that, in my opinion, his head would probably explode.

It's a shame because my husband tells me that the guy is miserable. While he likes learning, it's not the type of thing that he wants to do ten hours a day. He would love to become a doctor, but because of the society in which he was raised, he's been "trapped" in a place where the only way he could achieve his dream is to leave everything he's ever known behind. What a waste of a good potential doctor.

I suppose this is a part of the reason that I'm considering leaving the fold myself. I don't see how a healthy community system can prevent people from acheiving their dreams (provided of course, that their dreams are within halacha). How can a society morally stop people from becoming doctors, dentists, architechts, etc.? How can a group of people decide that it's better that no one gets an education and that there is only one acceptable occupation -- Torah learner? Is this really the sign of a healthy society? Is this what I want my daughter to grow up to? Do I want her to be placed on the "mommy track" with absolutely no hope of escape? No! I want her to become all that she can be. I want her to be able to reach for the stars and at least have the opportunity to try to grab them. I don't want her to end up bound in the system that thinks that ignorance is knowledge.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 2 - Lost: Meaning In Davening

It’s been quite a while since I davened.

Well, that’s not really true. Actually, I davened just last Shabbos in shul. What I should say is that it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt anything while davening. Sure I stood in shul, recited the prayers, and even comprehended most of them. I said the words, stood when I was supposed to stand, bowed when I was supposed to bow and answered when I was supposed to answer. But the whole thing seemed to me to be more of a simple ritual of familiarity rather than a direct communication to a Higher Power. The words were there, the motions were there, the song was there – it was all there – except for the emotion.

When I was younger, I usually had a clear focus when davening. I knew to Whom I was praying and what it was I was praying for. I’m not going to pretend that I davened with kavanah every time, but I genuinely felt a connection when I prayed. I’m can’t say for certain what the connection was to… maybe it was to God, maybe it was just to the inner portion of my soul… but there was definitely an emotional connection which helped to give my prayers focus and meaning.

Slowly, that disappeared. It’s easy to keep that enthusiasm about davening when you’re still discovering the meaning. Sure we davened in elementary and high school and sure we studied peirush hamilim in davening, but I can honestly say that while I might have understood the meaning of some of the words, I didn’t really have a clue as to what I was davening. That understanding came with the maturity that I gained in the years after high school. It was only after high school, when I started to develop an adult understanding of the world and started to move beyond the strict confines of thought imposed by my teachers that I began to appreciate the beauty of some of the tefillos. I was swept up in the enthusiasm of finding new meanings in the words that I had recited by rote for years, in the newfound appreciation for the words, and the hidden meanings behind the words in our prayers.

However, eventually, the novelty wore off. And with it, so did the enthusiasm of davening. I began to wonder whether God truly wants to hear the same thing from us day after day after day. I truly wonder if the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (or whomever formulated our davening) did us any favors by making the daily Shemoneh Esrei the same day in and day out. By having the same text recited over and over and over, it breeds familiarity, and causes it to lose its “freshness.” I suppose that’s what happened to me. After a while, I began to become… bored with the tefillos. When I finally extracted what I believed to be the final ounce of meaning that I could extract from them, they became like a grapefruit rind once all the juice has been squeezed out… just an empty husk. Except that whereas I get to throw the grapefruit rind away when I’m done, I’m still stuck with the same prayers in the same siddur.

And so, I find it… difficult, to say the least… to work up the necessary emotion to have a good davening. Oh sure, I still go through the motions, but the emotional impact has been lost to me for quite a while. And I miss that emotional impact. I really miss it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Day 1 -- Six Months Left

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Malkie. I'm 26, married for five years and I have a beautiful two year old daughter. My husband is a great guy. I truly love him and our family. We have no serious financial worries (although we haven't started paying tuition yet) and our health is fine.

So, what's the problem?

Well, the problem is this... I just don't feel any... yiddishkeit anymore. Where once upon a time I had a feeling of closeness to God and a joy in keeping the mitzvos, I no longer have this today.

What led to this yeridah? I honestly can’t say for sure. It started shortly after the birth of our daughter. It’s not like one day I was “gung ho” on the mitzvos and the next day I was “who cares?” It’s been a gradual process, slowly building up from day to day.

I look at the frum community and see all the troubles that abound. Rabbeim accused of horrible crimes against children. Horrible attitudes that I see from my friends and neighbors toward those who aren’t Jewish (or are from “wrong” frum circles). Seemingly more and more bizarre rulings from rabbanim. The nonsense that goes on in the shidduch world (which, as a na├»ve 21-year old I embraced wholeheartedly, but now see as demeaning, demoralizing, filled with arcane nonsensical rules and just plain stupid). The apologetics that some people go through to make the gedolim out to be paragons of perfection rather than well-learned, exemplary but fallible human beings. And on and on. I see it all in real life, and in cyberspace (such as on and other cyberplaces).

At this point, I’m so… disgusted… with the system that I’m almost ready to chuck it. I can’t believe that HaShem wants us to engage in all this nonsense (if, indeed, He exists… but that’s another story for another time).

The one main problem is that I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a husband whom I love very much who married me with the understanding that I would be a good Jewish wife. I have a daughter who is too young at the moment to understand, but, nonetheless, expects a good Jewish role model for a mother. I have my own parents who would be scandalized if I just left the fold… certainly I owe all of them better than this.

And yet, I don’t know if I can go on living a charade. I don’t know how long I can feign joy at keeping the mitzvos. I don’t know how long I can go on pretending that I believe that the Torah lifestyle is the ideal lifestyle when, deep down, I no longer believe it.

And, of course, there is the issue of the fact that people change. After all, just two and a half years ago, I was a “true believer.” Who’s to say that I won’t slip out of these spiritual doldrums in a few months and be “hunky-dory” again? On the other hand, who’s to say that I will, and how long can I wait for this to happen?

And, I suppose, that’s the point of this blog. I’m going to give myself six months. I’m going to work hard during those six months to try to see the positives in Judaism. I’m going to spend the next six months trying to re-establish a connection to my spiritual self. I’m going to spend the next six months doing some soul-searching (if I have a soul) to see if this is the way I want to spend the rest of my life, and if this way of living will give my life some meaning.

And what happens if I don’t? What happens if, after six months, I find that I am no closer to God, or God forbid (pun intended) I’m even further away? What happens to my marriage and my family? To my parents? I don’t know. But I do know that I have a breaking point. I can’t live a lie, and I can’t go on pretending forever. For now, I do it for my family. I do it for my wonderful husband. I do it for my precious daughter and my parents who worked so hard to raise me. But if I’m going to live this way for the rest of my life, then it has to be for me. It has to be because I want to live this way, not because others want me to. It has to be because I am moved to do so, not because I feel pressured by familial and societal pressures to do so.

And so, that’s the point of this blog. This blog will help me work through the ideas of how to go about my life. This blog will be my laboratory for thoughts and ideas regarding the big decision that I have to make in my life.

Six months, starting…. Now.