Most Jews don’t even believe in God, or they’re agnostic. I think a lot of them don’t even know they’re Jews (it goes by the mother). But I was raised to be very, very religious, and I’m not anymore.
I mean I sort of am, but not totally. Not enough for the modern Orthodox yeshiva person, certainly. Maybe enough to let me in to the conversation — from a significant distance.
You leave there and you can’t go back anymore. And although I am mostly happy with my choices, every once in a while a deep feeling of sadness overtakes me. And it’s not something I can easily explain to you.
There is this shul we go to, every once in a while. The tunes are the same as when I was young. Just enough that I can sing them, and follow without too much trouble.
The rabbi and his wife, I think, pretend not to know that I’m not “really” religious. After all I know the words and I wear the long, sweeping skirt to the floor, when I go there.
But there is a veil in that shul, an invisible dividing line. Everyone on the one side of it, who’s part of it and never questioned or left, knows every other one. And you can join the club if you renounce your past life and take everything on without question. Even the things which aren’t necessary, the things which make no sense to you — just because the community decrees it.
I left all of that a long time ago. The fabric is on the cutting room floor. And every Shavuot I have to ask myself, as we receive the Torah again and I am standing there as I supposedly did on Mount Sinai, what portion of that book is really left for me?
In real life I try to be a good person. I’ve taken on a cause, have I mentioned that? Human trafficking and child sexual abuse. Did you know how many kids, including Jewish kids, suffered from it? Probably not.
But it doesn’t make up for the void in my heart. It doesn’t heal the cracks. And even if I wanted to go back to some semblance of “that,” whatever I was supposed to have learned growing up, it wouldn’t really work for me.
I don’t fit in anywhere.
The rabbi read the Ten Commandments in shul (synagogue) today, not once but twice. I listened with intent, and reflected on how little I know of even those few instructions after all these years.
Here’s the main one, as far as I’m concerned: “I am God.” Everywhere I go, and everything I do, involves and rotates around that central, basic commandment. To know that God is real.
Building on that, I’ve been listening to other people a lot more this year. It’s been hard to get out of my own head, and empathize with their experiences. But every time I do it — every time I put down my own helmet of preconceptions and just listen to what others are saying — it is so damn worth it.
God, I selfishly ask You for healing this year. Draw me closer to You. Help me to know and understand Your commandments better, so I can do a better job of observing them.
Help me to be more empathetic to people, and in doing so to help them heal, so they can also draw closer to You.
I can’t go back to being innocent. I wish I could; it makes me cry; I just did not understand things back then.
If I could go back to my younger self, and hold her hand, I would explain to her that God gives us many tests of faith. And that one of them is encountering other Jews who are resolutely, determinedly evil — despite their social standing and superficial observance of the commandments.
But that isn’t going to happen. What’s done is done and over.
And frankly, whatever I’ve been through, it’s far less bad than so many others.
God, this Shavuos please heal us. So we can accept your Torah wholly, and be Holy for you.
The way a newborn infant is.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by eyelyas via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).