The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

Uncovered

Orthodox Judaism has a uniform. It varies according to sect and strictness of observance, but it’s always there, worn as an identity.

As a child, I wore long, mid-calf skirts, sleeves below my elbows and necklines that covered my collarbone. I was lucky I could wear kneesocks, I couldn’t stand the feeling of tights, and I had room for expression with my hair and earrings. I pushed the boundaries as far as I could which wasn’t very far but made me a rebel. I got long cowboy boot earrings and rolled my socks down to my ankles. I pulled my sleeves up and stretched out my collars.

When I was a teenager, I exchanged that uniform for the one that branded me as trouble. I wore provocative graphic t-shirts I had cut so they fell off one shoulder. I stole my boyfriend’s jeans and cargo pants and sported big black clunky boots. My hair hung around my face, stringy and unkempt. My hands, encased in homemade fingerless gloves, smelled like an ashtray and constantly twitched.

When I tried sobriety on, I bought wrap-around skirts that swept the ground and kept my t-shirts closer to my body.

And then, when the boy who wore flannel shirts on top of sweatshirts and baggy pants added tzitzit that flew behind him and a kippa that got lost in his wild hair, I thought about another uniform. He asked me to dinner one night. I got a haircut, put on my sister’s clothing, and said yes when he asked me to marry him sporting short hair and a clean collared shirt.

Very soon after, he walked down to meet me, a black hat I had never seen on his head, and the white fabric I uncomfortably wore constricted around me. The hat never reappeared, but a different kind took its place, and a beard grew with sidelocks, and black and white only on Shabbat, and I didn’t care because when you don’t believe in god, you don’t shake a marriage over a uniform. And anyway, my skirts and shirts were changing with every season, every pregnancy, and every time I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the woman staring back at me.

But my head stayed under wraps. Always, I kept my hair tucked beneath fabric I fought with each morning.

Until he started sharing his doubts with me.

We started to strip. Slowly, we took off the bits of cloth that weighed us down and told the world the lie we once believed. And then it was down to a little bandana wound around my brain. Every day I would look at it and cry.

I was tired of crying.

I walked out of the house without it late one Friday night when I knew no one else would be outside.

It took a while to feel comfortable without a uniform. I still feel naked at times. But that first time will stay with me always; an unveiling that is seared in my memory with a plaque reading: Here lies a woman of valor.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The air is cool and brisk. It has been a dry, moody winter and when the cold rain fell this morning a sigh of relief spread over me like a blanket. I am reminded that my sneakers don’t absorb water with a misstep into a pool of rainfall gathering in the groves of uneven pavement. It is dark and this section of sidewalk is poorly lit. My damp toes are worth the protection night has given me.

We are walking around the block. The kids are excited to be out in their pajamas. They chatter and skip, burying their noses in coats someone sent us from a place where winter means snow. Their cheeks are beginning to flush; I’m glad I left the windows open at home.

My husband walks beside me. His every stride is two of mine. No matter how hard we try; we are never fully in sync. He hums, occasionally adding a whistle, the way he does whenever he is lost in thought. I snake my hand into his pocket and find his welcoming fingers.

My heart is pounding.

My entire body is shaking.

I can feel every hair on my scalp.

I want to lower my head. I want to put my hood on. I want to run back home. I want to cry and laugh and cry.

A breeze blows towards me. I can feel the wind run through my exposed strands gently, almost lovingly. My eyes, stinging from the storm raging deep inside my tortured body, tear and swell, spilling sorrow down my cheeks where winter licks them softly dry.

We turn the last corner. We are alone on these cold, wet streets. We are performing a ritual we barely understand ourselves. They are accompanying me as I walk away from the crushing burden I know more intimately than the bare-head reflection I see in the mirrored lobby wall.

She smiles at me as I pass, her eyes are bright and bold and beautiful.

Letting Grief out to Play

Every year, I would sit down during the three weeks and write. I always wrote about pain and suffering, the land of Israel and the idea of redemption. I couldn’t run away from relating to the entire period so intensely and savagely.

Fearfully.

There was always an element of fear that flowed through my emotions. Maybe it was how I was raised. Maybe it was the depressing contatas I sat through every year in Camp Bnos. Maybe it was the Holocaust stories we read every Tisha B’Av. Maybe it was the song of Eicha sending shivers down my spine.

Maybe it was irrational.

Maybe it was real.

Some time has passed since I connected to this mourning period. I have sat shiva. I have ripped my clothes. I have recited kaddish at a grave. Somewhere along the way, I lost the part of me that mourned for the utopia I believed in.

Losing belief; I think that may be what I am mourning for.

***

I used to feel it.

I used to be able to touch the history of the Jewish people, to smell the burning temple, to hear the wails of mothers walking the narrow alleyways, clutching the emaciated bodies of their young. I used to have the torment that connected me to my heritage, to my land, to my people.

It’s gone now.

I buried some of it with my baby boy. Some of it slipped into the bag of my past I had to let go. I shoved a chunk of it into the dirt that encased my sister. The rest dissolved into the air around me.

Gone.

I sort of miss it.

Without it, I don’t know why I am here in this land. I am not sure where my place is among my people. I am lost in a world that doesn’t understand the unbearable weight of grief thousands of years old.

Without it, I have to view my own pain as immeasurable against the pain endured by the masses. I have suddenly become an individual with a hurt that cannot be locked in the confines of three weeks, taken out to be inspected for relatability on one day.

Without it, my grief is my own. It comes and goes as it pleases. It has no laws to follow, no schedule to keep. It pulls me back from the little joys I reach for and violently wakes me in the night.

I miss the container within the giant storage box where my grief used to lay; no different than the millions of little boxes cramped together in a collective hold. I miss the opening of the gates as the flock of grief poured up and over and pretended to make a difference for less than a month. I miss the quiet collection as the flock sunk back into the small spaces and clasped the lid shut tight.

I hate that I miss it.

I hate that it’s gone.

***

The feelings expressed above are rooted in my personal experiences. No two stories are alike, but we can find similarities in our journeys. How do you relate with the concept of mourning on Tisha B’Av? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

How to Lose Your Faith and Keep Your Friends

how to lose your faith and keep your friends

I am one of the few lucky ones. I have my husband and my children on this journey with me. I have my family who loves and accepts me. I have learned to connect with the people I love in ways that don’t hurt. We talk about life and feelings and our shared past and our interests and the weather when there’s not much else to say. We don’t talk about religion and we try to avoid politics. I know pain and disappointment linger in the cracks of our relationships but I try my best to be open, loving and understanding. I can love you even if you hate my choices. And I know you love me even though you hate my choices.

Friends are not family.

But I am still one of the lucky ones.

This one is for you, my friend.

***

You choose your friends.

You find your common ground and you hang out in the same places and have similar schedules that make it impossible to do anything together on any random night.

You save your friendships for the end of the week.

Your friends are in the same social circle you wander around, even if you are always on the outskirts and they are in the center.

You meet in shul or outside the shul and you invite each other over for Shabbat meals. You sit in the park while your kids run around and you catch up. You talk about your life and your feelings and your kids and your politics and your interests and your religion and you feel connected.

You form friendships out of a religious belief even though you have come to realize that the people behind the label mean more to you than the belief you may or may not share. And you treasure your friends so you think about them when you think about what you may or may not believe.

You need to put yourself first so you make some decisions and you walk off a cliff. Your friends don’t know because you didn’t tell them you were planning on hurtling through the air with a wall of rocks to your right and vast open air to your left. There might be a body of water beneath the clouds you are plummeting through. Maybe not. Your friends don’t know so they don’t know you survived.

You decide not to go to shul anymore and so you don’t see your friends quite as often. You take off your head covering and someone raises an eyebrow. You start disappearing from school pickup because you are going through too much to explain to other people. You make some uncomfortable comments about rabbis. You show up at the park on Shabbat in weekday clothes.

Then you write some blog posts and think about the last time you got together at a friend’s house for a Friday night meal.

You survived but you’re not unscathed.

You go back to the park on Shabbat afternoon because you crave something you didn’t know you ever had.

You find that you can still connect with your friends as long as you don’t address the elephant you dragged into the room. You talk about your life and your feelings and your kids and your politics and your interests and sometimes even religion.

But you want to talk about the elephant because the weight of it is slowly draining you and you can’t keep pretending it isn’t there.

Then you find yourself in the park and you are with your friend and you are talking about the elephant and it is shrinking because your friend is talking about it with you.

And you realize that you can lose your faith and keep your friends if you have the kind of friends like mine.

***

The feelings expressed above are rooted in my personal experiences. No two stories are alike, but we can find similarities in our journeys. Have you ever felt this way about a friendship? Let me know in the comments below.

Sometimes, I Cry Alone in the Night

My previous post touched on the journey my family has been on together. Although we are currently on the same page, my husband and I took different paths and followed forks in the road that sometimes seemed like they would never meet. After the birth of our son, I felt so disconnected from Judaism and lost in my marriage. I felt like I was constantly putting on a show and I was so tired. In the end, it turned out that I had mono. We chalked it up to that and continued on our separate paths until years later when we suddenly bumped into each other again. At the time, I wrote a more cryptic blog post. Looking back, I can still feel that loneliness. I want to share my experience for anyone who is standing opposite someone they love and trying not to break them with their need to be honest. You may feel alone right now, and you may be alone, but there are so many of us alone in the night. When we cry, we cry together.

***

I am trying not to hurt him.

It is hard to focus on the content of the words I am forming when he is looking into my eyes with an intensity I have not seen since my eyes met his over the lifeless bundle of cloth that held our firstborn.

It is sorrow.

He is looking at me in sorrow.

I swallow and lower my gaze.

“I’m not sure I believe,” I mumble.

He doesn’t ask me to repeat it. He’s known this for some time now, he just thought it was something I could live with.

I did live with it for a long time. I theorized that if it was all true, I did a great job and if it wasn’t I didn’t hurt anyone. I was fine with the path he wanted. I was fine with the direction that meant I could have family and friends and feel part of the familiar. I was fine with it until I started hurting and then I wasn’t fine with it.

So I tell him.

We are fighting about it now. We are at each other’s core and we are clashing so hard. I am banging on his soul and he is looking away, refusing to see himself reflected in my pain.

I turn inwards. I write because I cannot speak.

Love is not a game for losers…losers make hearts bleed and blister…losers never get it right…

Hearts can get broken… they can shatter… wilt…they can cease to beat…

Dying cries of murdered love…whispered accusations…wordless shame…

Nothing can bring back the sparks that set the fire ablaze…nothing can extinguish the rage…nothing can make this cold fire warm again…

Red-eyed woman…curled on the floor…her heart ripped open…leaking hopes and dreams…soaking her…draining her…sucking the life out of her…

Devil’s laughter rings loud and strong…mocking…mimicking her acts of love…knowing her to be nothing more than an actor giving up on the lead role…an understudy…

She can’t go on…she can’t move…she must give in…to the overwhelming sadness…of the realization that she does not know who this woman is…or what she wants…

He cannot be the man of her dreams…never sweep her off her feet…he will never hear her heart beat full…of love…of life…

His mind stumbles over what is true…and what is perceived…by her…by him…by others…

He wants to understand…he cannot…he will not…

Love is not a game for losers…losers make hearts bleed and blister…losers never get it right…

I am also postpartum and sick so we aren’t going to take me seriously until one day, he tells me he isn’t sure he believes.

The Wicked Daughter

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly reflective, I imagine my life as a boy.

I wonder if I would make the choices I make today, had I been a boy. I think that I would, because I believe my gender plays only a small part in my human make-up.

Maybe the road here would have been a little less painful, had I been a boy.

Had I been a boy, my questions would have been refuted, my doubts debated and my commentary dubbed “interesting, although off-point”.

Had I been a boy, my jeans would have been tolerated, my hairstyle overlooked and my language unchecked.

Had I been a boy, my home would have been open, rules would have been bent, and flexible schools found.

Had I been a boy, I would have hung out with my friends and crashed on their couch. I would have worked in a pizza shop or bagel store and had enough money to buy my own drugs.

Had I been a boy, I would have grabbed a beer at Shul and been given a shot or two or three Friday night after the fish.

Had I been a boy, I would have felt no fear in the dark hours of the night and would not have had to learn to keep my guard up.

Had I been a boy, I would have had a slew of caring people working in the many different organizations and schools that would have been available to me and would not have had to fight to try to save the only place that could teach me to live.

Had I been a boy, I would have been asked how the program I was in helped me therapeutically and would not have been asked when I started dressing ‘appropriately’.

Had I been a boy, my accomplishments would have been celebrated and I would not have had to keep proving myself through marriage and childbirth.

Had I been a boy, my frustration with the system would have led to a leadership position where I would have a chance to make real change and my emotions would not be considered when I offered my constructive criticism.

Had I been a boy, I would have been exactly who I am I today with the addition of a voice.

Had I been a boy, I would have been the wicked son.

Had I been a boy, I would have taken my place at the table.

Had I been a boy, I would have asked my question.

Had I been a boy, I would have then walked away, teeth intact.

Had I been a boy, I would have been invited back.

But I am not a boy…and there was never room for me at the Seder anyway…

Source: The Wicked Daughter

I Am Woman — Please Don’t Make Me Roar

I am woman; I am tired of roaring.

For as long as I can remember, my throat has burned from the constant constriction of my vocal chords fighting to be heard in a world where I was made second.

From his rib, you were formed, by his side you shall stay…

If it helps you accept it, you can think of it as opposite him…

He needs you to make a better him even though you don’t need him to do anything except plant his seed…

I knew the word he before she.

I saw his accomplishments as ultimate goals and was shown how to play a supporting role.

I was taught to speak softly, walk gently, keep my hips from lilting.

I was told to be still, stay low, be less woman, be more girl and not to share my song.

I was shown his desires and told to shut up, sit down and take it.

You are a woman…it is your place…

I fought it.

I fought it so hard it made me bleed all over the smooth foundation of everything I thought I should be building on.

I scratched my skin with knives to see if the blood matched his and when I saw it flow I knew he could never understand because life didn’t expect him to bleed.

I roared so damn loud, it tore my voice from me and almost made me mute.

I am woman.

I am tired of roaring.

So I teach my daughter that she is human first.

I teach her she can do anything she sets her mind to.

I teach her that her shape is not her definition.

I teach her to stand up and speak clearly and firmly.

I teach her how to listen.

I teach my son the exact same thing.

I am woman and I am so damn tired of roaring.

I am woman; hear me.

Source: I Am Woman — Please Don’t Make Me Roar