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Judaism & Me

15 February 2009

I’ve long had an ambivalent relationship with Judaism, finding myself drawn to it emotionally and philosophically. But experientially, I’ve been repulsed from it, from the actions of many jews I met, and what is the religion but the people?

Other religions that I feel drawn towards are the Quakers and the Buddhists, and I probably should talk about those at some point. But it is Judaism that I’ve had the most interaction with, good and bad.

Pulled Towards
I cannot very well explain what attracts me to Judaism. It’s in my father’s blood, though the only reason I have the connection that I do (I was raised Jewish from my ninth year to my Bat Mitzvah) is from my areligious mother’s decision that we should be exposed to religion, and Reform Judaism was what she chose. I have wavered significantly over the years between identifying as Jewish or areligious/agnostic.

I’ve seen a sense of community within Judaism that I admire. The emphasis on food, family, and involvement. The desire to celebrate. The encouragement of questions and debate, the humor and curiosity, I’ve seen.

Even the language of Hebrew is inexplicably emotional for me.

Pushed Away
My troubles with Judaism has usually been with the people. The congregation I belonged to, while fairly laid back, was quite political, and often adamantly zionist. As a practical-pacifist, I cannot condone the Israelite’s violent claim to their homeland. I was in middle-school when my family belonged to Or Chadash, and found the religious youth community little different from my school. Granted, I was not taunted for being a jew; that would have been bizarre. But I was still different; my brother and I were not raised as Jewish from birth; we had been baptized even. I spoke funny and had difficultly with languages. And, of course, I was a geek; a shy bookworm who found little acceptance among the more mainstream girls in the congregation.

I’ve always been an alien in my heritage. I’m rarely comfortable among a group of Hispanics, and only slightly more so in a group of Jews. I might share blood, but I am an outsider, and have none of the cultural background I feel is expected of me.

My parents decided belonging to a congregation was too much trouble after we moved, but I was still considered Jewish by my peer group. During the first week of high school, I found a stuffed rat sharpied with Swastikas in my backpack. The administration confiscated it and never said another word.

Since then, most of my interactions with Judaism has been pleasant, as long as I avoided political conversations. My first boyfriend was an ardent Zionist and we existed happily by never bringing up the topic of Israel in conversation. Last summer, however, I was the victim of “accidental” sexual violation (apparently “no” and “stop” can be difficult words to comprehend, even when stated repeatedly), by a person for whom Judaism was a large part of their identity. At least publicly. I’ve found so much hypocrisy in people’s public religious personas and their private, true, selves.

I suppose that’s a fact of many religions, though, and it troubles me. When religion is cultural rather than personal, there is incentive to outwardly conform, even if you do not agree. How can I trust?

* * *

My internal landscape is stormy, often. But I do not know if a desire for safety, for community, is the right attitude to with approach religion. It feels like cheating, almost. That there is so much out there that is terrible, that is unanswerable, that I need to confront as it is, and not to hide within a faith that I cannot prove.

I have a strong desire to believe. I don’t know how else to put it. There is an intense longing within me to find a foundation on which to build my life. I am full of doubt and fear and unanswered questions. I yearn for a sense of community, of belonging, to push away the isolation and chaos I always feel. I wish for guidance on this path I’ve chosen that is unknown to me. I search for thoughts to calm my troubled mind, and faith to soothe my doubting soul.

My life I feel is to doubt, to question, to challenge. There is so much in the world I do not understand, so much I feel should change. Is open-mindedness counter to the idea of a firm morality? In the name of almost any religion there is violence and bigotry and hatred. How can I believe what I cannot defend? The scientific and the spiritual conflict inside of me. The belief of wisdom and common sense versus the desire for progress and experimentation. Shame at my lack of self-sufficiency, both on practical and spiritual levels. I feel so weak.

Sometimes I wonder if I am meant to belong to a religious community, or any community at all. It is very rare that I ever feel that I am in the right place. Sometimes I feel like I am supposed to wander, supposed to be alone. But that is not my nature. I am happiest when I am with people, interacting, laughing, helping, talking, loving. But where do I belong? Do I belong?

Love,
Herbert.

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