Pride

It seems to be an increasing phenomenon in our culture to be blindly proud of who and what you are at the moment.  Now, this is not bad in and of itself, on the whole it is probably healthy.  However this pride taken to the extreme is throughly detrimental to the individual and society at large.

In doing research on the children of intermarried couples I stumbled upon an online community that calls themselves “half-Jews.”  These blogs and community messaging boards are set up as a place where the children and grandchildren of intermarried Jews can come together and discuss their lives and identities.  I began looking through the different threads to see if there were people like me who were honestly trying to become Jewish while recognizing and respecting both sides of their family.  Instead what I found was a place where people were settling.

Settling.  Not growing or striving or struggling with who and what they are.  Not facing the issues head on and trying to honestly approach life as a “half-Jew.”  No, instead most of what was discussed was how to gain acceptance as a “half-Jew”; how to get the community at large (Orthodox and Conservative) to recognize those who are not “Halachichly” Jewish as full members of the Jewish community.  They recognize work needs to be done, but they place the burden on others, not themselves.

It is true that the Jewish community is less than accepting of “Half-Jews,” at least Patrilineal (one whose father is Jewish but whose mother is not. According to Jewish law this person is not Jewish at all).  Work does need to be done in this regard.  Many Patrilineals feel a strong connection to Judaism and would consider conversion but for having been pushed harshly away when their identities became known.  I cannot speak for Conservative Judaism, but I believe those in the Orthodox streams should be more aware of this growing phenomenon and recognize that many Patrilineals may choose to seek a life of Torah Judaism just like any other assimilated Jew if they are given the same warmth and encouragement.

But the Patrilineals need to change as well, even more so than current Jewish society.  By arguing that we should be recognized as full members of the Jewish culture we are lying to ourselves and trying to undermine the very society we wish to join.  So often people will look in the mirror, see their flaws, shortcomings or insecurities and latch onto them as a source of pride and identity.  Instead of honestly working on themselves people will too often set as their highest source of pride and strongest identity those very parts of themselves that need the most improvement.

So is being a Half-Jew bad?  Never!  I am very proud of who I am as a Paternal Half-Jew.  I am not ashamed or embarrassed to admit it, in fact I embrace this identity; it has made me the person I am today!  But, that does not mean I should stop there.  NEVER stop there.  Just because I am proud of who I am and feel that it is an integral  part of my identity does not mean that I should force Judaism to change in accordance to my personal feelings.

As a Half-Jew I feel Jewish.  So what should I do?  Change Judaism to accommodate me?  Or should I recognize that since I feel a connection to Judaism I should explore its rich history and tradition and embrace it fully by embracing it correctly?  Too often people want the easy way out; make others change to accept ME, heaven forbid I should have to change or actualize MYSELF at all.

Pride is a good thing, it keeps us going with good self-esteem.  But it is what we take pride in that matters.  Are we going to take ultimate pride in just settling; in simply being proud of the person we just are, the individual we just happen to be?  Or are we going to be proud of who we are and where we came from but always with an eye towards growth?  There is no reason I should not be proud of my family, ALL my family.  At the same time I am also proud of being a Jew, and not a compromising shell of a Jew, but a Torah observant Jew in the proudest tradition of our forefathers.  If I feel that something is lacking, that I am not complete as a Jew, I should not seek to undermine that part of who I am, but to actualize myself by finding pride in my lineage as well as in my fulfillment of Jewish Law through a kosher conversion: that is true pride.

Being What I Am

During Shacharis, the morning prayers, there is a controversial section.  In blessing Gd for the various things he has done for us everyone thanks Gd for not making them gentiles, for not making them slaves, and then the men recite “Blessed are you, Hashem, our Gd, King of the universe, for not having made me a woman,” while women say “Blessed are you, Hashem, our Gd, King of the universe, for having made me according to His will.”

I say both.

As a male it may make more sense for me to only say the prior, as Gd did in fact not make me a woman.  But I have an identity issue, and it has nothing to do with gender.  What is this prayer really saying?  Is it saying that Jewish men are so misogynistic that they really need to thank Gd every morning that they are not a member of the fairer sex?  Doubtful.  In Judaism, what truly differentiates men from women is obligations.  Men are obligated in all the mitzvos that they technically could perform.  That means the three daily prayers at their proper times, the laying of Tefillin, reading the Torah, etc… Women, on the other hand, are not obligated in such a manner.  Judaism recognizes that women have other obligations that often take (and should take) priority, such as raising a family.  For this reason the Torah does not obligate women in performing positive, time bound, mitzvos.  Women are considered on a higher spiritual level than men, as they are able to create life (among various other reasons), so men are given the gift of obligation to allow them to reach the levels of spirituality women are born into.

So every morning men thank Gd that they are obligated to perform more mitzvos than women in order to reach up to Gd as well, whereas women thank Gd for the gift that they were created with.

So by reciting the woman’s prayer as well am I claiming to be created at a higher level than other men?  No.

As a child of intermarriage I am not a Jew.  So I skip the prayer thanking Gd for not making me a gentile, as He did in fact make me a gentile.  Instead I insert the woman’s prayer thanking Gd for making me as I am.

For us children of intermarriages our identities can be confusing.  Those of us drawn to Judaism face a major dilemma.  We love Judaism and everything it teaches, yet we have to reconcile the fact that our father did not marry a Jew, that we are not Jews, and most importantly, that our mother is not Jewish.  This can be an awkward and painful process.  On the one hand one wants to jump in and immerse oneself in Judaism to the fullest extent possible.  Yet at the same time, most people do not want to hurt their families, especially their mothers.

But by becoming an orthodox Jew a child may give the wrong impression to his or her mother.  She may think her child is rejecting her, is embarrassed of her, or resents her for not being Jewish.  She may worry that her baby wishes she were not its mother, but rather that some Jewish woman were there instead.  I can imagine no pain grater than that: the feeling that your own flesh and blood wishes you were someone else.

This is why I thank Gd every morning for having made me according to His will.  Gd saw fit to make me my mother’s child, and He also saw fit to draw me closer to Him.  I cannot separate one from the other.  I would not be the person I am today or in the position I am today were it not for my non-Jewish mother.  I cannot let her think, even for an instant, that I wish it were otherwise.  To do so would not only hurt her more deeply than I could ever imagine, but would also thoroughly disrespect Gd.  I do not pretend to understand why Gd operates the way he does.  But He saw fit to create me this way, and in his infinite wisdom it must have been the best way.

As a non-Jew I am not obligated in any mitzvos: positive, time bound, or otherwise (save for the 7 noachide laws… but lets shelf that for now).  So I obviously cannot only offer the prayer for men in its purest form, as I have no reason to thank Gd for not making me a woman: I am not yet obligated in mitzvos regardless of my gender.  For me to only thank Gd for not making me a woman would in fact be pure misogyny.  I retain the prayer for not making me a woman because some day when I convert, as a man, I will have the added obligations Gd saw fit to grant to me.  Yet given my current situation I must also thank Gd for having made me according to His will.  By offering this prayer I accept and honor my mother.  I recognize it is Gd’s will that she is the woman she is, and that she brought me into this world.  Without her I am nothing, and even as I move towards Judaism I need to let her know that I do not reject her and that I do not wish she were anything or anyone other than who she is.

.ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מליך העולםת, שעשני כרצונו

Thoughts on a New Year

Back to IU for the last time.  It’s crazy, but almost a relief.  College has not been what I expected it to be, and this next year will be something no one, least of all myself, saw coming.  College at IU does not sound like something that would better a person, at least spiritually.  However, I can’t see myself having turned out as I have had I gone anywhere else (something I will explore in a later post).  Now, this is not a eulogy (that will be in December when I actually graduate), but just some thoughts on this upcoming year.  Senior year is typically thought of as a grand finale… a time to finish up academically and to squeeze in all the partying and rambunctious behavior before entering the “real world.”  But for me it will be different.  I will not be out on a Friday night chasing tail.  I will not be at the bars, or tailgating of Saturday afternoon.  I won’t be making out with sorority girls in the back room of a party, and I won’t be streaking after we (hopefully) win the big game.  I won’t be up at 2 am smoking weed and ordering pizza with my buddies, or sleeping in until 2pm after a wild night.  I will not be doing any of the things that I thought I would be doing as a senior in college.  But do I regret it?  Not at all.  The real world is coming at us seniors faster than we realize.  In all actuality we probably have not been removed from the real world at all.  The actions we take and the decisions we make in college, both back in the day, now, and this next coming year, will not be erased when we receive our diplomas.  We will not magically transform into responsible adults once we move our tassels to the left.  We need to become the people we need and want to become now, not in some amorphous time in the future.  I know the college mentality: that life is short, so party while you can.  But that seems to miss the point entirely.  Life is short, and college is shorter… take what you can, especially us seniors in this next and final year, and make yourself better for it.  We only have so much time on this planet.  We need to stop this nonsense and realize we have a time limit on becoming the individuals we want to become.  We need to realize that we are not entering the real world this next December or May, but that we have been in it our entire lives, even these past three years!  I hope this next year, both school and calendar, brings the inspiration and courage everyone needs to maximize their potentials and to become the real people they truly want to become.

The Convert’s Dilemma

As I find myself in the oh-so joyous position of being in the gray void between convert and Jew, so conveniently created by modernity, I am repeatedly faced with a feeling of irrelevancy.  Having been raised a Jew, and having started out as a well intentioned Baal Teshuva, I felt as though my strides towards a more observant lifestyle truly resonated on high, so to speak.  And I still do, in part, feel that way.  However, I am now and again hit by gusts of futility.  I am not a Jew… yet I am one of the most observant Jews I know (or at least that are in my immediate vicinity).  I was born into an intermarried, secular/Reform household.  As I grew older I began to search, as many do, for my place in this world.  Judaism became that place for me, and I began to settle in.  However, being from an intermarried home (my mother is not Jewish), I am not halachically Jewish.  So feelings I thought were those of a BT (Baal Teshuva) were really those of a Ger (Convert).  Now, there are all sorts of fun issues associated with my slipshod conversion through the conservative movement that put me in this grey area.  I had a hatafat dam, was questioned by a Beis Din, and was immersed in a mikvah.  Yet for personal reasons of increased religiosity I was not satisfied with this conversion; understanding that it may not have been binding or totally official (it was totally official according to the conservative movement… but I am no longer a part of that world, and so I am a bit wary of the halachic standards implemented there).  So now I am in this netherworld of a non-Jewish Jew… and not in the Marxist conception of such an individual that Isaac Deutscher celebrated.  And therein lies my angst.  As a BT I want to live up to my new chosen life-style’s ideals as best I can.  I want to keep kosher, daven three times a day, go to Yeshiva and be accepted in a Minyan.  I want to be able to lead birkat hamazon and say brachot on behalf of others.  Yet I am not a BT… I am a convert… a potential convert at that.  While I can do these things for myself, they have no bearing on others.  Maybe it sounds selfish and childish, but it is difficult to do these things and to believe them as strongly as I do, yet have to sit back and let those around me who are not so religious, have no intention of being so religious, and are usually indifferent at best towards Judaism be able, pushed, and supported to do things half-heartedly that I would love to do with all my body and soul.  It is fantastic that these Jews are getting a chance to experience and connect with their tradition, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I can’t help but feel resentful and jealous.  It sometimes becomes difficult to continue to persevere and go through the motions, that while personally fulfilling, don’t really mean much at all in the communal context.  That is the convert’s dilemma, at least this convert’s dilemma.  How to continue to be inspired and feel connected while at the same time being barred from connecting the way others could connect and experince Judaism, but choose not to.  However, I would not have it any other way.  I am happy to be alive, so I cannot be too upset about the conditions of my birth (a Jewish upbringing while not actually being Jewish).  And I cannot be too upset about the restrictions put on my by Judaism… because I believe it to be true, and so if it tells me I have to wait a bit longer to do these things, then fine.  I would rather wait and put up with these feelings of jealousy and futility than go in and change halacha.  My only wish is that Jews today should respect their traditions more, if for no other reason than the realization that there is at least one person who is incessantly pining away to even have the opportunity to experience the privileges they were born with yet often disregard.

Zionism as Militarism?

For a class on antisemitism I am writing a paper on left wing antisemitism in America.  Naturally, the subject of anti-Zionism as antisemitism arose.  It is a very touchy subject, as is left wing antisemitism in general.  I send my parents most of my papers, and discuss particularly difficult ones with them as well, and this paper is no exception.  As the son of a liberal, Southern Californian family I am obviously going out on a bit of a limb writing about this… but they say write what you know, so I figured it would be best to discuss liberal antisemitism.  In discussing this paper with my father it became clear to me that the definitions of words would become incredibly important for the purposes of this paper.  Who is a “liberal” and what would make a “liberal” “antisemitic,” and what does “antisemitic” itself mean anyway?!  All of that aside, the main point of contention was the aforementioned link between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.  I am willing to grant that not all anti-Israel comments are antisemitic… but where that line is drawn is a very heated issue.  While my family is well intentioned, some members have a tendency to draw it in a different place than I do.  My dad asked me to define “Zionism” so as to better understand what “anti-Zionism” meant.  I used the, as far as I know, the generally accepted definition: the belief in, the need for, and the support of the creation of an autonomous Jewish state in the land formerly known as Canaan, Judea, Palestine and now Israel.  Merriam-Webster defines it as: “an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.”  However, he hesitated in accepting this definition, thinking that there was something more militaristic about it.  This is a commonly held belief; that Zionism is not just the support of the creation and continued existence of Israel, but rather that it is inherently violent in some way… not just pro-Israel, but also anti-Palestine.  Granted, the connection between Zionism and militarism cannot be dismissed.  Since the 1930s, if not before, there has been violence between Jewish Zionist paramilitary groups and the local Arab population.  But it is a chicken and the egg argument.  Are Zionists inherently militaristic because Zionism itself preaches militarism, or is it a strong ideology that says that Jews have the right to self determination in their own land regardless of who stands against them, and that they will now fight for their rights rather than just relying on the gentiles around them?  I believe it to be the later.  Does violence in defense of Israel make Zionism evil?  I would argue it makes it quite the opposite.  Every country and every people has the right to self defense.  If a country is attacked it has the right and responsibility to protect its people. If that is what being militaristic means, then yes, Zionism is militaristic.  However, I do not think that self defense is what people have in mind when they think of Zionism as militaristic.  I  think that people see “militarism” as much more base and primitive than self defense.  Zionism as militarism seems to me to be the idea that the Jews who are Zionists want violence and see the military lifestyle and values as paramount.  Granted, Israel has become incredibly militaristic due to its circumstances.  However, looking at the first Zionists one could not exactly call them militaristic.  They learned mostly how to farm, how to live in an agrarian and socialist community (the Kibbutz movement was really the initial manifestation of Zionism).  However they ran into harsh opposition, and being proactive and self determined they took up arms to defend themselves.  There were no military training camps in eastern Europe (I am sure fighting and shooting was involved, but these Zionist camps were no Hamas or Al Qaeda military training camps like we see on TV).  If Israel lived in peace, then Zionists would, I believe, also be peaceful.  Zionism supports the creation of a Jewish state that can stand up and defend the Jewish people if necessary.  If no one was seeking to harm them then there would be no problem.  This is militarism based on, and in reaction to the move against a belief in the basic dignity of the Jewish people, and their right to self defense and self determination as a people who are tired of being kicked around by the world and will do what is necessary to stop the abuse.  Granted, this is a hot-button issue, and even people who agree with me will disagree with me.  I will be posting a shorter version of my paper (if its good) or splitting it up and posting weekly installments.  Regardless, this topic is far from reaching any sort of closure both on this blog and in the world in general.

Hypocrisy

Well, it has been a while, yet not much has changed.  I have been thinking a great deal about hypocrisy recently, sort of tied into the end of my last post.  Many people have called me out on my behavior, and they may in fact have a point.  I say that I want to be religious, and I have this feeling that being a religious Reform, Conservative or even Modern Orthodox Jew isn’t quite enough.  While each movement may or may not have its merits and place in the world, I see myself situated in a more religious setting than those.  I feel this way because I see in each movement a level of hypocrisy I cannot rationally or intellectually overcome.  Yet people have rightly told me to look in the mirror.  How can I dismiss these other forms of Judaism as illegitimate while I don’t correctly follow the form of Judaism I consider to be true?  Unlike the last post, I do sometimes seek to argue against less observant forms of Judaism… yet I find myself doing so while eating non-kosher food, or having not davend that day.  So am I a hypocrite?  Yeah, I guess I am.  However, I don’t get down on myself or just give up and join a less observant movement.  I don’t because I have the knowledge that I am on a road, and that it is a process.  One can just decide to turn his life around completely and become frum in one day.  But that is not how it is working for me, nor is it how it works for many Baal Teshuvas.  As a Rabbi  at my Yeshiva explained, he would not have a problem with Reform or Conservative Judaism so long as they promoted growth.  However, he sees the labels of “Reform” and “Conservative” as making a space for Jews who are afraid or ignorant of Jewish ritual or traditional practice to feel comfortable with their less observant lifestyle.  I do not feel comfortable at my level, and so I come across as hypocritical at times.  I don’t keep fully kosher, yet I argue that it is incredibly important.  However, because of my discomfort I continue to change and adjust my lifestyle.  I do not just want to just settle in and say, “Well, I have a hard time keeping kosher, so if I say I am Reform or Conservative I don’t have to!  Furthermore, I am still a good Jew because the platform of my movement says  I am, so I don’t have to worry!”  To me that is hypocrisy that cannot be defended.  One says that they are a Jew, yet they do not follow the tenets that up until 100 year ago made one a Jew; they continue to pray to Hashem while effectively and actively ignoring His laws… that is hypocritical.  Now, again, before I am lynched, do I say I am perfect? Never.  However, I am striving to live up to my own standards for myself, and it is a long and difficult journey.  I falter many times, and stay at a lower level for far too long.  But I have not and will not give up on my climb.  So while I may be a hypocrite in some ways, in others I am not.  I admit that on face value many of my rants are full of hypocrisy, yet in what I am ultimately arguing for, the return to an honest, responsible, and intelligent Judaism, I am not a hypocrite at all.  I realize it is a process, and I do not think that anyone on this road is ultimately wrong, those who are committed to change yet take a while in doing it are justified so long as they continue to change.  However, those who park themselves at the side of the road and declare that it is in fact the destination are themselves the true hypocrites.

Tolerance

In discussing my life with my grandfather I went to look up a picture of my cousin.  My grandfather was saying that he is not able to fully support or fully accept/approve of the path I am choosing for my life.  I responded by saying that my second cousin, whom he seems to at least tolerate, has an equally “alternative” lifestyle as an openly gay man who is also a transvestite at times.  If he can put up with that, then why can’t he stand for my becoming a “black hat”?  Now, there is alot of family history involved in this which I won’t go into now, but regardless, I was looking up my cousin online because I have not seen him in a while, and talking about him made me curious as to what he was up to.  So I went to google, and looked up his name in the image search and found a rather shocking picture.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my cousin, but he does have a shockingly alternative lifestyle.  So I click on the picture, and it links me to a Jewish hate site, which I will not link you to because it is so scummy that I would rather it not benefit from even the one or two people who read this.  His picture and email were posted on this site under a list of self hating Jews.  My first reaction was to laugh.  I mean, its kind of funny to see a picture of my cousin dressed in drag on this site.  But then I realized… This is my cousin, he is not some international figure or celebrity… he is a PHD of dance somewhere in LA.  Who would have the time to look him up and put him on this site?  These people call themselves Jews too… Jews who somehow see it as acceptable to make a hit list of sorts with full names and contact information of people they label as self-hating… it is disgusting and scary.  I would like to think that such hatred is marginalized and on the very fringe of Jewish society… I hope it is at least.  We are better than that, we NEED to be better than that; anything less is completely unacceptable on both a human and Jewish level.  I remember that same cousin came up to me about two years ago and said that he wanted to make sure that my new religiosity wouldn’t cause strife between us.  I assured him it wouldn’t.  And it wont.  These websites and individuals really need to read Torah more closely.  It is an “abomination” to be gay, just as it is an “abomination” to eat shellfish.  I don’t see them with a list of kashrut violators, or finding people around the world who eat shellfish in public and harassing them because of it.  Do I think he is a good Jew?  No.  But I treat him no differently than I do the rest of my family who doesn’t keep kosher.  One can be a bad Jew and still be a good person, just as one can be a good Jew and a bad person.  I’m not going to accost him when I see him just as I don’t overturn tables at our family gatherings where milk and meat are served together and the meat itself isn’t kosher to being with.  People need to relax and take a step back.  Are the people on their hit list a detriment to Jewish society?  Sure, some of them probably are.  But that is no reason to be a detriment yourself and cause even greater Chillul Hashem with senseless, overbearing, and public intolerance and hatred.

Addendum:  Due to some outcry over this article, I wish to take a moment to explain myself.  I follow the Torah as best I can, and believe it to be true.  I cannot pick and choose from its teachings.  Therefore, when I am faced with a section such as gays being an abomination I am faced with a challenge.  I will not compromise on this section just as I will not compromise on any other section.  However, some interpretation and personal reflection is needed.  Am I a perfect Jew?  Not by a long shot.  Then how dare I get angry at someone for breaking a commandment when I do so all the time as well?  I do believe that being gay is not correct according to Judaism… however that is with the knowledge that MY actions are often not correct according to Judaism.  I do not hate myself, and I do not hate people who eat shellfish, just as I do not hate gays.  Will I compromise on my morals and beliefs and say that being gay is NOT wrong according to Judaism?  No.  But I also will not compromise on my morals and beliefs and say that my lack of a kosher kitchen or infrequent tefillin use are also NOT wrong.  I do not strive to build myself up by knocking others down.  This post was meant to defend my cousin within the context of Torah.  I meant no offense, but rather quite the opposite, and I hope that he, and others reading this realize that.

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