Thursday, July 8, 2010

The shidduchim parshah

Firstly, I'd like to thank you readers for "listening" and commenting. It has felt good to hear people's opinions on what I have been writing.

I also apologize for not being able to respond or update so frequently but work and life often get in the way.

I have quite a few ideas for posts I'd like to write but for now, please indulge me with wanting to go through some kind of chronology.

My last post ended with me leaving Israel and for the first time being able to actually express to myself that the empty feeling was my lack of faith. And so I continue.

I was back two days from Israel, I wasn't going to shul during the week. Luckily my parents are not the type to make an issue out of it but I know it was noticed. I decided that I would find a job and attend college at the same time. I did both of these things independently. It was so important for me to choose a major that was right for me in college and to work where I wanted. I was 21 and I felt independent for the first time. Its kinda ironic that I chose to go to a Jewish college and then a very Jewish job! I reflected back on this at the time and convinced myself that it was to stop myself from straying.

And so, two weeks later, the shiduchim suggestions began. Part of me was very excited about starting that chapter of my life, the other part wondered exactly how I would be able to do it, to maintain the lie.

My first shidduch date was a disaster. She was the daughter of a prominent Rabbi and my "farher" before even meeting her was a nightmare. I stammered when asked what gemara I was learning at the moment. I had no answer to his question about why I had chosen a job and a college but no part time yeshiva. And I "gratefully" accepted his offer to help me find a yeshiva!

As I said, that was before I met the girl. We went to a hotel for drinks. She didn't speak at all in the car, he explained she remained silent as it wasn't right to get to introduce ourselves to each other in the privacy of a car (wtf?!). Two hours felt like eternity as I was asked about my attitude to choosing chavrusah's. My attitude to staying in learning post marriage and even my attitude to learning how to kasher chickens. I drove her home so fast!

I was actually surprised that she wanted another date. It didn't happen.

Shidduchim were being suggested from all sorts of people, friends, people in shul, newly marrieds etc. And at the time if someone suggested a girl and I had minimal information that didn't put me off, I went out with them.

Most people have dating nightmare stories to tell and that isn't the purpose of this post or this blog. My point so far is that some of the girls I went out with were lovely, but that connection, spark, electricity, or whatever one may call it was always absent.

That is until I met my wife. In fact we met as she was a reference for another shidduch! I called her up and asked for information and the two of us spoke. We spoke about how stupid it was calling friends to ask about other friends, "as if I'd call her a bitch", she said to me. I hadn't felt so comfortable talking to anyone like that in a while. When I hung up I realised that for the first time since I was in the "parshah" the conversation didn't involve the words, Israel, Yeshiva, learning, shul, etc etc.

I called the friend who had suggested the original shidduch to say I wasn't interested but what about the friend who made the recommendation. The reason we hit it off so well was that we never once spoke about yeshiva, seminary, kashrus, being shtrak, gemara, chumash, rashi etc etc! We connected, and not long after we were engaged and married.

We did discuss the practical elements of what creating a jewish home meant to us. But those conversations didn't include any of those keywords above.

There are so many feelings and issues that evolve around choosing a life partner and I don't want to go into those now.

But when, after being married a while and starting our family, my wife and I had the conversation about belief, it wasn't surprising to find that we were on the same page. Both of us had never felt that spark and had found the kodesh studies beyond us.

When I created this blog I was trying to put my finger on what it was that I feel about myself. I have read Chaviva's blog thekvetchingeditor, and have been wowed by how someone who wasn't born with the burden of judaism embraced it and is now a devout jew. To me that says anyone can be born with a neshama. I just don't believe that I was. And I know about the concept of one's life partner being a zivug, well perhaps my wife and I are the anti-zivug, the couple that were brought together by what we don't have.

We still believe that if the spark ignites in our kids we will encourage it but we will not push anything on them.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ironically, it was in Israel where it all came to a head...

Post high school there was no other option for me but to attend a beis medrash yeshiva in Israel. My friends had known for years where they wanted to go. For me, as graduation approached and people asked where I was going, I always answered "I'm still deciding" but in reality I would not allow myself to think about it. Sure, I met with the Roshei Yeshiva who came to town. They tried to convince me, I mumbled a non commitment and repressed processing their information.

Eventually a series of events occurred. These events had a major impact on my life that is still evident today. A week before graduation a Rosh Yeshiva came to town announcing the opening of his new yeshiva; it was to be deliberately small, with a large ration if rebbeim to students. There was to be almost no pressure in the first year and if anyone chose to stay for a second year then there would be more rules. This yeshiva was the first one to appeal to me, for completely the wrong reasons - "no pressure" was all I could hear. I made up my mind and focused on graduating and everything that went along with that.

Just after graduating my family, for the first time, held a large family reunion, it had never been done before and hasn't happened since. At the reunion every relative naturally asked me what my plans were. I was happy to let everyone know that I had plans! I'm not sure exactly what transpired but I know that one relative "warned" my parents about the yeshiva, especially as it had not yet opened. The relative had dealt with the rosh yeshiva before and they disliked each other. I was told this after the event, but still decided that i had made the right decision.

Two weeks later parts of the family gathered together again, at the funeral of the relative who had issued the dire warning about the yeshiva. Many times over the shiva week I was reminded of the relatives warning, how could I even consider going to that yeshva?! It was now a few weeks away from zman starting and one thing was for sure, I was not going to be going to the yeshiva I had chosen.

The next couple of weeks went by quickly. It just so happened that another relative knew of a rosh yeshiva of one of the most prestigious yeshivas who would be visiting for a simcha. I received an hours warning to be whisked to a stranger's dining room, with my parrents sitting next to me, being interviewed by the "rosh yeshiva". The questions asked? Yichus, contacts, protetzkia and how my father earned his living. Oh, and I was asked a random question about gemara that I stammered through.

A day later my father received the call that I was incredibly lucky to be offered a place. The nachas this gave my parents! Of all my family I was the only child to be able to get into such a marvelous yeshiva. The news was broadcast throughout our neighborhood. And I felt like utter crap.

The feeling didn't pass.

I know that this blog talk about my lack of, or search for, faith but in many situations I close my eyes and pray to g-d. It's usually a conversation that goes "Look, I know I don't do anything at all for you, I don't daven but at the same time I rarely ask anything of you. If it really is true that I really am special to you and your chosen child, please please please can x, y or z happen." Sounds ridiculous and childish but believe it or not I still recite a similar prayer these days. In fact, on Friday I was stuck in crazy traffic and recited the prayer to get home in time for shabbos. While sitting in the traffic I had time to reflect on how insane my prayer was in light of this blog, in light of the fact that I struggle to believe in Him, in prayer, or in Shabbos! (this weird cycle I am caught in!)

Anyway, I recited a similar such prayer on the long plane journey to Israel. I prayed for the plane to crash, or at least for me to have some freakish heart attack and not make it to Israel. I sound like a drama queen when I write that, but I prayed my heart out. And when we landed safely at Ben Gurion, I knew that if He did exist, He hated me, and that my upcoming year was my punishment. And boy was I right.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was unable to leave my bed, day or night, except to use the bathroom, occasionally, and eat, even less occasionally. I stopped communicating with people. It's interesting to me now as I reflect on this period (which I have since discovered, through my personal therapy, was a nervous breakdown and severe depression) that although in my entire life I haven;t gone a day without talking or interacting with someone (I have never taken myself away to a hotel and locked myself away for days on end just to be alone for example), these few months of depression were a period of my life where I was coasting through, and it didn't matter to me each day if I woke up or not. I wasn't suicidal, I didn't plan my death; i just had no wish or desire to be alive.

And I had concrete proof that a) either there was no g-d , or b) He certainly did exist but I was not in the inner circle and He did in fact hate me. Neither of these was a comfortable position for me to take.

When my parents saw me a few months later, emaciated, depressed and miserable they kindly agreed for me to leave that yeshiva and attend my first choice yeshiva. I could say now "if only I had that chance in the first place", but as I've said, my choosing that yeshiva was about how little I had to do. Therefore, my time in Israel was nothing more than a waste of time. And the clearest indication to me that I did not fit in to the frum world where Torah learning went hand in hand with mitzvah observance which led to emunah.

It was when I returned from Israel that I had the conversation with myself about keeping up the appearances of being frum but in my heart I had the knowledge that I am the outsider.

I have read on other blogs of other people's struggles with being outwardly frum but in themselves feeling nothing and that is comforting.

For me, I have a (very) basic faith and belief in h-shem. That belief leads me to writing His name with a dash, of saying bli ayin hora when I speak (i say it a lot!) and lots of other archaic things that I absolutely don't believe in.

I have been living this way so long anything else - treif food, mechalel shabbos etc. -is too alien to me.

Am I living this life out of convenience or due to some kind of faith?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

So what exactly do I want? Where did this start?

Things have been really hectic so I wanted to thank those who have commented so far and let you know I will respond to you but would rather spend my time now on a follow up post.

Since the inception of this site I have found myself thinking back to my childhood, looking for some clues as to why I have been so affected. My mother often blamed a particularly tough rebbe in 1st grade but my memories predate that experience (which I will come to soon).

I have a distinct memory of my upsherin at age 3. Recently when I discussed the fact that I remember the event with my family they insisted I was making it up or that I had created the memories based on old pictures, but no, I really do remember my haircut. I remember being in a really bad mood. I remember hating the fact that people I didn't know were cutting my hair, and I remember being TERRIFIED of having to recite the Alef Beis. While typing this I can actually feel my heart beating faster and getting butterflies in my stomach which I KNOW is the feeling I had when I was just 3. I have read theories about how some people recreate their childhoods on their minds, but please, trust me, my memory is correct.

My memories of pre school are pretty similar. In pre k we were expecting to chant different parts of davening. All good fun. I used to dread my turn. I remember being "punished" for getting it wrong. In kindergarten we would read from a special siddur. I hated it so much I used to do this crazy thing where I would wet my finger, run it on the edge of the page, move it back and forth until a little hold would appear on the page. I was always careful not to make any hole over the actual words. And I did this because I hated reading from the siddur aloud.

So while all that was going on, my parents were convinced that all was going great for me in terms of my learning about yiddishkeit. My mother has always blames the first grade rebbe, a childless man, then in his 30's, who didn't really like children and had no tolerance for mistakes. He was the man responsible for teaching me to write hebrew. I do remember disliking the man, but my whole grade did too. My hebrew writing skills still suck, one of my ex classmates is a sofer! I don't see that as proof.

Fast forwarding through my elementary school years I moved to many different styles of rebbes and teachers. My standard memories of my kodesh classes; boredom, disengaged, disinterested , and dread.

I was taken to shul every morning with my brothers from the age of 5; never was this anything but a chore. As soon as I was old enough to take myself; I didn't bother going.

Middle and High school saw a continuation of the trend for me. I know that I worked very hard on myself for my bar mitzvah. I envied my friends who could read from the Torah effortlessly, and could then daven shacharis, mincha and maariv from the amud with no nerves at all. For me, the preparation was so terrifying that I made myself learn it all by heart, like a long long song, and when it came to it (shaygetz that I am!) I barely looked at the words as I struggled to get the words out when I leined. To this day, I have never davened shacharis or mincha from the amud, and only twice davened mariv.

My rebbe's in high school tried every approach again with the pupil whom they saw as arrogant and disinterested. It didn't help that on my report card the secular studies teachers would be full of praise. If I could excel at those subjects how dare I not excel at my kodesh subjects. I remember having a very kind rebbe when I was around 14 to whom I confided that I really couldn't do it, that pronouncing the words were difficult, that I couldn't translate. That anything that I was able to come out with was all done because I was memorizing translating sheets parrot fashion and nothing was going in. "Everything is going in" he repeatedly told me. It honestly never did.

My post yeshiva, beis medrash experiences, where I spent night and day "learning" must be the subject of a separate post as they were the cause of a major event in my life.

For now I hope I've been able to paint a little picture of my growing up apathetic.

What exactly do I want? I want to discover how I went through the same upbringing and schooling as many others and they now are engaged, able to learn and active participants of the religion. And I am left here in the sidelines, mumbling my way through judaism and life.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Its a lonely life...

Over the past few years I have become an avid lurker. In any other circumstance that would be a heavy admission to make, perhaps even an indication of some kind of deviance. But my lurking has been on many different frum (or formerly frum) blogs. I have followed the daily frum news at the awful VIN and YWN. I am an avid reader of R' Harry Maryles at Emes V'Emunah (who turned a comment of mine into a guest post and therefore is the grandfather of this blog!). And there are countless other blogs across the spectrum that I follow regularly.

I always wondered when (IF?!) I would be brave enough to start my own blog. For a start there is the issue of anonymity. A blogger called kvetchingeditor has an issue with anonymous bloggers, but as a newlywed perhaps doesn't understand the idea of protecting spouse and offspring.

OK, here is the premise of my blog. I have been frum from birth, I have been raised in the charedi world, and moved between the yeshivish worlds and finally settled in the moderately modern orthodox world. But throughout my life - I have never felt G-d, have never really known He exists, have gone through the motions but really I'm a fraud.

To explain.

I was raised by holocaust survivors. My siblings and I were sent to frum pre school all the way to frum college. Some of my siblings are living a Torah true lifestlye, others are no longer religious and then there's me. I'd like to describe my "frum" life. I do not attend shul during the week. When not attending shul, I don't daven at the kotel in my house; I do not daven at all. I want to be honest and straight up front.

I have never (as far as I know) eaten non kosher. I will not walk out of my home without my head covered. I always wear tzitit. My wife and I are strict in the practice of taharat hamishpacha (she is on the same page as me - more about her later or in anotehr post, if people are interested in hearing more). Every Shabbos and yom tov I go to shul.

Now, I've read lots of blogs as I've said. And the first thing that would come to mind if I were to read what I've just written elsewhere would be "The guys a fraud". And I am a fraud, but perhaps not by typical definition. My life, the way I live it now, is going through the easy motions of appearing to be frum. I don't struggle to learn Torah, or make an effort to go out of my house to daven, or do anything that takes any effort to connect myself with the religion, so why do I believe myself to be entitled to feel frum?

The answer is, that I spent my formative years, trying, praying, begging G-d to help me feel connected, and nothing happened. I had many many teachers over the years who taught me alef beis, then chumash, nach, mishna, halacha, gemara, rashi, tosafos, rishonim, acharonim, etc. I sat for years in yeshiva and beis hamedrash. And I can't translate a simple possuk of chumash. I said Shema with my son last Shabbos and he asked me to translate something from Hamalach - and I couldn't. And I know that to some people reading that makes me an Am Haretz - a stupid ignoramus. But I tried. Please don't jump to any wrong conclusions. I never was abused by my parents, or my rebbeim in school. I wasn't bullied or taunted in school. I was never too arrogant to try, or had heretical feelings in school. From day one I distinctly remember trying so so so hard to get it. All around me people were getting it, but never me.

In all the years I've never had the Aha moment, that moment where it all made sense.

I have started this blog as I found sharing this secret with the world at R' Harry's blog to be extremely helpful to me. I hope that people can comment here. I am preparing myself to be ridiculed, to be called a kofer, but that comes with the territory.

I hope that I can explain more about myself, and my life's choices, and that I can learn from my readers.