Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inauthentic: Laughing Off My Judaism

The more observant I become (i.e. the more mitzvot I take on), the more I find myself saying something interesting to non-Jews and Jews who are less mitzvot-driven. People tend to respond to a lot of the things that I do with a "Seriously?" or "Really?" or "That's so out of date." I find myself, more and more, thinking to myself "These people think I'm crazy, and I get that I sound crazy." As a result, I end up saying things like, "I know, right? It's nuts, isn't it?"

The thing about this, is that I don't really think the things I'm doing are crazy. I understand them, I do the mitzvot because I know and feel in my heart that they're right. But the more I talk with people unlike me in their observance, I find myself needing to defend how I approach Judaism in a sarcastically awkward way.

"You know, it's sooo weird, and like, I don't really get it, but it's what I do because, you know...!"

Could I be more inauthentic? Could I be more inaccurate? I sat down with some friends recently (all non-Jews, save for one who is a self-described Reform Jew), and I explained to them how I got to where I am and some of the things that I do on a day-to-day basis, including some Shabbos details. These are all good friends of mine, and they're all people I knew in college when my path in Judaism was the Reform path and it wasn't completely outward that I was trekking in the direction that would lead me here, in Orthodoxy. They wanted to understand, and I wanted them to understand. But I didn't want to sound nuts.

We have this Shabbos lamp, a Jew can't help me on Shabbos, but a non-Jew can -- but only if I don't ask! I have to hint, only hint. Why? Well ... it's sorta nuts, but ... 

I do think, however, that it's more comfortable explaining my observance to non-Jews than it is to Jews. There's something particularly difficult about describing my observance to Jews, born Jews, who don't always understand or want to understand how someone could be Orthodox. It's archaic, it's ridiculous, it's stupid, it's unnecessary. We all suffer the fate of being different in Judaism. From one person to the other. It's just hard when you want someone to understand and end up downplaying the importance, significance, and beauty of the things that you do.

Is this normal? Do you find yourself sort of laughing off why you have to wait several hours between meat and milk? Or why it's 90 degrees outside and you're wearing a long-sleeve shirt? Do you find yourself talking to people about your Judaism as if it's not nearly as important as it truly is, simply because you don't want them to think you're nuts? That you've flown off the deep end? How do you reconcile this social quirk, this behavior that -- in my case -- leaves one feeling sort of empty and fake, inauthentic, and ultimately sad.