Friday, March 5, 2010

Have I Become a Monster?

This post has been stewing for some time now. I feel really uncomfortable writing it, to be honest with you, but I feel like I need to write it. Maybe I should really look into a therapist, seriously. I think if I did do this, however, I'd run out of the stellar content I have. I have to precursor this by saying that those of you who know me will read this post with my voice in mind, not to mention my evolution and experiences. Whatever you do, please don't read only this post and attempt to pass judgment on me; you've got to know the whole story. So here goes nothing.

I converted under Reform auspices in April 2006 (wow, I'm almost four years out from that) after about 3 years of personal study, as well as studying with a rabbi. Flash forward to January 2010, and I've become more frum, keeping kosher, maintaining a shomer Shabbat lifestyle, and observing shomer negiah (much to the shock of some friends in the community). For all intents and purposes, I'm a modern frum Jew. Along with this evolution has come many other, small things, that I don't necessarily think about on a day-to-day basis. How I carry myself or the things I say. Saying modeh ani in the morning and the shema in the evening has become old hat for me. It's a reflex, if anything. And that's probably teh most appropriate way to relate these things: They have become reflexes.

Every now and again, I sit back and think, "Wow, I remembered to do this or that," and it makes me smile to know that I'm conscious of living in the manner that I do. But there are some things, some reflexes, of which I am not so proud. They're things that make me cringe and make me wonder whom I'm becoming.

My community, for example, is wonderful; I love my community. It's incredibly modern and the paths of Conservadoxish and Orthodox and Hasidic and other flavors of Judaism cross. But for the most part, if you asked anyone in my community, they would tell you that the number of families that keeps strictly shomer Shabbos is small, and the number of families that keep kosher both in and outside the house is even smaller still. I could count on probably two hands and a foot the number of families/couples I know that understand what it means to be a modern, frum Jew in a manner that is on par with Orthodoxy today, and I'm talking modern Orthodoxy, nothing Haredi or hard-line. Just your run-of-the-mill modern, Orthodox Jew.

At first, I was fine with this. I mean, I pride myself on being non-judgmental. My policy, as it always has been, is that what you do is what you do and it's your relationship with the Big Man Upstairs. I can't say whether Christians or Muslims or Jews or Buddhists or Scientologists have it right -- it's impossible, I repeat INCONCEIVABLE -- to say "I have it right, and you have it wrong." In my mind, you do what's right for you, and you call it a day. For me, Judaism is right. For others, Christianity is right. The problem comes when you look at those who are rocking the same thing. And I never thought I'd feel this way, but good lord. I think I'm becoming someone I don't like.

Within Judaism, you have Reform, Conservative, Humanist, Reconstructionist, JewBu, Hasidic, Chabad, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Secular, Cultural ... the list goes on and on. If they thought they had it rough back in the day with the Essenes, Sadducees, Dead Sea Sect, and Pharisees, they were just tipping the iceberg. When I was Reform, I was sort of at the "bottom of the rung" as far as the evolution of Judaism went. It was probably the most progressive and most new, and I felt the same -- fresh and new. Then I started picking up more mitzvot, and then I ended up here. Shomer mitzvot, plain and simple. The result, however, is that I look at Jews who aren't shomer mitzvot and wonder, "Why do you NOT want to be shomer mitzvot?" This happens less so when I look at my Reform or Conservative brethren than when I look at those who flatly and boldly identify themselves as "Orthodox" Jews.

I'm coming to realize that I'm not comfortable eating at the homes of people I've felt comfortable with before, because our views of shomer mitzvot are not the same. I find myself looking at friends and scrutinizing how they run their households and the choices they make. I find myself critical of those around me, how they dress and how they observe tzniut. In the beginning I thought, "I'm trying to help figure out who I am and how I'll do shomer mitzvot." And then? I woke up one day and realized that I wasn't doing that. I was doing more than that. I was noticing how frum and un-frum all of these people around me were. It made me uncomfortable, it made my stomach turn.

How do you look at a friend and say, You make me uncomfortable, over something like religion? Or not even religion, but observance of that religion. And like I said, I'm less concerned about those who aren't Orthodox than I am for those who are Orthodox. After all, if you say that you think the mitzvot aren't binding, then they aren't binding to you. Stand proud in your understanding of your chosen path. But if you say, I'm Orthodox, and the mitzvot are binding, then how can you turn around and break Shabbos or go out to eat non-kosher or any of a number of things that most people -- even people in past generations -- never thought twice about.

Who on earth am I becoming? Or have I become. I would like to think the problem is the problem of the people who say one thing and do another. But, as most psychologists would say, there's something I see in these people that I'm deflecting, it's something I don't dig about myself. But I think that's only half the battle. Perhaps the zealousness of the convert in my neshama is just frustrated, extremely frustrated. I look at every Jew and think, "You! You were born a Jew! Stand proud, stand tall, love who you are and observe the mitzvot with the passion and fire that your ancestors surely espoused!" There are those of us who fight, out of nature, to be frum. Not as a competition or because we feel like we need to be MORE Jewish or MORE observant than others, but because our neshamot are insatiably hungry. We need the mitzvot. 

I don't know. This is something that's been eating at me for a few weeks now. I go through these phases of feeling like a horrible person because I don't feel comfortable being around people that a year ago or even six months ago I was completely comfortable around. Is this the ebb and flow of a convert? Do baalei teshuvah go through the same thing? Is this natural? It feels uncomfortable, but expected.

Sigh. Mah la'asot?

Have I become a monster? To look at my fellow Orthodox Jew and think, Shame on you. Stand firm in what you firmly believe is true, no matter what that belief is. Just, be honest with yourself and those around you. Do not be two-faced, do not be double-sided, do not be someone that you truly are not.

Is that so wrong?