Friday, July 30, 2010

Strong and healthy

Met up with the beautiful Gloria Chang to tour the Art Institute, Chicago's world-class museum. I haven't seen her since high school, and she's different and the same. Same eyes, same smile, same gift for listening deeply without comment (something my vocal Jewish family is not overpracticed at).

Gloria is a sincere Episcopalian, almost ecstatically so. She teaches Sunday school and volunteers at the church camp, playing music for the 4-to-6-year-olds. "I try to balance it between sacred songs and silly songs," she told me. She was enthusiastically in favor of my orthodox practice, so I was wondering how she'd feel about the changes I've made.

"JV believes in living Judaism, not just rote practice," I told her. "It's in the way he treats people and lives his life with integrity and honesty."

"What do you believe?" Gloria asked.

Good question. It forced me to verbalize the metamorphosis I've been going through.

"For the past several years, I've been moving away from the orthodox community," I said. "Not going to shul on Shabbat or holidays, not going to community events unless they were for singles to mingle. And I've been feeling let down and rejected by the community. I think I began practicing because I liked what I saw about the community, how it was warm and welcoming in my small hometown. But when I moved to New York City, it was different. I had to work hard to find my place in the community, and honestly, I'm not sure I ever did.

"I think I've always been something of a square peg, even though I ultimately did manage to make friends. But then they kept getting married and moving away, and I'd have to make a whole pack of new friends. It was exhausting, and eventually I stopped trying, so I felt isolated and cut off, like it was too much effort to stay in touch with people and they weren't staying in touch with me. Not sure if that's fair, since I was isolating myself and I did have friends I could visit. But I got tired of begging for a place at other people's Shabbos tables, and I was tired of making meals by myself. So I would be alone all weekend.

"On Shabbat at my apartment, I wasn't observing the laws. I didn't light candles or make kiddush. I'd go online, just avoiding Facebook so people wouldn't see me there during shabbat. I wouldn't really talk on the phone, since most of my friends were shomer shabbat and I guess I didn't want to openly admit I wasn't keeping Shabbat. I guess I was still hoping I'd somehow meet a shomer shabbat guy and then go back to keeping Shabbos along with him. But I didn't. I met JV.

"It was a process. It was weird at first, cooking and turning on lights in front of JV, since I'd only done that by myself in my apartment and was pretending I didn't. He forced me to be honest. And he told me why he found the orthodox community so inauthentic -- focused on superficial things like how big your house or black hat is, how strictly you practice and take on additional stringencies, but not really concerned with people's feelings or needs. He was treated very badly by the community during his divorce from Mara. He's also got more of a Jewish education than I do, so he doesn't believe the current state of American orthodox Jewry is an authentic continuation of Jewish practice. For him, it's more important to visit his elderly grandmother on a Saturday, even if he has to drive there, than just to walk to synagogue."

"What about you?" asked Gloria. "What do you think?" Long pause, while I girded up my loins with courage to answer her honestly.

"I think it's also more important to visit her," I said. "She took care of other people all her life, now she needs us. I'd rather drive to see her than walk to shul, honestly. I was never much of a davener."

Gloria was quiet for a moment, and I was afraid she was disappointed in me. I didn't look at her; we were in front of an interesting painting, and I focused on that.

"Do you know how strong and healthy you sound, Ayelet?" she asked me.

Whew! Gloria has blessed my relationship with JV. And that means a hell of a lot.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. "...he doesn't believe the current state of American orthodox Jewry is an authentic continuation of Jewish practice."

    Truer words have never been said.

  2. A lot of interesting posts the past few days. Glad to see Ayelet back in action!!

    I too am glad to see you happy with JV. That indeed counts for an awful lot.

    As far as religion, as I have said before, do what feels authentic to you; don't feel intimidated by the fact that he has more Jewish education than you. As I recall you are pretty darn well read.

    To thine ownself be true. And be happy, Ayelet.

  3. Jeff (formerly Chaim Dov)8/28/2010 2:19 PM

    Wow, I haven't read your blog in a while, and your comments about what attracted you to Orthodoxy and eventually lead you back out exactly echo my thoughts about it. I wonder sometimes if I had managed to get married would I still be Orthodox, but then, being a "square peg in a round hole" people liked having me for shabbos for interesting conversation but they certainly wouldn't want to introduce me to any women they knew (and women wanted someone more frum, less frum, more Chassidish, less Chassidish, more of a learner, more modern, etc. since I didn't really fit any of those worlds). The Orthodox world is not a particularly friendly place for singles over 35 and especially not if you don't fit any one mold perfectly. In the end, it no longer fit me philosophically or religiously (if it ever fully did) and being a single nearing 40 I felt increasingly isolated. It is nice to see someone else able to put into writing the same things I was going through.

    Anyway, reading your blog again, and seeing your FB page, I am sorry to read of your recent setbacks. JV is an idiot. I hope you bounce back quickly.