Monday, November 12, 2007

More on Ripples

I wrote a while back about ripples. Part of my coming to terms with the possibility that I might have be alone as I go through life is coping with the frustration of not being able to really give back to my community.

When I lived out-of-NY, I worked for a secular Jewish organization
for a year or two. I was the sole Orthodox Jew on staff. Needless to say, I was often called upon to be the "Rabbi" when it came to matters of religion. Mostly, I found this role annoying, but secular Jews who live outside of the NY area tend to know very, very little about religious/halachic matters. Since I was the token Ortho, I was also very conscious of my actions, knowing that any normal office pettiness or slacking off on my part would be held up as an example of typical behavior of all Orthodox people. That's just the way those things work. I'm sure I messed up quite a few times.

So while I was married, I wore a sheitel to work every day. I used to spend a ton of money on my wigs, so it was a very good sheitel. Then, the day after I received my get, I uncovered my hair. This was the reaction at work:

"Are you not wearing a wig any more because you are angry at God over the divorce?"

"Are you not wearing a wig anymore because you hate men now?"

"Did your husband force you to wear a wig?"

"Did your Rabbi give you permission to take off the wig?"

You don't realize what ripples you cause by simple little actions. It took me a while to articulate the message that a) I was not angry at God at all, b) I covered my hair when I was married because I believed it was the right and good thing to do, not because my ex forced me, c) if I ever remarried, I intended to re-cover it, d) the heter that I received did not mean that my Rabbi "permitted" me to uncover it (very hard to explain to secular Jews that Rabbis aren't the bosses of Judaism) but rather explained to me why halacha permitted me to uncover it.

Luckily, office gossip flies at the speed of light, so the explanation got around quickly. Not sure how much of it was really understood. The most important thing that I wanted to convey was that uncovering my hair was not an act of defiance.

In small, out-of-NY Jewish communities, one of the hottest products of the observant Jewish world is kiruv. Kiruv is very sexy. In this particular community, there were tons of outreach programs, classes, seminars and, to my great dismay, kiruv professionals. Oy.

I do hold one quasi-heretical belief. I don't think that every Jew was meant to be frum. The frum life requires a level of sacrifice, belief and separation that is really hard to sustain. I think that not everyone was cut out for it. So I take issue with some of the methods that these kiruv professionals employed to bring people back to the fold.

I was never purposefully mekarev anyone. I just don't have the tools to do it in what I think is the proper way. And yet, I do believe in "kiruv by example." Just as what is wrong with Orthodox Judaism is really Jews behaving badly, what will make Orthodox Judaism shine and grow is Jews behaving well.

I don't save birthday cards or those sorts of things. But I have a goodbye card that a friend of mine gave me right before I moved back to NY. This friend is not the mushy, fluffy emotional type....she's a straight shooter and a bright woman. The card she gave to me is something I treasure. Here's an excerpt of what is written on it:

Your knowledge and love for Judaism have taught me so much. You have educated me by example on how to live a Jewish life. You are my gold standard for Jewish living.

I tear up a little when I read that, because even though the author of the card gave me way too much credit, I find it incredible that perhaps I was able to introduce someone else to the truthfulness of a God-centered life. It gives me some comfort that in my barren, painful, mostly wasted last few years, maybe I did a little good in this world. Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself. Sorry, there's that obnoxious self-pity again.

Maybe these ripples are what I will ultimately end up contributing to the klal. Because in my current situation, there sure isn't much else that I can give.


Maya said...

Like you, I believe that not every Jew is meant to be frum. I don't think that lifestyle is for everyone. I guess we can start a quasi-heretics club.

I will link to this post on my blog because I think it is meaningful and inspiring and will touch alot of people.

shmilda said...

This is so true. Even in New York, with a high level of knowledge about Judaism in the general population, I still get asked about why people don't eat on Yom Kippur if it's a holiday, why they wear heavy coats and big fur hats in August (I have no answer for that one), and many more.

The best, hands down, was a classmate, new to New York from Virginia and points south, who said that he had "never met an Orthodox Jew before."

Nice Jewish Guy said...

You know, I'd have to agree as well. I think a lot of kiruv outfits are just trying to puff up their numbers; they throw some kugel at you, be nice, and draw you in with kindness without really driving home why it's important to be frum.

My rabbi says that Judaism is not an all-or-nothing religion; it's an all-or-something religion. In other words, it's not a zero-sum game- doing something is better than not doing anything. It's better (I believe) to drive to shul on Shabbos, participate in services and hear the Torah, than to not come at all and be home watching football instead. Perhaps eventually one will come to be more observant.

As far as kiruv in general, after seeing the infighting and strife that goes on in our communities here in the blogosphere, and the judgmentalism and one-upmanship amongst us, one wonders what is so great about our way that we feel compelled to bring others into the fold.