Sunday, September 30, 2007

What I've Become

There are a few new blogs which have appeared lately that address the issue of leaving Orthodoxy. One such blog, The Journey Off, written by someone who refers to herself as GGG (GoingGoingGone), brought up some interesting ideas related to Jewish identity. She asks, "...if not observant, what would I do on Yom Kippur? Would I fast, go to shul? Would I still have a Pesach seder and abstain from bread for a week?…what being a Jew means without the strictures of Torah. Are we still a people, a nation, a family, without that book to bind us together?"

Hearing her articulate these questions piqued my interest, not only because I used to ask them myself, but also because this past Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I couldn't help noticing how much my life has changed from when I too had these questions on my mind.

This year, I didn't go to shul on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. I didn't fast on YK. Aside from meeting up with some ex-frum friends on RH for a potluck dinner (devoid of any religious connotations), and talking to a friend (who is going through her own religious transition), the days had no Jewish associations whatsoever.

And you know what?

It didn't bother me! Not a whit. I didn't feel that I was missing out, or cutting myself off from my people, or being a terrible, self-hating, turning-his-back-on-his-traditions, evil, assimilated Jew. It just didn't matter to me whatsoever.

I remember when I was first stepping onto the path of irreligiosity, how my mind would contort itself to figure out a way to fit Jewish holidays and experiences into my conception of Jewish identity in a compatible and comfortable way. I still felt they were too important to just abandon entirely, so I wanted to retain them in some way that was still meaningful to me, yet devoid of their unappealing components. But I didn't want to become one of those Jews whose most Jewish part of their holiday is the food they eat on that day. To become that would be a terrible thing, I knew. I needed to hold onto their true value, in whatever meaningful way I could. I had to make sure I still cared, one way or another.

And I look at myself now, and realize, to my mild amusement, that I have turned into exactly that person whom I abhorred so vehemently. Judaism has become, more or less, pretty irrelevant for me.

And guess what? It's not so bad. In fact, it's not bad at all. Surprisingly, my life has not devolved into nihilistic anarchy. It isn't meaningless and angst-ridden. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends and many meaningful relationships, some of which have carried over from my frum days, and many of which have formed since adopting my new life. I've discovered that there is as much (if not more) genuine goodness in the dreaded "outside world" as there supposedly is in the holy and sacred enclaves of Frummieville. My life is full of enjoyable, stimulating and enriching experiences. And I even still participate in Jewish events, when the mood suits me.

I know I'm supposed to be ashamed of who I am, of what I've become. But I just can't seem to muster up the indignity. I simply don't feel any loss for not having Judaism be a significant part of my life.

This person that I was so afraid of becoming, it turns out, he really isn't so terrible after all. He still cares about doing what's right, even though he doesn't think god has anything to do with it. He still tries to cultivate meaningful relationships, even though shabbos is just another day of the week. He still tries to be ethical, even though Yom Kippur barely registers on his mental calendar. He still tries to be generous, even though he doesn't wear a yarmulke. He still cares about his fellow man (and yes, also his fellow Jews), even though he doesn't shake a lulav. He still cares about morality, even though his conception of it doesn't concern itself with covered hair and elbows. He still cares about Jews and Judaism, even though it isn't at all an active part of his life. And when he doesn't quite succeed, he vows to do better next time, even though he doesn't swing live poultry over his head. Why should this person be ashamed of themselves?

I can't answer her question of what it means to be a Jew without Torah. Actually, I don't think I even care anymore what it means to be a Jew. I just know that I want to live a good, fulfilling and meaningful life, to the best of my ability, in all it's myriad aspects. I think that, at heart, that's what most of us really want, yet we've been told that if we give up those traditional practices and values, we're forfeiting the best chance we'll ever have to such a life. So I just want to say to everyone who feels that if they stop caring about the rituals and strictures of Judaism, that their lives will descend into a morass of immorality and meaninglessness, that no matter how much of a bacon-eating, shiksa-loving, shabbos-violating, Yom Kippur-eating person you may ever become, it doesn't affect one bit how wonderful and fulfilling your life can be.