For a while now, I have had this Friday night pattern down. It involves holing up in my room with crime drama and ice cream, and possibly taking a walk if I get stir crazy. I have held to this even when there have been Shabbat dinners in my apartment, literally feet from my room. When I lived on the Upper West Side, I’d sometimes get invited to a Shabbat meal, and with some exceptions, I usually turned it down in favor of my beloved routine. I probably seemed weird and hermit like and a bit scary to the guests who ate meals in our kitchen and living room. That’s okay.
I’m thinking about this ritual tonight when I am far away from it, and in an entirely different situation, in which I’m being asked, for professional purposes, to take part in Shabbat rituals. These days, I have trouble sitting in a room where there is praying going on, and that has been true for about a year. It’s weird to admit that, because I have so often been in a Jewish transition space (pants, no pants, pants; kosher kosher kosher, not kosher, etc.), but I can’t remember it being painful, as in, wanting to run out of a room crying out of frustration and anger. I never feel like I’m not Jewish enough, not even when I let go of an observance, but talking about Shabbat and Jewish ritual now is making me crazy, in that really sad, belligerent way that is totally unproductive.
I used to pride myself on my (perceived) ability to blend into Jewish communities, to look really serious and like I knew what I was doing.I wasn’t always faking it. I wanted to be observant. I willingly put myself in a lot of situations that demanded it, but I can’t anymore. It doesn’t seem worth it. Who I am now as a Jew is good enough, I don’t need to be involved in prayer spaces if the mere act of walking into the room makes me feel sad and crazy. But still, opting out is one thing, feeling miserable when asked to take part in Jewish ritual is another.
I’ve spent years organizing and leading Shabbat in various settings, often before I knew anything about ritual, order, etc. I hurled myself in. It was so important for me to be part of something, or to appear that I was. Maybe I was trying to prove something, and now that I feel like I don’t have to, I can let go of things I grabbed onto that are no longer relevant to who I am now. Maybe it’s painful, that process of letting go, but more likely, it’s that I understand things now in a different way- the gendering of Gd, the heteronormativity of prayers and the total inaccessibility that I’ve felt regularly when using a prayer book, it makes all Jewish ritual feel stained.
Some folks reading this might accuse me of whining, or just being a quitter.You would be wrong, but that’s fine. (I’d be lying if I said I don’t read comments.) I’m going through a process, and it might take years to get out of, but that’s sometimes how it works, I suppose. This is a hard bit, and what makes it even more complicated is that it’s real.