My Judaism

A Guest Post from Leslie

My Judaism, much like your Judaism, is a work-in-progress.

As a young adult I was religiously certain of two things:  The first, that there was nobody up there.  Instead I was positive that somebody could be felt and found right here in the world, an ever-present light filtered through people like my parents, shiny puddles of oil-stained water in the driveway, and the faces of stray dogs.  The second was that the Methodist paradigm I’d been raised in was not at all cutting the mustard when it came to communicating with that light — at least not for me — which was something that I needed to come up with a solution for as quickly as was humanly possible for a high school freshman.

By the age of fifteen I honed in on the doctrine of salvation via belief in a savior – or else –  as being the primary “issue” I was having with my home church.  I found it unbearable to sit in the same room with a God who would be willing to banish people who did not believe the “right” thing to a place of endless suffering.  After much soul-searching (and practicing saying, “Mom and Dad, I’m not going to church with you anymore” in front of a mirror) I stepped off the Methodist derech once and for all.  I read a ton of women’s spiritual writing, everyone from Queen Elizabeth I to Iranian poet Farough Farrokzhad.  I lovingly dissected poems and chapters that spoke to me with a chunky yellow highlighter, underlining the bits and pieces that stirred my heart so that I could return to them later.  I did return to them – and to countless other books that began to form my own personal canon – with some pretty serious reverence.  My parents were disappointed at first, but amazingly tolerant, and I love the heck out of them.

It took me another four years or so to articulate this, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve never had any problem with God, per se.  I’m a big fan of his/her work, even though I don’t always agree with everything that’s made it into the Books and Writings and So On.  In the back of my heart I have always known that my disagreements (and, at times, all out hair-pulling, name-calling arguments) with God have somehow been productive.  In other words, I have always, always been wrestling, and that wrestling has been the source of much anguish and elation for me.  In college I did everything but major in religion, filling my schedule with courses on medieval women’s spiritual writing and embodiment theology.  My preferred form of worship utilized the Chicago Manual of Style, if you catch my drift.

After college I began working at a foster care home for teenage girls with some rather special emotional and therapeutic needs, and I’ve been there for almost three years now.  I case manage, hold hands, and break up fistfights.  I gently entreat police officers not to click the handcuffs too tight on the child I am having them escort to the ER for yet another psychological evaluation on yet another 3 AM court order.  I confiscate Lady Bic razors and put band-aids on forearms and thighs.  I invest my whole self into a kid only to come into work the next day and find out they’ve been returned to the custody of their abusers.  And I am not, for the record, always a very good person for this job – I get burned out, whimpery, and useless.  Sometimes I find myself utterly exhausted by our bipolar universe and its insistence upon buffeting us little people about between alternating waves of explicit meanness and inexplicable mercy.

Those two facts are extremely difficult to integrate.  In fact, it didn’t take me but a few months on the job to realize that the spiritual vocabulary I had worked so hard to build for myself was strong, but not quite capable of making sense of what I was seeing and doing.  And it certainly was nowhere near comprehensive enough to carry me into the hospital chaplaincy work I hoped (and still hope) to do in the future.

(This is where Judaism finally peeks in, quiet and barely insinuating at first – like, hey, word on the street is you’re starting to grow out of your amorphous, wandering spirituality.  Do you want to try this Monotheism thing again?  This is some really good stuff.  You liked it before, but it got uncomfortable, and I respect that.  But you and I both know something is missing.  You have all these prayers and thank yous and longings, but nowhere tangible to send them.  Sometimes you got to go old school, you know?  Get back to basics.  And you say you like studying?  Well damn, girl, have I got something for you … )

I’m sorry.  I know, I just made Judaism sound like a pusher.  But it was so seductive.  I got pains in my heart every time I drove past the synagogue in town … I missed God.  I don’t know how else to explain this to you.  It was like wanting a cigarette plus missing a lover times grieving after the death of my grandfather to the nth degree.  Judaism’s allowance for argument and discussion, the insistence upon an ongoing intellectual life that questions and interacts directly with the divine – these are not things that I was able to find as a Methodist, or as a woman floating in her own suspension of nebulous universalism.  Universalist sensibilities are in my blood, no doubt, but I personally needed a more concrete language, one that resonates naturally and directly with my spirit.  To that end I’ve been drawn to the living Hebrew language, recently resurrected and yet old as dust, stretched across the intricate canvas of the alef-bet.  Before, I was struggling to get along in a spiritual tongue something more along the lines of Esperanto: loving, idealistic, but terminally nomadic.  Now I am building a home for myself in which I can grow, into which I can invite others.

All of that said, I am still a convert-in-progress.  This is not a finished house, shall we say, but I’m pretty sure where the furniture is going to go when everything’s said and done.  I was slogging through some “incident reports” at work a few months ago, and I thought to myself, totally off the cuff:  I wonder what my Hebrew name will be when it comes time to think about those kinds of things?  I felt bad for even thinking about it, as it seemed like a presumptuous thing to consider.  I stared at my computer screen, at whatever recent tragedy I was trying to explain to my superiors via a Word document.

And although I risk sounding like a total whackjob, I will be honest with you about what happened next:  I heard, or thought, or whatever, the syllables A, Hu, Vah, as matter-of-factly as if I was hearing someone say A, Cheese, Sandwich.  I perked up.  Suddenly the dutiful stenographer, I spelled it back in my head.  Ahuvah.

Promptly, I sought out the wisdom of Google.  The internets assured me that Ahuva(h), a feminine Hebrew name, means “beloved.”  Further exploration, however, suggested that the name more accurately translates to she has been loved.  The face of the one who has always been loving me has not been particularly clear until now.  But the harder I look, the clearer that face becomes.

I’ll take it.

Leslie is a writer and youth care worker originally from Texas, now residing in the mountains of Virginia.  She is (almost) a Jew By Choice, the adult advisor for her shul’s youth group, and a part time theological student.  She talks in her sleep. Leslie’s a blogger too – read it here)

If you would like to submit an essay for the MY JUDAISM column, the guidelines and disclaimers are here.

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9 responses to “My Judaism

  1. An interesting passage from Methodist to Jew. She appears to be an intelligent and attractive whackjob. 🙂 Now I am craving a cheese sandwich.

  2. I find your story incredibly moving, not the least of which because Ahuva is my sister’s name… I hope that you find a way to bring that light into the world, both for yourself and for those special people you surround yourself with!

    Shabbat Shalom – blessings for a peaceful weekend!

  3. Beautiful writing – and kudos for being willing to expose yourself to us. That takes courage.

  4. That was beautiful. I wish you luck with the never-ending search.

  5. What a wonderful journey that you’ve begun! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Beautifully written. Made me emotional in many ways. (yes, tears were included) I wish you so much joy on your quest for Judaism. May G-d put the right people in your path to help you along the way.

  7. Thank you all so much for your kind words! Writing this was a big “exhale” for me … and I am bery grateful for Hadassah for the soapbox!

  8. You have made my Shabbat that much more blessed and meaningful – Thank you and Shabbat Shalom

  9. Very powerful, thank you for sharing.

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