12 Sivan 5774
One of the many reasons why Judaism pulls at me so strongly is that there are rituals for just about every event in life: birth, death, learning, confirmation, marriage, separation, beginnings and endings. My autism may be part of the reason why I am pulled so strongly to ritual. I’ve already got several of my own rituals that have nothing to do with religion or with G-d but which help me stay stable, sane, and calm. So a religion that has rituals is the obvious match for my needs, nu?
When my father died, I desperately wished that I had some kind of mourning ritual. I actually remember posting in my LiveJournal, about a month and a half after his death, that I wished I was Jewish just so I could sit shiva for him and so that people would understand that I was not doing well. I remember that the funeral was not about my Dad so much as it was about the religious beliefs of the church he attended (Episcopalian) and being angry that he wasn’t the focus of the ritual. I had nowhere to put my pain, because I had no structure for it. As a result, I had a pretty bad meltdown after summer came and my graduate work was done for the spring. For about a month and a half I was pretty much nonfunctional while I grieved.
Since then I haven’t known how to observe the anniversary of his death (yartzheit) or what to do with the grief when it still occasionally surfaces. Now, however, I have options. I can ask for his name to be put on a list for the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish. I can say the Mourner’s Kaddish. That’s a big, big deal to me.
I suppose that the wish to be Jewish so I could sit shiva could be construed as a spiritual helicopter. I don’t know, but it feels likely.
What I do know is that in Judaism, first you do, and then you understand. More and more, the rituals of brachot, of Shabbat, and even of study have become deeply meaningful to me and I don’t want to give them up. Ritual is one of the things I really need from my religious and spiritual path for it to have any meaning.
Michael at Chicago Carless said in his conversion essay, which he shared, that one of the things Judaism gave him is a language for the things he’d always believed. It does for me, too, because for me, ritual (and music) are the languages of my spirit, and they’re languages I already speak, even if I’m still trying to memorize the alefbet.