14 Sivan 5774
It occurs to me that I should talk about the spiritual helicopters.
Let’s start with my first encounter with anyone Jewish. I was about eight, I think. I didn’t grow up in the Northeast or any big city area with a big Jewish presence, so for me Jews were oddities that I wanted to understand. I heard a couple of boys at school making fun of the little girl with the six-pointed star necklace, and I found out she was a Jew. At church (at the time, the Crystal Cathedral was “church”) I heard a Sunday School teacher saying that the Jews were going to go to hell for killing Jesus if they didn’t get saved. I was pretty upset, since the little girl at school seemed like a nice person. So I went to my Dad and asked him what this all meant.
He told me, quite gravely, that the Jews had kept their covenant with G-d and that there was no good reason why they should go to hell just because some bigoted people wanted to blame the entire Jewish people for something that only a few of them did. Then he gave me my first copy of the Diary of Anne Frank.
I read that book and I wept. How could anyone be okay with what had happened to Anne? How could anyone be okay with letting the government take people away from their families or put them in camps to let them die? I couldn’t fathom it. But as a kid who was also on the outs with everyone at school at that point because I was smart and queer and it was obvious, I identified strongly with Anne and Peter and the other kids in Het Achterhuis.
From time to time over the years, I’d encounter Jewish characters in books or movies and immediately be drawn to them. I remember them, even if I don’t remember anything else about the books. Abie, in The Great Brain, who was assumed by everyone in the town to be rich because he was Jewish, and who died of starvation because nobody was patronizing his store – he was one of the ones I remember well, and with pain. Many, many characters in Judy Blume novels were Jewish as well, as were several in Paula Danziger novels. Both the main character and the bullied girl in Blubber, for instance, were Jewish.
By the time I was in my teens, I was reading Stephen King, and I was drawn to the characters of Stanley Uris and his wife in IT. I was also revolted by the kid and the Nazi war criminal in Apt Pupil. In my 20s there was a character in this movie who was a Jewish kid in an all-Protestant 1950s prep school for boys. A character in that book who was careful to keep his Mogen David tucked under his collar. I saw Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. The character I keyholed in on in Ryan was not Tom Hanks or Leonardo diCaprio – it was Adam Goldberg, who played the Jewish private Mellish. Schindler’s List is one I still, to this day, cannot talk about. It hit me so powerfully that tears come to my eyes every time I think about it.
But that’s all groundwork and background, I think. I’m not sure HaShem was tapping my shoulder at that point. It’s just that my first deep identification with the Jewish people was that feeling of ostracism. Of being different. Of being part of a people set apart and special and reviled and persecuted all at once. I had that, being queer and smart and fat and socially slow due to the autism. I know what that’s like. I get it. I always did.
In my twenties, I had a Jewish friend – a friend of my ex-spouse’s – for a while, and a friend of my own who was in an intermarriage but was not herself Jewish. I went to the second friend’s son’s bar mitzvah, and wished I could understand the Hebrew he was chanting. I went to the first friend’s wedding and marveled at the ceremony and ritual that seemed so real and majestic. In my thirties, I discovered that many of my friends in far-flung areas were Jews: friends in Boston, friends in Texas, friends in San Francisco.
But I don’t think HaShem started tapping me on the shoulder until my father died just over five years ago. I wrote about this in my post on ritual: I wished I was a Jew then, so I could sit shiva. That was probably the first real tap on the shoulder. But I had closed my ears to G-d at that point.
As I’ve said before, I go on a hunt for G-d every year around my birthday. Not this past spring, but the spring prior to that, I found myself reading John Shelby Spong’s book Jesus for the Non-Religious, which is a deconstruction of the Jesus-as-G-d myth.
Remember, in every Christian church, there’s a huge emphasis on affirmation of belief – of saying you believe. The most constant demand for that, in my experience, was the Nicene Creed, which spells out what you are required to believe, including this:
– There is one G-d, the Father Almighty.
– Except there isn’t, because Jesus was also G-d. Oh, but he’s “one in being” with the Father.
– Also, did we mention the Holy Spirit, who somehow “proceeds” from the Father and the Son? The one who’s spoken through the prophets?
– But they’re all one G-d, you know?
Yeah. To me it sounds ridiculous now. But when you’re raised Catholic, you say it at every Mass you go to. It’s part of the service. It’s not optional.
In his book, Spong pointed out that the entire Jesus story, if you put the Gospels and other New Testament books in the order they were written, becomes gradually more and more insistent on his divinity and G-dness, and bends itself more and more into pretzels trying to tie his life to the Hebrew scriptures so that he can be the Meshiach. But – and this was the kicker for me, that absolutely knocked the struts out from under whatever was left of the Jesus story that I still held on to – those stories were and are written in an order that follows the Jewish liturgical year.
That means that it’s very likely that the Jewish followers of Yeshua ben Yosef, the rabbi and teacher, simply substituted their stories about him for the haftarah readings at synagogue services.
To me, that was a helicopter approximately the size of Texas, sweeping away the last vestiges not just of the Jesus myth but the imperative to believe in it with the force of its propeller’s wind. It finished any belief in Jesus that I might have had. He was a man – a rabbi – and I had no obligation to believe anything beyond that about him.
So, that brings us to this year.
I have never trusted my feelings, because when you have a narcissistic mother you learn not to. G-d mostly talks to us through feelings, so I was functionally spiritually deaf. But in learning about and processing the abuse, I began to realize that there were all kinds of signals that I had been missing, or ignoring, like the fact that I had come out and claimed my real self thirteen years ago, after staying functionally a child through my twenties due to pain and abuse and other problems. (A Jewish friend of mine said “Happy bar mitzvah!” when I pointed out that helicopter.) I read about an acquaintance’s Seder plans, and felt a strong pull to go to one. And then I did go to one. And then I felt like I was home, like this was me.
I started reading online blogs about Judaism. I found Mike’s blog at Chicago Carless and wept when I read his post about G-d being on the Brown Line and finding Him there. I identified so deeply with Mike’s journey that I was shocked at myself. And in reading about Judaism, I found everything I had looked for and never found anywhere else: an ethical structure that made sense. A G-d that made sense. The right to doubt. The right to disagree and still be part of the group. Ritual. Music. Tradition. It was all there, just waiting for me to wake up and say yes to it.
I started this blog a few weeks later. Up until that point I’d been cagey on my Facebook and other social media, trying to pretend that it was going to go away. But it didn’t go away. The pull kept getting stronger, and stronger. Finally I had to put it somewhere. I think I opened my first account on a Jews-by-choice forum somewhere around the 21st of April, the day after the Seder I went to for Pesach. Eventually I came here.
When I hesitantly started to ask friends about Judaism, and especially when that whole “fear G-d” thing was blown out of the water at the Seder, there was no going back. I started reading Telushkin the very next week.
Another spiritual helicopter: I’m two blocks away from an open, accepting, interfaith-tolerant, GLBT-welcoming temple. I can WALK there. It’s like G-d was saying “Hey, you have a place you can go even if your partner needs the car.” That, I can’t ignore, can I?
It really was like HaShem had been tapping me on the shoulder but, like Samuel, I couldn’t figure out who it was or if it was a real thing, so I ignored it. But thankfully, HaShem is patient. He can wait until you figure it out.
10 responses to “When HaShem Tapped Me On the Shoulder”
Honestly, I don’t think Judaism could survive if we didn’t argue with Adonai. Even on *Yom Kippur* we remind Adonai not to forsake us entirely, for if the last Jew perishes who will keep God company?
LikeLiked by 1 person
I believe you stated elsewhere that for a time you are an atheist. Where does that fit into your timeline? If you were to revert back to an atheist position after your conversion, how would you deal with being Jewish? You may think that is a silly question, but I think it has merit.
I’m not going to be reverting. I wrote about leaving atheism once I figured out my logical issues with theism here, mostly: https://shocheradam.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/wrestling-match-4-comprehending-g-d/
I don’t know why you assume that it is outside the realm of possibilities. Many religious people think they will never let go of belief in God – but they do. What I am really asking you, is how you can define and live Jewishly, outside of the religious aspects since being Jewish is about more than bullies in God or even religion.
Well, for me, living Jewishly has quite a bit of focus on what you do, rather than what you believe. Action is more important. In fact, the six things that they ask you at the beit din, on the day you convert officially – none of them have anything to do with belief in G-d. According to Michael Doyle, those questions are:
Of your own free will, are you:
1. joining the Jewish people?
2. giving up all other religions?
3. willing to defend Judaism and the Jewish people?
4. live Jewishly?
5. keep a Jewish home?
6. raise your children as Jews?
Although I do not plan to or want to have any more children, I can already answer Yes to all six of those questions. Everything else, as Hillel might have said, is commentary.
They may ask a variety of things. It all depends on their own way of doing things and what they already know about you. Do you have children?
I do, but I’m not the custodial parent, and they’re in their late teens and nearly adults, so I don’t really have that control over their lives. One has expressed an interest in coming to temple with me when they visit on the every-other-weekends. That’s about as much as I can reasonably do.
So for me, so far, living Jewishly and keeping a Jewish home includes:
– Learning and using Hebrew
– Saying the brachot
– Saying prayers morning and night
– Observing Shabbat
– Attending temple services at least once a week
– Studying Torah and Talmud
– Avoiding lashon hara and other forms of unethical behavior
– Supporting charitable work and making tzedakah part of my life
– Wearing my kippah and my Mogen David to make a point of being a visible Jew in the world
– Eventually, as finances allow, acquiring Jewish objects for my home: challah cover and platter, Shabbat candlesticks, menorah/hanukkiah, tzedakah box, Kiddush cup, mezuzot, and so forth
And, of course, working for justice in the world is a big one.
I’m sure that as I progress there will be other observances that will gain meaning to me. For right now, though, these are my personal, definite indicators of “living Jewishly.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
I find it interesting that you mention Samuel as being representative of how you initially responded to HaShem “tapping [you] on the shoulder.” I have always compared myself to Gideon. “If you’re really G-d, have there be dew on the ground but not on the fleece. Oh, okay – but, just to be sure, this time have there be dew on the fleece but not on the ground.” But when it came to conversion (as you know) I simply blurted out to the rabbi that I thought I’d been called to be Jewish, when what I’d dialed the phone thinking was that I was going to ask if a non-Jewish child could be enrolled in the shul’s Hebrew school. HaShem truly is patient – but not above pulling a fast one on someone when necessary. 🙂
Pingback: Another Spiritual Helicopter | Wrestling With G-d