Tag Archives: teshuva

Looking back, looking forward

1 Tishri 5775

As I dip an apple into honey and taste the sweetness of the new year, I am also taking stock of my life for the Days of Awe.

“Dipping Apples in Honey.” From Elana’s Pantry on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/oav6c9u. Used under Creative Commons license.

“In Judaism, the focus is not on what a terrible person you are for doing something, the focus looks forward to aiming more carefully when you take the next shot.” – Rabbi Adar

Since this is my first Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) as a prospective Jew (and hopefully my last one as a prospective Jew), I have to consider more than just the past year. Whom have I harmed with my words or actions? To whom do I need to make amends, and how do I go about doing that?

The hardest thing about apologies, for me, is that words are never really enough to get my remorse across. I’m always worried that no matter how sincere I know I am, it’s going to come across to the other person as “just words” being said because I have to say them, not because I mean them.

But I know a few guidelines for making an apology real:

“I’m sorry if you felt bad when I…” is not an apology. It deflects responsibility for the problem onto the other person.

Any explanation for bad behavior comes across as an excuse, and thus negates an apology.

The formula that I read about for making a true apology (about teaching little kids to apologize and mean it, of all places) goes like this:

1. Say what you are sorry for. “I’m sorry that I said hurtful things about you/your __________.”

2. Say why you are sorry for it. “It was really inappropriate for me to say those things about you/your _________, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

3. Say what you will do differently next time – and frame it positively, not negatively. “Next time I’ll wait for you to ask my opinion before I give it.”

4. Ask for – but do not expect – forgiveness. “I ask for your forgiveness for what I did.”

But Judaism also requires that we make amends for what we did, if possible. I have been unsure how to make amends for hurtful words and behaviors when the harm done has no physical basis but is emotional and spiritual (which I am guilty of a lot more than I want to be – in fact, it’s the main thing that I find myself realizing I need to apologize for).

I have had people suggest that I ask the person I wronged for suggestions for how I should make amends, so today I tried that.

Today, I sent an e-mail to a former friend who is a devout Christian, whom I’m sure I harmed many times over the course of our friendship due to my antipathy towards the fact that she was religious. I also sent an e-mail to a colleague whose husband, one of my former professors, died this spring, to apologize for not reaching out to her when it happened. In both cases, I concluded with a request: if there is anything I can do to make amends, please let me know and I will do it to the best of my ability.

I may never hear back from either of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have done what I can. Seeing either of them in person is not really possible; we live nowhere near each other. Phone calls are difficult because I can’t hear on the phone very well. So, although it’s not ideal, an e-mail is actually the best way to apologize at this point.

I am still struggling over whether I should reach out to my mother. She harmed me, a lot, and I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position again. There are a couple of other people whom I’ve had fallings-out with, but where the falling-out was mutual, so I’m also not sure what to do there.

I have things I need to apologize for to my partner, but that’s between us, and that will happen this week when he’s home, calm, and rested.

But there’s one other person that I also need to make amends with. That person is me. I’ve been slacking on my physical health all year – saying “yes” to the ice cream far too many times, and avoiding the walks that I know are necessary for my health. I’ve also been a bit lax on the whole mental-health maintenance thing. I need to change my aim from the in-the-moment pleasure to the long-term goal.

So that’s what I resolve to do this year. I apologize to myself for putting the immediate before the long-term, and I resolve to do better this year.

Time for reflection on the past year

Time to figure out what we’re doing here

Replace the guilt with inspiration, and everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun

Easier than regret, what’s done is done

Living in the moment lasts for a moment

Shana Tovah to everyone! 

– The Maccabeats, “Book of Good Life”

Depression means living in the past. Anxiety means living in the future. What does it mean when you live in the moment and only in the moment? Recklessness. Time to stop living in the moment all the time. I used to be very bad at this; now I’m way too good at it. It’s time to strike a balance.

Mindfulness is the key, I think. Obsessing over the past (which I cannot change), worrying about the future (which will be here when it gets here) and using the present to hedonistically ignore them both is not working. It’s time for mindfulness.

So this year, in 5775, I will aim for mindfulness. Not obsession; just mindfulness, you understand. Awareness. Observation. And because I’m way too good at beating myself up for even minor mistakes (that merger of a Catholic early upbringing and Jewish guilt can create a perfect storm), I’m going to work on not doing that. It’s counterproductive. Instead of beating myself up, I should be beating a fast path to the door of those I’ve wronged – and for minor mistakes that can’t be fixed, I need to learn to let go of it.

Shanah Tovah, everyone.

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Filed under Conversion Process, Jewish Practices

Wrestling Match #2: Teshuva

I want to comment on what many converts have said on their blogs: many of us feel that we’re not converts. We are already Jews. We have Jewish souls – yiddishe neshamot – how could we be otherwise?

We are returning after having been separated from our community. How that separation occurred is really irrelevant. The point is, we are now returning.

But it’s hard to express that to people who don’t have to go through this process to be recognized and affirmed by the Jewish community.

I’m a musician first, and always have been. Lately, I’ve been looking into Jewish popular music, and discovered the amazing singer Neshama Carlebach. Her song “Return Again” hit me so hard that I almost couldn’t breathe, because that feeling I’ve been describing as the pull, the feeling I couldn’t find words for – this song describes it completely and exactly. 

Return to who you are
Return to what you are
Return to where you are born and reborn again


That’s what the pull is. It’s a call for me to return. 

I feel drawn to Judaism and I can’t stop feeling the draw. I feel like I have to be a Jew. Like it’s an inevitability, an imperative, like day following night. Like my soul was at Sinai and it just took a while for me to find out that I am Jewish at my core.

But – and there’s a big “but” here – I also feel presumptuous. Less so than I did when I first contemplated conversion, because I’ve spoken with many Jewish friends from many movements and none of them find my need to become a Jew in any way presumptuous – but it’s still nervewracking to just say “I feel that I am a Jew.”

And yet I’ve always identified with Judaism. I’ve identified with Jews, with their struggle, with being both chosen and rejected, with being the social scapegoat. I was a “gifted child” and an undiagnosed autistic in the 1970s, which caused merry hell with my peers; I came out as queer when I was in my 20s; I’ve always struggled with weight, which made me a target – just a lot of other issues that put me on the scapegoat hot seat, I suppose. I attended my first seder this past Pesach, and one of the “regulars” at that seder said to me “What, you want to become even more marginalized and ostracized?” with a wink. 

But when I read about the Jewish experience I identify with it, strongly. Every time I read a book where there’s a Jewish character I understand that person’s views as if they’re mine. When I talk with Jewish friends I get where they’re coming from. I don’t have any better words for why. I just feel this pull, and it’s not going away. 

How else to explain that pull, unless I have a Jewish soul?

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Filed under Conversion Process, Judaism, Teshuva, Wrestling Matches