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Uncategorized August 13, 2013

State of the Blog, Take Two

Hi everyone!  I’m back.  Kind of.

It’s been two full years since I started blogging.  My first year was pretty much about “this is what my life is like, as an Orthodox woman, and here’s why I do the things I do.  Welcome to my world.  Are there any questions?”  My second year was mostly about, “Here are the things I ponder and muse as an Orthodox woman.  What do you think about that?”  And here I approach my third year, and the following comes to mind:


THING THING What is that thing?
THING SING That thing can sing!
SONG LONG A long, long song.
Good-by, Thing.  You sing too long.

Thanks, Dr. Seuss.  Which has long been my mantra: stop before they’re tired of you.

But there’s more.

It seems that by putting myself out there as this happy, fulfilled, serene (most of the time) Orthodox woman, I have also set up a de facto “in defense of Orthodoxy” blog.  And the greatest and most interesting irony of it all is that in many cases, the closer someone is to Orthodox Judaism, they more I feel that way on the blog – that my practice of my faith is on trial.  Which has led to all kinds of incredible discussions on the blog: rich, deep, intelligent, caring, feeling discussions.

It has also led to me feeling wiped out.

At the risk of sounding petulant, I say this: I don’t WANT to defend religion so much here on OOTOB.  So you might say, too bad.  You set yourself up for this.  Do you really think you are going to just emote or intellectualize about your life without tough questions?  But truthfully, I don’t MIND tough questions.  I like them.  They’ve challenged me to find ever greater answers.  The interesting part of this blog – and the fulfilling part, since it’s not all about what’s “interesting” – derives exactly from the friction here.  But the exhaustion is not coming from there.  It’s coming from the emotionality of it, sometimes, and the self-editing I find myself doing to avoid it.  The emotionality that I and I alone (ridiculous, of course) am on the witness stand, defending Judaism with my formal education that ended 20 years ago (continuing education and being married to a rabbi notwithstanding).  Questions that are simply curious do not exhaust me.

So I say this: I don’t have all the answers.  Is that OK?  Sometimes here on this blog, I will simply say “I don’t know” and it will be OK.  And it will not be me conceding that therefore God does not exist, or does not care quite as much as I think He does, or that my practice of my faith is baseless, or any other host of issues we’ve covered here.  It means that my inability to refute every challenge due to time constraints, my limited resources and brainpower, and my desire not to let this blog eclipse my life is in no way a blight on my faith or practice thereof.

I will still continue to publish comments that wipe me out, and they in no way signify my agreement or endorsement.  I may alter the nature of my posts, but I might hate myself if I do 🙂  Who knows?

So I think I’ll continue on this crazy journey with a bit of self-protection.  Let’s see what happens.  Thanks for sticking with me.

Uncategorized January 14, 2013

Guest Blogger: Meet Kate – A Skeptic Becomes a Convert

 While checking out my blog stats one day, I noticed I’d gotten some traffic from a site called “”  (Don’t worry.  I can’t see WHO finds me, just how many and from where.)  Intrigued, I clicked on it, to discover a lovely blog by one Kate, a recent convert to Judaism.  I scrolled through some posts and just warmed to her message.  I tried commenting on her blog but couldn’t find a way to do so, so I emailed Kate my comment.  I also posted one of her pieces on my Facebook page where quite a discussion ensued, so I found Kate on Facebook and tagged her.  
Now we’re friends.  Facebook agrees.  Of course, the next natural step was to ask Kate if she’d guest blog for me.  And here she is:
The number one question I am asked once people
discover I’m a convert is, “Why Judaism?” Actually, scratch that. The first
thing they want to know is when I’m getting married, a natural presumption
given many converts’ introduction to Judaism through a relationship. As I
explain to them, in my particular case I didn’t fall in love with a man; I fell
in love with Judaism. And I’m happy to tell anyone willing to listen (or read)
This time three years ago, I was still about five
weeks away from finding it. If you had asked me if I was happy, I would have
answered, “Of course!” I loved my life in Chicago, and according to most
modern-day standards, I had everything that was supposed to make a person
happy. Certainly I thought religion was the last thing I needed, as I
associated all religion with my Christian upbringing. I began having major
issues with Christian doctrine (Read: Sending people to hell) in my early teens
and subsequently distanced myself from it. Even with a couple of Jewish
boyfriends later, I never bothered to study Judaism, because I thought if I
disagreed with A, B, & C in Christianity, I’d really have a problem with
A-Z in that harsh religion of laws. So imagine my surprise in late February
2010, when I began researching my paper on Judaism for a Religion course and it
was absolutely nothing like what I had been taught it was. The more I read, the
more I realized how much Judaism matched up with what I already believed, e.g.
people have a good side and a bad side, and can freely choose to make the world
better or worse. Miss
“Spirituality-Yoga-Organized-Religion-Is-Bad-I-Do-Whatever-I-Want” suddenly
agreed with an organized religion. Oh. Uh-oh.
Chalk it up to denial, but after finishing my paper,
I kept reading with the specific intention of waiting for the other shoe to
drop. I really and truly believed that I would find something I disagreed with
and be able to go back to my comfortable existence. When that didn’t happen, I
thought I would try keeping Shabbat, to see if I could walk the walk. I thought
for sure that this would be the dealbreaker that would let me off the hook; I’d
get bored two hours into Friday night and be able to say it just wasn’t for me.
If you’re waiting for the part where I fall in love with Judaism, I promise
it’s coming.

If I was going to test the waters, I was going to do
it right. I obviously didn’t know everything about Shabbat—I didn’t even know
there were special candles—but I knew it involved food, so I bought and
prepared all of my favorites, scribbled down the blessing on a Post-it, and
waited for eighteen minutes before sundown. It’s hard for me to put into words
what I felt that night. I didn’t have timers for my lamps, because I had no
idea they were allowed—I just knew I couldn’t turn lights on or off. But it
turned out that I didn’t need them, because the rosy glow of the sunset and the
candlelight filled my apartment with light and me with a sense of awe. From
that first Shabbat, there was no going back, and I knew it. 
It wasn’t just about the beauty of Shabbat in those
25 hours. After a few weeks, I began noticing that I was more patient, more
aware of what mattered. This really speaks to the effects of the mitzvot
overall: with time, I was becoming
I started to see that this organized religion wasn’t judging or
oppressing me; it was freeing me to live up to my full potential. It was why I
refused to resign myself to only 7 laws, even as the Rabbi insisted that it
would be a much easier life. “And what kind of person would I be,” I argued,
“If I believed in something but gave it up because it wasn’t easy?”
I ask myself that question again all the time, as
becoming officially Jewish wasn’t the end of the struggle. Like Jacob and the
angel, I wrestle with other Jews, I wrestle with G-d, I wrestle with myself.
Sometimes I stubbornly push against the mitzvot that I fought so hard to be
able to perform as a Jew, but like a lover after a quarrel, I always come back.
And when someone asks me, “Why Judaism,” I know exactly how to answer. Because
it works. I lived with myself for years before finding Judaism. I know who I
was, and I know who I am now. Still imperfect, but better than I was three
years ago, and always striving to improve.