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Further Reflections on Yesterday’s Post

My intention in posting “Thou Shalt Not Oppress the Ger” was to highlight a very ugly reality that one convert lives in because it is a reality that unfortunately, many converts live in. I have been lucky, so far, that it is not my reality. I have been spared this lot. Mostly, I get snide little comments questioning how “authentically” Jewish I am or mocking my head coverings, or lack thereof. I know I have been lucky so I was shocked by how many people thought the tone of the piece was negative, that the author needed to focus on positive. So here’s my two cents.

I think it’s hard to be positive when you’re talking about such a negative subject. When I talk about racism in the Jewish community, I find that people frequently want me to be ‘positive,’ so positive that they hope I shut up, go away and pretend there is no racism in the Jewish community. When could this lady have snuck in…by the way, I love Judaism! I think that is implied. Her commitment to Judaism, her positive feelings about it, are implied in that she’s working so hard to be a good Jew, to shield her son from some of the more negative aspects of her community and she submitted this piece to an Jewish journal.

This could easily have been a litany of arguments for why someone should leave Judaism or leave Orthodoxy or never convert but she doesn’t go there. She says this is my reality and it shouldn’t be. She can only do so much because no matter what she will be judged. It doesn’t sound like she’s so worried about being judged herself, she’s accepted that sad lot. But her son, no way. Everyone wants to protect their babies. I could see myself slapping someone if they questioned my Judaism before letting my kid go on a date with their son or daughter. She’s also trying to protect us converts who are going in after her. And she IS doing something very positive about her situation. She’s making it known to the world, holding up a big ugly mirror to these cruel Orthodox Jews she has had to live with  and saying “Is this what G-d wants from you? Is this G-dly? Is this what it means to be a light unto the nations?”

I think, I hope, she got out one good vent. I am not as naive to imagine that everyone needs to be positive and happy-go-lucky in all circumstances. I wish, you wish. Psychologists are concerned that we are turning into a world of people who cannot cope with sadness, unhappiness or mere discomfort. I hear that. The fact is that sometimes, circumstances are shit and we can do our best to fight the ensuing internal battle but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re in a crappy situation nonetheless. 

There is a part of my memoir where I do a whole ranting chapter where I REALLY hate the world, really, really, because I was 21, fighting my mother for custody of my sister, abandoned by my family members, so poor I was often starving, crippling myself at multiple jobs, trying to be good and positive and it sucked. I hated G-d. I rebelled. I needed to go to that deep, dark place so I could appreciate coming out of it. 
Boohoo, if my sadness, my pain was too hard for people to handle. (These are the same people who ask me why I STILL haven’t gotten over being abused daily as a child or why I haven’t gotten over the fact that I am in pain 24-7. Excuse me?) When we see people in pain, we should support them. We should hug them. We shouldn’t pretend their pain doesn’t exist or gloss it over with pretty words. When this author of this piece is ready for positive thinking, the world and G-d will be ready for her. For now, your job is just to listen. 

8 thoughts on “Further Reflections on Yesterday’s Post

  1. As I said earlier, those of us who analyze human behavior in its broader social and psychological contexts will tell you that any conversion process entails some level of trauma, and of course, it is human nature to view the ger as the stranger, the outsider, the interloper and the other. I think that it takes a lot of courage and conviction to transition in this way. Familial relations suffer. People often give up foods they once loved, music they once loved, friendships, preferred ways of dressing, favorite pastimes, and even favorite cultural and intellectual interests because in many cases, these aspects of the individual, which developed outside the newly adopted religious environment/community often go out the window, because they conflict with the socially accepted standards of that particular community. When I go to Orthodox communities or synagogues, I feel as if I am immersing myself in a world where people create their own reality and try to isolate themselves from the real world as much as possible. Even with the Modern crowd comes a certain degree of parochialism, albeit with the veneer/facade of “openness and tolerance,” which in my professional opinion, takes the rather superficial form of “rebellious” acts such as having televisions, maybe being lax in kosher or modesty standards, not viewing torah study as central to everyday life, not dressing in clothing distinguishable as “Jewish” such as a black hat, kaftans, tzitzit, etc. To me, though, the entire psychology of conversion is one replete with tensions and internal conflicts. Truthfully, and I am not offending you, Aliza, but just asking you this- how can you synchronize your own set of intellectual and social/moral values, which generally develop in adolescence and the early adult years, before you joined Orthodoxy, with those of an entirely new and foreign system of values and outlook on the world? From a developmental perspective, it is very difficult for someone to abandon the person who they have become in their formative years and replace their identity, essentially, with that of the community they've joined. A few examples- you have platonic relationships with guys, you have coffee together, go to lunch, greet with a hug and kiss, all perfectly normal aspects of life. You become Orthodox, and Orthodoxy tells you this is a no-no. This is considered immoral, immodest and in violation of negiah laws. What do you do? Do you really think God wants you to abandon them so you can be observant of the laws expected of you as an Orthodox Jew?

    Same goes for politics. What do you do if your community almost 100% supports political and social causes you disagree with, including its rabbis, who have to be respected and followed halahically, as a duty. Abortion-on-demand, meaning women should have the right to choose even if their lives are not risk, or there is no rape or incest involved, gay rights, same-sex marriage, support for the rights of Palestinians and a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis, as opposed to the almost-fascist and militaristic response of many in Religious Zionism, and opposition to school vouchers and public education, to name a few, are all social issues which Judaism clearly opposes. Abortion is only allowed under certain circumstances, gays are viewed as sinners, public education is opposed, and Arabs are viewed as blood-lusting terrorists who should have no rights and no state by the bulk of Orthodoxy, whose opinions are rooted in torah sources, naturally. How do you confront this? Orthodoxy tells you your politics and values have to comport to religious tradition, yet what do you do if you don;t agree with what the torah says on these and other issues?


  2. Also, what do you do if there was ever a conflict between your previous community and your new community? Your experiences, let's say, with poverty and economic inequality growing up in Washington Heights, of course, shaped your social vision and outlook on the world. What do you do when Jews and Hispanics are in fierce competition for public housing and public assistance grants for their respective social service agencies, which has been a problem in Williamsburg and Crown Heights for years, among other neighborhoods where Orthodox Jews have ill relations with their neighbors. It is almost as if you would be in the terrible position of choosing sides. Would you want the United Jewish Council to get the funds for the Jews, or would you want a group like Make the Road by Walking to get the funds to assist their needy Puerto Rican, Mexican, Dominican and other clients? These things are very difficult, I'd imagine.

    What do you also do with beliefs on feminism, evolution, science, biblical criticism and other areas Orthodoxy takes a tough stance?

    If you have ever taken a college Bible or Religion class, even at a place like JTS, you'd learn that the bible is compiled from varying textual sources and that there are errors in the redaction of the Mishnah, such as the fact that Tamid could not have been redacted by Judah HaNasi, due to problems with the text and context. Orthodoxy tells you this is a no-no, so what do you do? Just pretend all is hunky dory and go with the flow, silencing yourself when you hear rabbis preach to you that the whole thing is inerrant and infallible? When people tell you that you are a heretic for correctly believing the Zohar is a medieval composition rooted in Neoplatonic thought, what do you do then? How can you just silence yourself and pretend you are a perfect believer in the religion?
    How do you react when rabbis tell you that it is God's will that heinous and evil things happen to people not deserving of them? That if you eat a cheeseburger or eat an insect even left inadvertently on a lettuce leaf you are going to get 40 lashes when you die? That if you conceive a baby while still menstruating, your child is spiritually 'impure'? That a gentile can 'contaminate' a cemetery, a bottle of wine, or a pot of food just by touching, like they have leprosy or something? That a knee, elbow or singing voice can sexually arouse a man? That a woman is impure due to natural bodily functioning, and that a man can't have relations with her during this time, even though it is scientifically proven that a woman is at her sexual peak during this time of the month, due to hormonal changes? Or how about commandments commanding genocide and the abandonment of non-Jewish wives and children? Jewish law says that if a Jewish man has a child with a non-Jewess, he is not really her husband and not really the kids' father, and therefore, he has no responsibility towards them? To the modern and intelligent person, these all seem ludicrous.

    My point is that how do you unify 2 disparate outlooks on life, on the nature of religion, politics, society and morals?

    Or are you proudly just Orthopractic?


  3. I take everything on a case by case basis and yes, I have made a lot of changes to my life. But no, I have not replaced my identity. I do think that I have seen some people do that and I think that’s easier to do if you think there was something wrong with your identity before which is not my situation. I am a big girl. My community does not dictate my politics. You’ll note that many attacks on me on this blog are from some Orthodox folk who do try to dictate my politics. You ask a lot of good questions but you forget that people are individuals. Everyone makes different choices. I am representative of only one person in Orthodoxy and my individual choices only say very much about me, not necessarily about Orthodoxy or Judaism.


  4. Orthopractic? Isn’t that like the foot doctor?

    Sigh, people are constantly asking me this question, asking me to choose. No, I doubt I’ll ever be in a situation where I will have to choose between saving a Hispanic person’s life or a Jewish person’s life. I’ve also been asked if Israel, the Dominican Republic and America went to war, which would I choose? You’re asking, which identity would I choose? And that’s not the way it works.

    Feminism: good. But my views on this would turn your head. I’ve written a post on this before. Basically, I’ve never had to worry about being a feminist. I was raised in a world with only poor women doing what they had to do. That taught me to believe women are better. Period. There seem to be some nice men out there though so I make allowances for them.
    Evolution: good. No, I don’t think the world was created 5,000 years ago.
    Science: good. Can someone please find the cure for fibromyalgia?
    Biblical criticism: good. Criticize all you want, I like a lot of parts of it.

    I rarely pretend things are hunky dory. There is always a struggle. As I said before, this is the best way I know how to live my life. And your arguments are valid but this is not the first time I’ve heard them.

    Seriously, me silent? What is a perfect believer? Nobody is perfect. Plus, the word believer gives me the heebyjeebees.

    G-d’s will? G-d’s will…hmm, to let people have free will and then let them be idiots, sure. But heinous and evil things, not sure about that. And on this point, we’ll just never know unless G-d lets us interview Him for a spread in People magazine.

    Cheeseburger: lactose intolerant.
    Bugs on my lettuce: don’t like them so much.
    Other questions: Damn, boy.

    Seriously, are you trying to convince me to leave Orthodoxy? Hate Judaism? What? What do these questions serve? Other than to point out that religion is complicated, complicated by people and strange things that can’t be explained. I’m okay with that.

    How do you unify 2 disparate outlooks…? You work on it. Every day. You make choices. Some of them good, some of them bad. I’m pretty modern and intelligent and plenty of modern and intelligent people are pretty stupid I think.

    Honestly, these are awesome questions but the answers don't fit in this tiny little box and besides, you won't be satisfied with most of them.


  5. Thank you for your kind words.

    As someone who is pursuing sociology and psychology, as well as constantly studying comparative religion, and applying its methods to Talmud Torah, these are the questions that are always on my mind. I am also an advocate for social justice and I believe that Judaism's prophetic tradition must be integrated into the framework of the Orthodox community, even if it may still be an uphill battle. I am writing a book on how and why Orthodoxy needs to reassess its views towards Academic Jewish Studies, conversion and converts, social justice, Non-Jews, Non-Jewish religions, Jewish pluralism, Secular Studies and other areas, in light of historical and halakhic evidence.


  6. Aliza – thank you for these past few posts. I am someone who is planning to convert to Liberal Judaism here in the UK (part of the World Union for Progressive Judaism). I chose LJ because I felt it was right for me – inclusive of gay, straight, married, single, observant, less-observant… etc etc. My partner is not planning to convert and this is no problem at all to the rabbi and the community.

    It so saddens me about the problems the anonymous writer has experienced and continues to experience, but also, does not necessarily surprise me. I don't know how she copes, having to continually justify and prove her and her son's status.

    Our synagogue in particular (I don't know if it is the same for LJs, but I imagine it is) is very proud of its converts, nobody is treated differently for it, nobody keeps it quiet and is happy to talk about it if asked.

    Horror of horrors, our movement accepts someone as born Jewish if it is via their father only, as long as the person has been brought up in a Jewish home.

    I could go on. But mainly I just wanted to say thank you for highlighting something that is very rarely brought to light.

    I really admire your blog – you write so well. I wish mine was even half as deep!



  7. (These are the same people who ask me why I STILL haven't gotten over being abused daily as a child or why I haven't gotten over the fact that I am in pain 24-7. Excuse me?)

    Save for the fact that you are not prone to fabrication, I wouldn't have believed people could be quite so insensitive. I have found, however, that the Jewish community works very hard to pretend that child abuse doesn't exist, and people are strongly disinclined to believe someone who claims that they have been abused. (I have also had conversations with abused children who didn't even realize that most parents don't do [several examples] to their kids.) Even growing up knowing kids whose parents were not, shall we say, 100%, as I got older and started learning more of the truths of the world, even I was surprised at how deep the rabbit hole goes. It does not shock me at all that people try to sweep it under the rug; ignorance is bliss! At the same time, ignorance is something we can't afford, as ignorance is what lets such things continue.

    “Psychologists are concerned that we are turning into a world of people who cannot cope with sadness, unhappiness or mere discomfort.”

    I'm already seeing it, and it has caused many people many problems!


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