3. This is what it means to be an Off-the-Derech Baal-Teshuvah: it means you grew up less observant—or in my case, completely secular—became traditionally observant later in life, and then walked away from observance. For me this year, it has meant carefully constructing a childhood that I love dearly, then suddenly growing up and leaving my childhood behind. Yet I didn’t want everyone to make the choices I was making; I wanted the Shabbos world to keep going whenever I stepped away. How else could I come back to visit?
4. No Breaks – I thought that I was on a break from choosing and continuing on a religious path. I became, meanwhile, very involved in a start-up shul, and promptly began berating myself: I couldn’t explore different options when I was investing so much time and energy in one community (and a Modern Orthodox one, at that)! Until it dawned on me: there are no breaks. The path continues. Every moment is meaningful, and I am in a particular community because I want to be.
5. Shabbos vs. Saturday – For me, Shabbos isn’t exactly a day of the week—that’s Saturday. Shabbos is instead a choice to put myself in a certain environment. Though I spent many happy Saturdays this year skipping Shabbos, especially when traveling, sometimes the day was difficult because I wanted to observe Shabbos somehow and couldn’t; I had made a choice in advance to put myself in a Saturday situation. These days, I usually opt to make Shabbos plans, just in case I want them once I get there.
6. Between All and Nothing – I wrote a whole post about this one. Right before the holiday of Shavuos, I stopped freaking out so much about an observance end-game, and attempted to embrace a Jewish life of ambiguity and doubt. Since then I really have let go of a lot of angst.
7. Anger – “I’m straight up mad at halakha,” I recently said to my rabbi, who’s known me for almost ten years now. I had realized that, underneath it all, I was angry—at halakha, and also at Orthodox Judaism, at Conservative Judaism, at religion in general, at human nature, at God. I’ve been thinking lately about becoming halakhic again, but keep stopping myself because I’m so damn mad.
I ranted at my rabbi for a while. I ranted about the issues of women’s and LGBTQ inclusion in Orthodoxy, about value systems and how halakha is only one of a few of mine, and often contradicts the others. He couldn’t answer everything, of course, but the conversation was nevertheless both helpful and humbling. Regarding my anger, he said, “If you’re mad, it means you’re in it—mazal tov.”
When I was at the door and about to leave, he grinned and said, “You’re doing great.” Strangely enough, I still don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going… but I think he’s right.