I'll admit it: I kind of lost my Jewish mojo there for a month or two.
I think it started when I read Roger Cohen's The Girl from Human Street, his memoir about his Lithuanian/South African Jewish family and his own experiences growing up in England and South Africa. It was overwrought and overwritten at times, but I enjoyed reading it and found it worthwhile. But then I went to South Africa and spent two weeks at our partner school, and by gum, there wasn't a single Lithuanian Jew there! It was funny how disorienting it was, to have read about Jewish South Africans and then to spend my time there surrounded relentlessly by overt Christianity with a dollop of Islam thrown in there. It was also interesting, by the way, after my reading about Jews who were active in the anti-apartheid movement, to have my South African hosts consider all whites an undifferentiated group and to insist that in fact they couldn't be Jewish because they were Communist.
Anyway, that's all neither here nor there, really, but then I came home and immediately dived into school and got overwhelmed. And then the High Holy Days came rolling along really fast this school year. And my B'nei Mitzvah class started up a couple of weeks ago. And I was assailed by doubt about the whole conversion business.
The night before the B'nei Mitzvah class started again, I lost it and started bawling because I didn't want to go back. I finally calmed down when I decided -- with D's help -- that I was going to request to be taken out of the advanced Hebrew group and put into a middling Hebrew group, even though I might be in that group all by myself. I just can't keep up with the one-chapter-a-week pace that the teacher maintains, and I'm so tired of feeling behind in the class. As it turns out, none of that drama was necessary, because our class is working differently this fall and focusing on the Shabbat prayers rather than on our Hebrew language skills. But I still sat there for the first two weeks of class feeling like it might not be worth all the work and that maybe I should drop out of the whole Bat Mitzvah process.
Rosh Hashanah was fine enough; I'm always up for a fresh beginning, and I like apples. So I took a deep breath on Rosh Hashanah and "came out" to a bunch of Episcopalian friends about my conversion process. (And wow, do I have a lot of Episcopalian friends.) People have responded in generous and lovely ways, exactly as I would have expected, but it still felt kind of scary to go that public.
And then my Yom Kippur experience was just ... meh. I dutifully didn't eat breakfast and went off to temple this morning, but I was just not feeling it. In fact, nothing in the last ten days has felt like days of awe or terror, and today felt in no way like the holiest day of the year. I was getting upset about it and finally left the service at probably the midpoint.
So here's what I did instead, to reclaim the Jewish holidays and try to get my mojo back: I came home, sat in the back yard and enjoyed the cool breeze, and ate a delicious lox-and-cream-cheese sandwich (which I'd been intending for my traditional breaking of the fast; I just assumed that I'd eat it later than noon! I wish that I'd read Servetus's comment before this evening; it's incredibly reassuring). I did a little grading but did it in a very intentional way, thinking clearly about the student before I started reading her work. I picked up from the library a book I've been looking forward to reading: Lev Raphael's Writing a Jewish Life.
And then I went to meet my chavruta, and this is where the mojo starts coming back! Last week in the B'nei Mitzvah class, we got assigned a study partner, and I got paired with a woman who lives only 7 minutes away. We had our first meeting today, even though it was Yom Kippur, and I think we're going to be great partners. We went for an hour and fifteen minutes, which is longer than we'll usually go, but we had to talk about our respective cats and doctoral programs. She grew up Jewish and is pretty good at reading Hebrew aloud but doesn't know what any of it means; I have a lot of trouble reading Hebrew aloud but know my English grammar and am pretty good at retaining and using the Hebrew rules that I've learned thus far. We worked on two prayers today -- the Asher Yatzar and the Elohai N'shamah -- and together we actually learned them! Sure, I'll need to keep practicing this week, but for the first time in a long while I actually felt like I was making progress as a Jew.
Afterward I took a walk in the park overlooking our local river, watching the sunlight fade out of the sky, and I felt my Jewish mojo coming back. For better or worse, the High Holy Days are over, so I don't have to feel the pressure of manufacturing emotions that I'm just not feeling. (Sukkot and Simchat Torah don't feel like any particular pressure to me.) So I have another whole year to internalize the rhythm of the Jewish calendar before the pressure of the Holy Days are upon me again. (Not surprisingly, I had an easier time this past year with Chanukah and Passover, because they mirror the timing of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter so closely.) Other than continuing to study the prayers, my homework for B'nei Mitzvah class is to write the story of my "Jewish journey" -- a daunting but interesting task, perhaps made easier by the fact that there's actually a three-week class on writing memoir starting at the Temple this coming Sunday. I've joined a new book group at the Temple; I didn't go to the first meeting, which was on the first day of classes, but it sounds like they had a lively discussion, and maybe I'll enjoy the experience.
I hope I'm not jinxing everything by saying this prematurely, but tonight I'm really feeling like I'm getting back into my Jewish groove and that all will be well. I'm feeling enormous relief. This is also the moment where I remind myself that things falls apart -- the center does not hold -- when I let myself get so overwhelmed by school that everything else flies out the window. Not an acceptable way to live.
Gut yontiff, and l'shanah tova!