religion

Five Crappy Things about Israel that Need to Change… Yesterday

Crap

OK, I’m a cynic. I get that.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong about everything. Nor does it mean my country gets a free pass on me pointing out its garbage.

A lot of people here treat Israel as if it’s a utopia, void of any major issues. People brag left and right about Israel’s accomplishments and constantly regard simple moments of humans acting like humans as “only in Israel” moments.

They’ve been ignoring Israel’s problems for so long, sometimes I think people have learned to meditate themselves into a place where they can rest and relax treating all of the problems as if they’re distant memories of Israel’s past.

But they’re not. Israel has real issues. And no excuse for not working tirelessly to fix all of them. Or at least improve upon them.

This post is about five of those problems. They should be far better by now. We can do better. Much better.

1) Housing Crap

If you want to live in a city in Israel, it’s going to cost you. Big time.

So why do we do it?

Well, in some of the more remote areas, getting around without a vehicle is borderline impossible. But getting around with a vehicle is expensive, stressful, and extremely time consuming.

The city is where most of the stores are, all necessities, and any semblance of a social life. And outlying areas are by no means designed for single people in any way.

But city rent is high with low value for your dollar. The “system” places renters at the mercy of the owners. And you have minutes to grab a desired home before someone else snatches it up.

And whereas rent is outrageous, purchasing is downright impossible for most people. The prices are mind-blowingly high, and the percentage needed for a down payment makes me throw up in my mouth.

In the end, there really are only a few choices: 1. Leave the major cities, with all the hardships that comes along. 2. Rent in a city, and deal with almost inevitable poverty. 3. Or come to the country rich.

2) Customer Service Crap

We’ve gotten to the point where if a waiter smiles at us, we are ecstatic, we brag to everyone we know that things are really turning around here, and put a post on Facebook exclaiming that we experienced an “only in Israel” moment.

Fact is, the norm is to be barked at by customer service representatives, ignored by clerks, and generally made to feel like we’re unwanted in any store or restaurant we enter.

We Americans are confused, knowing full well that any establishment could make considerably more profit just by being a whole lot nicer. However, I genuinely feel this is just not of interest to the average Joe on the street here. If we were to explain that being pleasant and helpful would generate 20% more revenue, they would say, “No thanks. Keep your money. I enjoy being unpleasant and no amount of money is worth changing that!”

But we’re all at fault here. We tolerate it. We’ve done a poor job letting the country know we’re not coming back if you treat us like garbage. And, sadly, they’ve done a pretty decent job preventing us from letting the world know how we feel.

3) Smoking Crap

Israelis smoke. They smoke constantly and in every nook and cranny they could find.

Often I’m standing somewhere minding my own business, and someone will just wander up next to me and light up a cigarette.

At moments like that I wish I could just secrete some nasty odor that wafts in their direction. “My goodness, that’s vile,” they might exclaim. And I could turn toward them and say, with all of my masterful sarcasm, “I’m sorry. Does this smell irritate you? Is it bothersome? I simply had no idea that when doing something disgusting next to a perfect stranger, the possibility exists I might be causing them a disturbance.”

In all seriousness, how is this still a thing? Israel brags left and right about being ranked the 10th healthiest in the world. And we are all aware of the financial struggles that are rampant here. Yet, our society is riddled with this lung-piercing, overpriced nonsense that harms the population, and fills the air with stink and the streets with litter.

I often ask people to stop smoking in areas they’re not allowed. Sometimes right next to a sign! Nothing is enforced, and no one seems to care.

The time has come to rein in this nonsense.

4) Political Crap

I’ve been watching Israel’s political scene for a while now. It seems like every time I vote there is something different about the system. We didn’t get it right the last time around, let’s have another go.

The only thing that ever seems to stay the same: Paper ballots.

I feel like I’m voting for class president.

Anyhow, when the recent elections ended, I felt something in the society I don’t believe I’ve felt before: Mass apathy and exhaustion with the way things are and will seemingly always be.

Ultimately, that’s what these elections represented. The guy who’s been around forever against the guy who has nothing to offer but not being the other guy. There are 20,000 parties, but ultimately only really two viewpoints: Left and right. There are thousands of ignored issues and unheard voices. And there is inherent pandering to anyone who holds any amount of political power.

All you need is a few seats in the government, and boom, you get everything you want just so the top dog can build a coalition and stay in power.

And everything just stays the same. We become complacent. We had a burst of hope dashed by the reality that things are very unlikely to get better anytime soon.

I don’t know what system would be better. Maybe term limits would help. Perhaps better checks and balances for the Prime Minister. More representation for smaller parties. An overhaul of the current system. Who knows? But once again, we can do better.

5) Religious Crap

And each time around, it seems there is no greater beneficiary to the faults in our political process than the ultra-religious, who seek to impose their will on the entire society.

No doubt about it, Israel is a fantastic place to be a religious Jew. The freedom to practice is unmatched. Kosher restaurants abound. There are many aspects of a religious lifestyle that you could keep by accident here!

But religion is supposed to elevate people, not create anger and resentment. Judaism and its leaders are supposed to be something that unifies us, not something that brings hatred and divisiveness.

There are many ways to be a great Jew. An endless search for control and power is not one of them. Separation of Church and State is a tried and true system of many a well-functioning democracy. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if it wormed its way over here. At least to some extent.

***

Israel has a lot going for it. And it’s nowhere near the worst place to live. But there’s a lot of crap. Loads of crap. And the first step in fixing a problem, is admitting it’s there.

Let’s own up to our crap, put it all out on the table, and start making our homeland the place it could and should be.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, politics, religion, 0 comments

The Shameful Marriage Industry

Marriage Industry

The smoke has cleared.

And I am now blissfully married to my one true love.

Everything was beautiful and we are working hard every day to have the dream life we’ve both always wanted.

But I can’t walk away from the experience without expressing some deep and painful concerns. The marriage industry is out of control, and there are countless aspects I need to speak out against. In this article I’d like to address just two.

The Rabbanut

For generations, the concept of a rabbinic body’s purpose in this world was to help improve the lives of those around them. Sadly, instead the Rabbanut of Israel has become synonymous with greed and inconvenience.

Everyone in Israel is forced by law to get married through the Rabbanut. The process is basically to “prove” that you are Jewish, single, and that you have fulfilled certain wedding requirements based on Jewish law.

I panicked as I entered the process, knowing full well that my divorce might cause problems. So, I called a handful of friends with similar situations and it seemed one of the recurring themes was people leaving the Rabbanut’s office in tears.

In tears!

Seriously.

The Shameful Rabbanut

Your organization should be ashamed. After generations of service to the Jewish world, selflessly giving to communities in a passionate attempt to make the world a better place, you now have reduced yourselves to aggressive harassment of couples in need of help. You have debased yourselves and the field, all in the name of a pathetic and pushy attempt to hold on to power.

And you charge a crap load of money in the process!

What are some of the “services” the Rabbanut does to earn their paycheck? They look over marriage and divorce documentation to make sure people are Jewish and not currently married. And couples send witnesses to them to testify that they are currently single.

The process is invasive, yet shallow. A five year-old could poke holes in their procedure, yet for whatever reason they’re obnoxious enough to send already stressed couples to the street sobbing uncontrollably.

The Incompetent Rabbanut

A great example of the Rabbanut’s silly incompetence was when I was required to go to the Rabbincal court in order to validate my divorce documentation. The office I needed to go to was in a terribly inconvenient location, with just as inconvenient office hours. My ex-wife had already been married with the same documentation in the same city. So I had to miss a great deal of work in order to be charged a large fee for them to essentially just print out a piece of paper, which I then had to deliver to others myself.

Why? All of these things could have been taken care of in minutes in a world with powerful computers and instant email capability. So why would they need to put me through all that? Why would I need to miss work, waste time, and throw money in the trash during an already busy and stressful time in life?

Greed.

And control.

And probably a hefty amount of incompetence.

Rabbi Revisited

Way back when I wrote about how I don’t like to be called “rabbi” anymore. I didn’t expect to have another reason. These people have turned the role into a joke at best; an embarrassment to the entire Jewish world at worst. I would never wish my name associated with such immorality.

Please, for the love of God, check yourselves. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, and find out whether or not you’re causing more harm than good. And then do everything in your power to give the Rabbanut back its good name.

The Marriage Industry Bubble

I fear the marriage industry is a bubble. Alongside of other unsustainable ridiculousness of our generation, such as universities, I don’t see how the marriage industry could continue like this indefinitely.

The industry preys on the fact that everyone not only feels a religious, cultural, or moral obligation to get married, but they feel there are certain standards that must be met. Women need a certain level of fanciness in their wedding gown (or just need a wedding gown). There must be halls and caterers and photographers and a band and on and on and on.

And the industry responds by charging outrageous prices for every last detail with unimaginable hidden fees. And when the smoke clears, and you think you can’t handle the pressure of everything, what happens? Wedding planners swoop in to save the day! And another fee gets tossed into the pile. (Side note: Our planner was great and I’d recommend him fully and completely.)

The Marriage Industry Aggression

First of all, when those getting married are seeking advice, it is wildly inappropriate to use that as an opportunity to just sell us your services. I felt like every time I posted anything online about my engagement party or wedding, a half dozen people sent me messages aggressively trying to get me to use their band or whatever.

I’m asking for advice. I’m under pressure. And just because I mention a wedding, doesn’t mean you need to swarm like vultures and devour me. My joyous occasion should not be your platform for aggressive marketing.

Marriage Industry Alternatives

Second of all, there are alternatives. Many alternatives. People can elope. Or they can just remain together unmarried indefinitely. And on and on. I fear this is the direction we’re headed if prices keep climbing and the industry keeps everything as fantastically stressful as it has so far.

Do we really want to undermine the institution of marriage for our own greed? Or do we want to do what we can to allow people to become wed in relative peace and harmony, without an additional looming threat of financial ruin?

The wrong choice is bad for everyone.

Choose wisely.

A Quick Shout Out

A quick shout out is in order for those who were shining lights in all this craziness.

The flower shop that gave us petals for our flower girls. When you told me they were free, I didn’t believe you. “Free” was not a word I was used to hearing during this process. It seemed like every time I sneezed, someone handed me a tissue and sent me a bill for $50. People, buy their flowers. They deserve it.

To all the friends and family who helped out or offered to help out, it is beyond appreciated. And to anyone who understood that a bride and groom need a lot of space and as little as possible to add to their stress, you are beautiful. Keep up the good work!

As for the rest of the industry, marriage is not an institution meant to be exploited or undermined. Shame on you.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

To Be a Baal Teshuva Again

baal teshuva

In the Jewish world, I’m what’s called a Baal Teshuva. This literally translates to “Master of Repentance”, and refers to someone who was not brought up in a religious setting, but chose as an adult to take upon himself a religious lifestyle.

Becoming a Baal Teshuva

My process of becoming a Baal Teshuva was long and challenging, filled with ups and downs, and constant philosophical awakenings. And consistent learning and growth.

I remember with such fondness my initial days of learning about Judaism. I was an overjoyed sponge soaking in word after word, experience after experience. It was all new. And it was all fascinating.

I want to tell a story that reflects upon the innocence upon which I went about my search. I became religious along with a group of Jews known as Chabad. More precisely, it was at the home of a wonderful Chabad family in Albany, New York, but the family members were the only Chabad folk there. Everyone else was what’s known as Modern Orthodox.

One thing these two groups had in common was they both disliked some mysterious group called Satmar. The word meant nothing to me. The Modern Orthodox folk apparently disliked Satmar because they were against the State of Israel. Why Chabad didn’t like them seemed less clear to me. It almost sounded like a silly sibling rivalry.

Regardless, I wasn’t brought up to just discount a group of people because someone else said they didn’t like them. And I was determined to see for myself who these people were so I could make my own judgment call.

Finding Satmar

And there I was.

Home for break in New York. Wishing to spend a Shabbat (Sabbath or Shabbos) with Satmar, and not knowing where to begin. I had only two details. Satmar were Chassidic and they were based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Unfortunately, the word “Chassidic” meant very little to me at the time, and the only reference point I had was Chabad, who were also Chassidic. And I assumed similarities.

Very, very incorrectly.

Chabad is known for being very open and welcoming. It has centers all over the world, known either as a Chabad House or a Beit Chabad. Chabad members are extremely well known for accepting all comers into their homes.

Satmar, on the other hand, is very insular. Their members keep to themselves and their community.

But I had no idea.

And there I was, in my kitchen, trying to figure out how I can spend a Shabbat with this group so I could make an educated judgment call.

I picked up the phone book (remember those?) and I looked for either “Satmar House” or “Beit Satmar”. Little did I know, those were not things that have or will ever exist.

The closest I could find was “Satmar Meat and Poultry”.

The Call

So… I called. I took a shot in the dark, and hoped for positive results.

Dopey, naive, and adorable me:

“Hi, my name is David Jaffe. I was hoping that you might be able to assist me. I’m looking to have a Shabbat host home experience with a Satmar family in Williamsburg. Do you know who I can contact to set this up?”

Extended pause…

And then there he was. The owner of Satmar Meat and Poultry, talking to a starry-eyed vegetarian in Staten Island, eking out the next few sentences with a strong Yiddish accent, clearly dumbfounded by what was happening:

“Um… uh… we don’t really have such things in Satmar. Uh… I don’t live in Williamsburg, I live in Boro Park… ehhh…

But if you’d like… you could come to me for Shabbos.”

And that’s how I ended up spending one of the most amazing Shabbats ever with a beautiful Satmar family in Boro Park, Brooklyn.

The Satmar Experience

And what an experience it was!

It felt like they had done this a thousand times before, when in reality it was probably their first and last time. Being kind and welcoming to this odd guest in their home was so very natural, even to the young children who kept offering me food and beverages.

I saw from inside an extremely special community. The prayer services were intense and inspiring. Everyone who noticed a new face came to introduce themselves and welcome me to their synagogue. The family even insisted I stay for an extra night to not risk a late night trip to Staten Island.

 

A Special Time in my Life

This was a very special time in my life. I was a Baal Teshuva, in the throes of discovery. Each day brought new and exciting adventures. And my mind was free to bask in awe at everything I was learning and taking in.

I was the proverbial kid in a candy store. But even better! It was like it was the first candy store I’d ever seen, and everyone kept pointing out the amazing things I was allowed to eat.

And with starry, innocent eyes I kept soaking in the magic, and learning anything anyone was willing to teach me.

 

Yearn to Return

Fast forward two decades, and I’m going through the motions. The times when I learn or experience something shockingly new and amazing are few and far between.

And I miss them. Oh boy, do I miss them.

I miss loving what I see and trying to appreciate everything. I miss trying new experiences with an open, ignorant mind. And I miss the longing for the next new adventure.

Now I just assume they won’t happen anymore.

You only get to be a Baal Teshuva once. But God knows I’d love to do the whole thing over again.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, personal story, religion, 1 comment

My Overwhelming Dilemma: What Would You Do?

dilemma

The First Dilemma

There are a lot of reasons I am writing this post. However, the biggest reason is to just get some things out into the open. Things I’ve been bottling up for way too long, all starting with the first dilemma.

Many years ago I worked at Cornell University. I was in charge of a Jewish outreach program there.

My wife was running an incredibly important program, sadly filled with complications and controversies. The extraordinarily noble goal was to unite the different elements of a rather divided community in a program that was educational, fun, enriching, and spiritually invigorating.

We had a special guest visiting from Israel, who would be leading a musical prayer service followed by a communal meal. The dilemma? We wanted to try and get all the different elements of the community to join together for the prayer service.

This issue was not just one of preference. There were countless philosophical and theological issues and concerns at play here.

The stricter elements of the group (orthodox) pray with what’s called a mechitzah, a physical separation between the males and the female. The purpose is essentially to improve concentration on the prayers. The other groups not only do not pray in this manner, they find it anywhere from antiquated to offensive, and would never willingly pray in such an atmosphere. And neither group is known for making a lot of concessions on their beliefs or practices.

But the whole program hinged on getting everyone together. And it was my responsibility to figure out a way to make it work.

The Solution

I contacted an authority on Jewish law in Israel, someone I knew and greatly respected. And he had a solution, which seemed to be a great idea. There would be three sections: A men’s section, a women’s section, and a section where people could sit how they choose. The ideas was simple. From the strict perspective, we just needed to give the ability to do the “right” thing. From the less strict perspective, they just needed the option to do things the way they preferred and were used to.

This seemed to solve all problems. And I flew with it.

But not without serious trials ahead of me. I fought battle after battle with many people over the course of well over a month. However, when all the smoke cleared, I was on top of the world. I had conquered every objection.

I even recall a student who vehemently and vigorously argued with me about the permissibility of the mixed section. After he couldn’t take it any more, he contacted his own religious authority… who confirmed everything I said.

I fought and won an uphill battle. It wasn’t easy, but I prevailed.

Now all we needed to do was survive the nightmarish logistics and we were on track to have an epic program. We would unify the elements of a fragmented community, and inspire a multitude of students hungry for such inspiration.

And then my phone rang…

Through the wild Jewish grapevine, my boss had heard about the program we were running, and the solution we had devised in order to make the program work effectively.

He told me in no uncertain terms that the solution was completely unacceptable. And for all issues like this one, we were now required to ask him and only him. He even approached the rabbi who I had spoken with and requested he no longer answer my questions, thus closing off a major resource in my life.

The Big Dilemma

There I stood, stuck with an insanely difficult challenge.

I could uproot things as they were and try and see what new solutions we could come up with on short notice. It is fairly likely I’d find no viable alternative in time, thus in essence destroying the program we’d been working on for months.

The inevitable results of doing so would be personal and professional embarrassment. A community that liked, trusted, and respected me would need to rethink their position, since I had stood so firmly behind this idea, and cancelling the program would just be a giant declaration that I was wrong and had been the whole time.

I would watch endless hours of hard work coming crashing down beneath me, as our program gets projected toward certain failure. I can only imagine how great our international visitor would feel, knowing that he arrived to work with a mere fraction of the students he was expecting, and would only be reaching a very limited population.

And let’s not forget the potential marital discord that could erupt. My wife had put everything into making sure the program was all set up and ready to go.

Or…

I could just ignore the phone call, run the program, and risk the overwhelmingly likely consequences that would arise.

And I chose the second option.

I took the phone conversation and just bottled it up inside me. Until now.

The Future

My contract for that job was not extended for a second year. I’m sure this “incident” was hardly the only reason for my dismissal, but I’m certain it was a hefty contributing factor.

This story has been eating at me for over a decade.

Sometimes it’s healthy and healing just to get these thoughts and feelings outside of you. I wonder all the time if I did the right thing. I wonder if it was wrong to place the health of my marriage and my personal integrity ahead of job concerns. Or if abiding by my employer’s wishes would have ultimately been healthier for both of these things. I wonder.

 

What would you have done?

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in career, judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 8 comments

Where Has All My Faith Gone?

faith
I have no delusions that writing this post will solve the many issues swimming around in my brain right now. I write because it’s cathartic, and occasionally doing so is literally life changing for me. However, sometimes issues are bigger than can be resolved in a thousand words.

My mind and spirit were damaged about two years ago. I have by no means recovered. I’m not even sure if I’ve progressed.

But who knows? Maybe writing about what’s happened to me will be the next (or first) step in a long recovery.

Divorce is Humbling

Getting divorced is a very humbling endeavor. It forces you to think about any and all events that happened up until that point. If something were different, could the marriage have been saved? Did I do something wrong? Are there marriages that were never meant to be, and thus divorce or unhappiness are basically inevitable outcomes?

Searching deeper, the questions become even more painful, as you realize you may have done everything correctly, or at least to the best of your ability, and still had the nasty and painful outcomes. Such a question shines a light on a part of faith that’s troubling to examine. There are no guarantees. Anything could happen. And you can do everything by the book, with passion, excitement, and devotion, and everything could regardless still come crashing to an excruciatingly violent crescendo.

It’s naive to think that if you do things “correctly”, everything will go well. Worse things have happened to better people; worse outcomes have happened to those who worked harder and better than I did.

How to Survive?

But how does one survive such a blow to the ego 100% intact? Especially when you consider that a divorce is only the beginning of the crazy that is about to happen. Separation from children, social confusion, financial woes. All starts to pile up, and you can’t help but notice that everything you ever dreamed life would be like is crashing down around you.

No one sets out to get divorced. No one sets out to see their children part time, or to have money leave their bank account to pay the mortgage for the house they don’t live in, or to go from a large home to an apartment with psychotic people living beneath them (true story). Life is often a series of a few steps forward and few more steps backwards. But no one ever plans for this many steps backwards!

But it was fine. All was well. I was enjoying my newfound freedom. I was rapidly learning how not only to be on my own again, but how to thoroughly enjoy the situation. And things quickly became some semblance of normal.

Until They Weren’t

I received a phone call, and a proposal to return to Israel. My older two children were already pumped and excited about the idea. But I was unsure.

I had lived in Israel for eight years, and I had spent ten years contemplating those eight years. What I liked, what went wrong, and where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I then spent the next two months trying to make a decision, objectively the hardest two months of my life. Would I block my children leaving, crushing their dreams (or at least the fantastic ideas they had built up in their heads? Would I once again make the trek across the ocean, knowing full well I was not ready to do so, professionally, financially, practically, emotionally, or in any way whatsoever? Or would I wave goodbye to my children indefinitely, and relegate my relationship with them to Skype and highly infrequent visits?

For two months I could not be alone with my thoughts. I agonized over the decision, and every moment was painful. Sleep was hard. Prayer was impossible. It was just too quiet, too inactive. And I physically felt my faith eroding away.

It was like being in a violent car crash in slow motion over the course of two full months. I knew no matter what I decided, there was no chance of me coming out unscathed.

Who Receives Problems?

I used to believe people only received problems they could handle. Used to believe, since I was placed in a situation I could not handle.

My choices were causing my children to hate me, inevitable financial devastation, or separation from my children. Who alive is equipped to make that call!?

And after endless personal debate, I chose what I thought was the best option at the time, even though it meant saying goodbye to children.

I am not a deadbeat dad. Sadly, I know many women whose ex-husbands are entirely out of the picture. Some have children who have never met or have forgotten their biological father. I find this wholly unnatural. No one–no one–should ever be placed in a situation where they need to say goodbye to their children, not knowing when they will hug them again.

And I Sunk

My life was good. I was doing just fine professionally. I was keeping myself busy and meeting new people. But my every action felt empty. It felt like something was terribly lacking from my life, no matter what happened.
And it called into question every choice I had ever made. How could my decisions have been correct if this was the ultimate result? How could a God who is good, who I felt I had served proudly and faithfully, have placed me in this untenable situation?

I’m with my kids again, thank goodness. I never kept my eye off the prize. I came back to Israel not because of a deep-seated religious desire, but because my four precious gems were here waiting for me.

But the damage was done.

I’ve said before that I believe with perfect faith that nothing happens without a reason, and if you don’t know the reason, it’s because not enough time has passed.

But sometimes it’s much easier to say than to actually act upon.

And here I am, with a giant crack running down the side of my faith. Hoping for clarity. Hoping for a comeback. Wondering what the future holds.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

The Beginning of the Beginning

beginning

Beginning

I spoke in my last post about how the beginning of my Jewish journey: my chance invitation to a youth group meeting followed later by accidentally wandering into a Chabad House.

I want to take the next few posts to take an in depth look into my religious journey, really turning over all the pieces and exploring how they got me to where I am now.

First, a bit about my religious background.

There’s very little to speak about. In my household, we had a pretty simple Jewish upbringing. Judaism was certainly a part of our lives, and we by no means identified by any other religious group.

However, synagogue attendance was not in the mix. Israel never came up. And I don’t believe I had ever even heard the terms “Sabbath” or “Shabbat” as a child.

Searching

I can’t say I felt much Jewish pride. But Jewish is all I ever was, and I never had a yearning to be part of any other group, religious or otherwise. But I was definitely searching. There was most certainly a piece of my soul that wanted something different. Something bigger and better.

Unfortunately, children have a painfully hard time searching. Most families inundate their children with ideas they “need” to believe, which goes completely against the concept of belief in general.

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave to me was encouraging me to be open-minded and curious. These precious qualities have been there since the beginning. I will take them along wherever life brings me, and I hope I can do half as good a job imparting these treasures upon my own children.

I found myself ravenous for knowledge and spirituality in my teenage years. But young people are notorious for being clueless about how they do… well… everything.

I didn’t look for knowledge in my school books. I didn’t look for wisdom from enlightened or intelligent people. All I wanted from life was happiness, with no clear definition, and a less clear path for how I would seek it.

Hurting

And then tragedy struck my life and sent me in a whole new direction.

There are many ways to respond to tragedy.

We can crawl into a corner and give up, and we can drink ourselves into oblivion. We can progressively allow things to worsen and worsen, and watch as our live’s tragedies pile up on one another.

Or we brush the dirt off our shoulders, stand up with pride, bandage our wounds, and get back to living life again.

But now it will be better than before.

Why? Because we have learned a powerful lesson. There are errors we refuse to ever make again. We see life from a stronger, more informed perspective. And everything moving forward will be better than it had been before.

Trying

So when someone suggested I give a Jewish youth group a try, my new self said that I had nothing to lose. It would be different than anything I’d experienced up to that point. And that was exactly what I needed, since the results of what I was already familiar with were hardly pleasing.

It took no time at all before I immersed myself completely into my new youth group. The people I met were fantastic. The conversations I had were unbelievable. Everyone was deep, passionate, and knowledgeable.

I found my niche.

Thriving

Attending local youth group meetings led to my trying regional youth group meetings. Even better! And this led to my attendance of NFTY’s Kutz Camp, since now I had to try everything on the national level.

Now I was at the highest point of everything. And loved every moment I got to spend with my newfound passion.

Before I knew it, I was so heavily involved, my childhood dreams of one day being a professional wrestler were pushed aside for my imminent goal of being a rabbi, the peak of learning and influence in Judaism’s reform movement.

There were two guiding principles in reform Judaism’s philosophy that escorted me every stage of the way, but were also my undoing as far as staying on this path.

Learning

The first principle was an ultra-powerful intellectual honesty and curiosity, where wisdom could and should be absorbed from any and all sources, Jewish or not Jewish, believing or non-believing. We were at the forefront of liberal thought, which meant all opinions were to be respected and honored.

The second principle is what they called “informed choice”.

This was a bit of a mantra in the Reform Movement, and it’s the movement’s pride and joy. This was the basic explanation given to me at the time:

Judaism was like a large, open menu. We search through this menu, deliberating on the many amazing choices before us. We research and explore and ask questions.

And we try things out, see if we like them.

And ultimately we decide which items on the menu we wish to retain and make parts of our lives, and which are items we will leave behind due to lack of interest or because the item does not match with the outcome of our intellectual rigor.

So in the end, each member will create their own unique version of Judaism, pulling from the same basic group of choices that mainly stem from Judaism throughout its existence.

Growing

In lots of ways, “Informed Choice” is a lovely concept that I still believe in to this day, despite the fact that it’s been two decades since I’ve had any connection to Reform Judaism (outside of maintaining some lifelong friends, and a really hefty nostalgia).

These two ideas are very special to me, and took me quite far.

However, I do believe many wield them around inaccurately and dishonestly. If one maintains that all opinions are important, but shuts out certain perspectives and/or prevents access to them, this is the opposite of intellectual honesty, and it’s like taking the aforementioned menu, ripping out a page, and hiding it in the basement.

It’s because of this that major changes would need to occur in my life, which I will be speaking about at length in my next post.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in judaism, opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments