Archive for August, 2011

This post is in response to a comment on my Headcovering post asking about how I came to leave Judaism.


I was like your husband, I had just enough Hebrew School to be thoroughly confused, but not enough to form a useful spirituality.

In conservative synagogs everything is in Hebrew but I never learned enough Hebrew to understand anything.  I could sound out some words, recognize a handful by sight, and knew a couple of short prayers from memory.  When I asked questions about God and the afterlife I was told things like “no one knows” or “it’s a mystery” or “you’ll understand better when you are older.”  This was horrible for me, because although I believed in and loved God, I was terrified of death and used to get (okay, still get them occasionally) horrible panic attacks when I would think too much about life and death.  Conservative Judaism had nothing to offer me.  I was told that some Jews believe that when you die you go to sleep and then everyone wakes up again in the time of the Messiah, but that other Jews believe that there is nothing after death, and others just don’t know.  (Keep in mind I was a kid… age 8-13 when I was getting these answers).

I was familiar with Modern Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism because of my various relatives, but my impression of Orthodox Judaism was having to follow hundreds of seemingly incomprehensible rules and using as many “work arounds” as possible to obey the letter of the law but not the spirit… and judgment of people who were less observant.  My father was absolutely against becoming reform, but I never got a straight answer why – it might have been pride/shame.

When I was around 12 or 13, I started looking elsewhere for answers.  I was very interested in the occult and spiritualism because it offered answers about the meaning of life and the afterlife, which I couldn’t find in Judaism.  I also had a hard time as a teenager with what I perceived as Sexism in Modern Orthodox and (at the time) Conservative Judaism.  It didn’t feel affirming to me.  I decided at 12 that I didn’t want to be Bat Mitzvahed, and dropped out of Hebrew School.  I was still culturally Jewish at the time, but became more involved with Feminist and Nature-based religions (New Age, Wicca, and Native American spirituality).  My family of origin was also very dysfunctional and used a lot of guilt tripping and manipulation in a Jewish style and when I finally got into therapy at 18 and 19 I finished deconstructing the family dynamics and behavior patterns I had absorbed.  I stopped using guilt-tripping and responding to guilt trips in my interpersonal dynamics, which initially created a lot of family drama, but eventually people got used to the new me.  I stopped doing Jewish interpersonal things like trying to network everyone to everyone else and making decisions based on how my family and other people would react.

So by now I’m no longer Jewish in my spirituality or worldview or culture, but I still felt some confusion and loss about where I was heading.  I decided to go on a trip to Israel and Jerusalem to test my leadings and see if I felt some stirring that would lead me back to Judaism (I was open to exploring Reconstructionist Judaism at the time).  I went on the trip and … nothing.  I felt absolutely nothing.  And I considered this a sign that I was no longer Jewish at all and moved on without looking back.

I feel like I am being guided on a journey.  I don’t know why I started out Jewish, but I’m sure there was a reason.  I got some wonderful things out of my upbringing which are distinctly Jewish traits such as a questioning/inquiring mind, critical thinking skills, an appreciation for alternative viewpoints, a morality which emphasizes not harming others and helping wherever possible, and a solid work ethic and studious inclination.  I am grateful for these qualities.  I also inherited some neurotic traits/perspectives on the world which are less helpful.  I believe I was led into and out of Wicca and New Age spirituality and into Buddhism for a reason.  Wicca helped me learn more balanced ideas about respecting people’s free will and seeking resources within.  Buddhism has an incredible gift in my life.  Buddhism taught me about accepting what is… and Buddhism brought me back to faith and back to my faith in God.  Buddhism also opened my mind to the idea of Saints and Great Beings of Great Compassion such as Jesus.  This was a completely foreign and incompatible concept to me when I was Jewish.  And now I am here.


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The other church visitor, K, and I talked a bit at lunch.  She was “saved” at an Evangelical church and talks like an Evangelist.  She is sweet, if a bit enthusiastic, and passionate about saving others.  She was surprised to hear me say that I don’t consider myself a Christian yet.  I think I am becoming a Christian; I am in process.  She wanted to make sure I understood that all I needed to do to be saved was to accept Jesus Christ into my heart and have faith.  I understand that this is the Evangelical perspective, but I don’t know if it is universal Christian perspective.  I told her that I had accepted him into my heart to be transformed and guided, but that I did not yet have faith or belief in all (or even most) of the main doctrines of Christianity.  I don’t know if that matters.

I think K was primarily concerned with my salvation, which is perhaps another level beyond being considered Christian or not.  And again, my thoughts differed from hers and from an Evangelical point of view.  I think of Salvation as a process.  I think you can have moments of clarity, insight, transformation, even transcendence – I am familiar with this from Buddhism – and these are guideposts on the path to enlightenment and salvation, but should not be confused with Salvation itself.  They may even be promises or guarantees of future Salvation, so in a sense you are saved because you are on the path of salvation, but I think Salvation is a process – of purification, of becoming holy, of becoming more and more God-like.  And it takes time and willingness and the effort of continually being open to God working in your life.  I agree with K and other Evangelists that Salvation comes from God’s grace alone, and not from actions, (although actions are helpful and part of the purification process and are also a result of God’s work in our spirit).

One problem I encountered as a Buddhist was that Salvation/Enlightenment was seen as the result of actions and effort and I never seemed to have enough effort to get any traction.  I was powerless in many capacities.  The blessings and grace of God are necessary and always present where real spiritual process is being made.

Again I think my way of understanding is closer to the Eastern Orthodox traditions.

For now I would say that I am a Christian-becoming and that I am in the process of being saved by God’s grace – a process that may continue through this life and beyond.

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This past Sunday I returned to the Beachy Amish mission church.  I brought my daughter.  It went very well and people were very tolerant of my daughter crawling around the room and getting into things.  I love the singing and the group prayer and sense of community.  I wore a tichel-style covering and my jumper dress.  I felt right and good but rushed out to my car in the morning hoping my neighbors wouldn’t see me and ask questions.  F, who I’ve been exchanging emails with, was supportive and encouraging of my covering, which was nice.

After the service I went with F and N, and another church visitor back to their house for lunch and conversation.  My daughter played with their small kids and we talked about our spiritual paths and how God is working in our lives.   They are a young couple and are conservative Mennonites (and attend the mission church to help since it is so small).  The woman has Jewish roots and we are all in similar professions.

I enjoyed so much spending time with this couple and the other church visitor.  And I’m still struggling with the divorce and remarriage issue – and its very personal.  N said something very wise while I was there, the gist of which was that God will show me what I am supposed to do and make it okay, that I don’t need to join or not join a group based on intellectually what is acceptable to me or repugnant, but to be open to growing in my understanding.  So I don’t need to react like, “how horrible that this group would judge my situation or my marriage,” rather if I’m meant to be there, God will find a way to make it all right.  And if I’m not meant to be there, I’ll know that too.

I feel comfortable with (and inspired by) the people at this church – their faith is so strong and put in practice every day.  I love that.  It feels good to be around people of strong faith who live their faith.

But, I’m also feeling like the Orthodox church has more to offer me – more concrete practices, structure, depth of tradition and literature.  I am feeling more drawn in that direction right now.  Maybe it is another stepping stone, or maybe not.  I am feeling a clear leading that I want to be Baptized and that it should be by immersion.  I don’t think it would be enough to attend a church but not be Baptized.

For now I am going to continue to attend both churches, alternating as I am able.


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Through the Eastern Gate

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From Buddhism to Orthodoxy

I met a man, M, at the Eastern Orthodox church who was born Jewish (although secular unlike me), spent 25 years as a practicing Buddhist (Nichiren) and even became a Nichiren priest, until coming to the conclusion that Buddhism was ultimately leading him to God and feeling called to convert to Orthodoxy.

His story really struck me and even though Nichiren Buddhism is VERY different from Tibetan Buddhism, we spoke the same language.  His story was edifying for me.  Perhaps my sudden conviction in the existence of God wasn’t the result of failing as a Buddhist, but a natural progression that many Buddhists experience.  M told me about a famous American Orthodox priest/monk (excuse my imprecise language) Father Seraphim Rose who also come to Orthodoxy by way of Buddhism and wrote numerous books.  M bought me a copy of his biography and sent me the above link (and others).  Fr. Seraphim Rose also wrote a book called The Soul After Death which I want to read.

Reading about this is fascinating.


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I was very moved by my visit several weeks ago to a Beachy Amish mission church.  I was doing a lot of reading the other night however and came across the Amish and Mennonite stance on divorce and remarriage.

The Beachy Amish and (most) Conservative Mennonite stance is that divorce is never valid and that even if someone has remarried, they are really married to their former spouse until death.  Most churches will not allow remarried converts to become members of the church, even if the divorce and remarriage occurred prior to converting or if the divorce was the result of abuse or abandonment.  Divorced people are expected to remain single (because spiritually they are still married) and remarried couples are often asked to separate.

I am incredibly disturbed by this.  I don’t “believe in” divorce for the sake of having grown apart or not being able to get along, but things happen, sometimes people have to separate.  Abuse happens.  One person can do everything they can do to try to save a marriage, but it takes two people to keep a relationship together.

My husband was divorced from his first wife.  It was incredibly regrettable.  It was very hard on their kids.  It causes him pain still.  And maybe it shouldn’t have happened, but it did.  And we’re here now.  And our marriage is still good and blessed and holy.  I know this in my heart of hearts.

So I hit a big roadblock… because I don’t know that I can pursue something that might draw me away from my husband… or encourage me to look upon our union as less than it is.  It seems like a cruel stance.

I wrote to a woman from the church and asked about this and she was very sensitive in her response.  She said that divorced/remarried people were very much welcome at the church and that they encourage people to develop their own relationship with Christ and come to their own understanding of scripture.  She acknowledged that it would probably be a barrier to actual membership though for most/all Amish and Mennonite fellowships she knows of.

I may still go back to worship with the mission church, but it will be with greater reservation.  Since the mission church didn’t have services yesterday, I returned to the local Eastern Orthodox church I visited in May.  This visit deserves its own post.

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revisiting my past

Last week I went camping with my daughter at a festival I used to attend.  It was bittersweet.  I had a good time, but mostly I was profoundly aware of how different I am now than from when I used to attend (over five years).  I think I mostly went as a sanity check…  I find myself growing more conservative every year, and even more so when I had my daughter.  This festival is centered around feminism and women’s spirituality.  I think I wanted to go to check to make sure that my current leanings were not the result of some sort of brainwashing in my environment.  Presumably if this was so, my “vacation” would have me feeling different… more liberated perhaps.  And that isn’t what happened.  I went and found myself thinking “You really believe that?  I remember thinking the same way you do… and now I don’t.”  So, in some ways the trip was edifying.  Its like, okay, I can cross that off my list of places I still need to explore – this is not the direction for me at this time.  And its okay that I’ve changed.

I don’t think the above explanation will make sense to anyone reading this blog, and that’s okay.  Its sort of like, 10 years ago when I was contemplating my exit from Judaism I took a trip to Israel as a sanity check.  I went on the trip to see if I would feel anything in “the Holy Land” — to see if any latent Jewish spirituality would be stirred — to see if there was anything there for me to explore.  And I felt nothing.  nothing.  So I knew it was okay for me to give up my Jewish religious identity and move on fully.

So, the same thing happened for me last week.  And now I feel like I can more on more fully and embrace my new directions.  I felt like I got some clarity.

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