Missed Meds

The onset of depression can feel frighteningly like clarity. There’s a quiet detachment in which I feel like I am seeing Truth. Not just about the usual depressive stuff like how horrible I are or how pointless my life is, or how no one really likes me, but about big stuff. I begin to feel detached from history, like I’m looking down on the arc of human events, and seeing the silliness of it all. It can actually be a really good motivator because in that brief period between closeness of living inside of life and the closeness of living inside of a depressive fog, the futility of everything makes it really easy to do stuff. Everything looks so tiny that you might as well just do the stuff you’ve been procrastinating on cause it’s just this little thing that doesn’t really matter in a vast sea of little things that don’t really matter. The quiet of this place is nice, and would be enjoyable if I weren’t aware of what it was heralding. Also the withdrawal symptoms that inevitably take hold when you’re x hours off your dosage schedule.

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I Have Seen The Enemy…

Let me be clear about this: I have not been brainwashed by the “liberal media.” It is not the propaganda of Hamas that has done this. No anti-Israel rhetoric has ever convinced me of anything, and now is no exception.

 

It is Jews that have done this to me. Jews. Us. My people. My people, YOU have done this.

 

It started as soon as the news came that Gil-Ad, Eyal, and Naftali had gone missing. Before anyone even knew anything, it started… and I’m not talking about the concern, the prayers, the fear and sadness, the hashtags… no, not any of that. That was all fine, though I had some issues with the appropriation and exploitation of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign for something unrelated to sex trafficking or global oppression and exploitation of women and girls. No, it wasn’t that.

 

It was the words.

 

Savages.

Animals.

Evil.

Dirty.

 

Arabs.

 

It was the lack of perspective.

 

Look what they do to us!

They steal our children!
We’re always victimized!

 

It was the political triumphalism.

 

NOW maybe those lefties and paciFAKES will understand!

Obama hasn’t said anything, of course! See, he hates Israel and is a Kenyen Muslim!

 

It was the calls for action.

 

No, not action…

 

Revenge. Death. Destruction.

 

Kill a Palestinian every hour until they are found!

Turn off their water and electricity!

Demolish Gaza! And the West Bank while we’re at it!

 

It was not the news that did this. It was us. It was YOU.

 

You told me to look at their mothers crying bitter tears, and to imagine how they felt.

Palestinian children are killed by IDF soldiers every week. You look at their mothers’ tears, and you feel little or nothing. 

 

You told me that they value only death while we value life.

You value the lives of three teenagers more than the lives of the thousands of Palestinian civilians who are arrested, kidnapped, or killed by the IDF. Not because they are more innocent, because they are Jewish.

 

You told me that we don’t do this kind of thing, only THEY do this kind of thing.

You burned a Palestinian boy alive. You. We. We did that.

 

You said it couldn’t have been us.

It was us.

 

And then you said “Well, it was us, but not really US… I mean… we never called for that sort of thing…”

 

But you did.
We did.

 

It is not the so-called liberal media that has gotten to me. I have seen my people become monsters. I didn’t need any anti-Israel propaganda to convince me that our side is not in the right. “Our side” did that job just fine all by itself.

 

Conversion

I’ve made a decision.

I’m going to stop fucking around, and I’m going to take these Buddhist tendencies that I’ve been dealing with for the past decade or so seriously.

Zen Buddhism is now unofficially-officially part of my path.

Okay, don’t let the title of this post freak you out. I’m not leaving Judaism. But lately I am feeling as though all of the things that I value most in Judaism, all of what I reach in for and pull out of Jewish practice, of Jewish text, of Jewish spirituality, is actually Zen.

It’s also a bunch of other things with and without names.

I’m feeling really constrained. I’m feeling claustrophobic in my religion. Too much of Judaism and Jewish community is wrapped up in the expectations of others. There is always the feeling of someone waiting for you to screw up, someone trying to show you up, someone listening carefully for a betrayal, for an ideology, for a something that means that you do not match up to what this is supposed to be. And regardless of who else is doing it, it is always you who is doing it the most.

You, of course, means me. Maybe it also means you… not my place to say.

Right now… my religion needs to be compassion, openness, stillness… where right now Judaism feels like too much defensiveness, distrust, noise. This is how I am feeling right now. This is how I feel as a Jew among Jews right now. Current events have a lot to do with this… but not everything.

I am still a practicing Jew. I am still reading Torah at shul this coming Shabbos, and the next. I am not going to stop keeping kosher or lighting candles or observing Shabbos in the ways that I do. But my Jewish practice right now is not looking so much like a path as it is looking like clothing. My Judaism needs a path. Or perhaps, just a cushion.

Distress

I’m extremely distressed.

This is not an unusual state of affairs. As a person who has struggled for a lifetime with depression and anxiety, distress has been something of a default state for me for just about as long as I can remember. And God knows that there is plenty in this world to be distressed about. At this particular moment, this week, the past year, the past decade and a bit… the world seems very much to be going to hell. I am not old enough to know if this is the feeling that comes in every generation, or if this is something particularly apocalyptic in a new sort of way.

They* talk about the war between Good and Evil as though it will be perfectly obvious which side is which. The true horror is the conviction with which everyone believes that they are in the right. I myself am no exception. With very little irony I can say at this moment that I believe that my way of thinking is, by and large, correct. I have been sufficiently humbled in my time that I make no pretense of absolute certainty, since there is literally no such thing. But I will go so far as to say that I am thoroughly convinced.

In many circumstances, especially in these times of global political and media corruption, the unprecedented availability of information and, with it, the unprecedented means by which to manipulate this information, makes the facts and truth of a matter impossible to know, even a little bit, even for those in the thick of it, let alone those watching from the sidelines. More than ever before we know now that data, that information is power, and so the conscientious observer must always be wary of who wields and disseminates it, and to what end. It is so easy to be duped by those who, in another era, we would trust implicitly. We don’t know what world we live in. This is true of every era, but it feels truer in a world in which we see any corner of the globe with a few keystrokes, in which information moves at the speed of thought and just a second or two behind it (or sometimes, unfortunately, before it). No one knows what is happening, and everyone thinks that they know what it means.

These are the things that are distressing in the world. These things are in many ways very new, but they have become a constant backdrop to everything… on top, of course, of the ancient and ongoing distress of disease and poverty, war, hunger, destruction, death, heartless indifference, the abuses of the rich, and on and on and on. To these stressors I have grown accustomed, sad as that is. That’s not the thing.

The thing is, the thing I have come to realize, the thing that is haunting my thoughts at this moment, is this:

I fear that the worst people I know are my own.

———-

*You know… They.

Meditation

I’ve lately recommenced a regular meditation practice. I am using a behavioral self-management school assignment as an excuse and motivation to meditate at least once daily.

There are many ways to meditate. I don’t know a whole lot about meditation. I’ve picked up my practice in bits and pieces from various places and people, I’ve even got some bits jargony terminology floating around in there. I try not to let that distract me. Doesn’t always work, I’m really quite distractible, and end up spending a lot of my meditation time thinking about meditation, when I’m not thinking about that song looping in my head, whatever it is in that moment.

The moments of quiet are few and far between… and wonderful.

I know better than to try to empty my mind. That’s not going to happen. Instead, I try to remember certain ideas, feelings, strategies, to Be Quiet.

Shhhh.

Breathe.

Empty.

Body.

Here.

Now.

Vessel.

Sanctuary.

This is not supposed to be profound or inspirational or “deep” or anything like that. This is just trying to make words fit. This is what it looks like:

Monkey brain monkey brain monkey brain monkey brain, mind keeps moving always moving I am a mind inside a body jumping around want to escape stupid body slow and fleshy can’t fly full of gunk so needy distracting pure intellect around the mulberry bush I am I am I am…

Shhhh.

I am not a mind in a body. I am my body.

Breathe, and be the body. Breathe in… here. Breathe out… now.

What do I hear? What do I touch? What do I smell?

Not before. Not later. Now. Now. Now. This. Here. Now.

Before and later. Before and later. They’re not here, they’re not now, they’re filler. Leave out the filler. If it comes, let it come and then go. In and out. Flow through.

Empty.

I am an empty vessel through which the moment flows. Now and now and now is the only thing, and is nothing. Because it’s gone. Now. Gone. Now. Gone.

Empty.

I.

Am.

Here.

Now.

God says,

‘V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham—And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them’ (Exodus 25:8)

The song says,

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.

Yes, that song gets stuck in my head when I’m meditating. I let it. Because I am a sanctuary. I am a vessel for the here and now, for AM and BE and ARE.

Awake to Being.

And that is the root of my theology. Which I’ll talk about another time.

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Feminism* and Terminology

I’ve had this argument… well, I won’t say countless times, cause honestly, if I could remember each instance, I’m sure I could count them… I might need to reuse my hands once or twice each. So, more than a handful of times, but not countless times .It is something that keeps coming back though. The argument is regarding the term “feminism” and the ostensible problems with it.

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before. Come on, say it with me. If you believe in equality for all humans, then it should be “humanism,” not feminism. Feminism is unfairly weighted in favor of women, and thereby necessarily devalues men. You can’t call yourself a feminist unless you’re in favor of female supremacy. It’s not just idiots and MRAs who make these arguments and claims. No, men and women whom I love and respect and who are generally reasonably intelligent people have said these things to me, or in earshot of me. It’s a problem because despite the wide availability of literature that defines various flavors of feminism and outlines feminist goals, the image of feminism in the popular imagination all too often comes down to Straw Feminists.

We have to keep saying it until it makes its way into peoples’ brains: The reason it is called feminism is not because it is an ideology that seeks dominance of women. It is called feminism because even the harm caused to men and boys by the gender imbalance of our society is rooted in misogyny. The folks who eschew the term feminism because it seems to imply imbalance, and focuses on women rather than equality? What they don’t understand, is that the lack of equality, even where the advantage seems to go to women, traces back to deeply rooted hatred, mistrust, or paternalism towards women and femininity, and a generally positive view of men and masculinity.

What does this look like? Well, let’s take one of the complains leveled against feminism by MRAs… one of the ones that actually might have some basis in reality, that is. It is claimed that men are at a disadvantage when it comes to custody battles over children. This may be true, I’m not sure. But I have seen men who care for children rendered invisible by a society that doesn’t expect men to be involved in childcare. Let’s for the moment assume that it is true.

If you’ve ever seen Kramer vs. Kramer, it becomes obvious how unfair and painful are the situations that such entrenched social and legal attitudes precipitate and exacerbate, but also where the roots of these attitudes lie. Women are favored when it comes to child care and custody because child care is “women’s work.” Kramer vs. Kramer is set in a world in which men are expected to be the primary bread winners, women in the corporate sphere are still a rarity, and the roles of parents are strictly dictated by social and gender norms. Of course Dustin Hoffman is going to have a harder time taking care of his kid, if he can’t get off from work to pick him up if he is sick. This is not a problem that is in any way exclusive to men, but it is certainly exacerbated by the fact that the corporate sphere in which he works is one built upon deeply entrenched and rigid notions of masculinity.

Kramer vs. Kramer, of course, was made in 1979. It is both sickening and heartening to watch this film, in the same way that it is both sickening and heartening to watch Mad Men. We can see how far we have come, and we can see where attitudes have not changed much or at all. We can also see, more importantly I think, from whence come the attitudes that are now more subtly expressed in our society, and the elements that have flowed with the progress of feminist influence on society, and the elements that remain stubbornly tethered to the androcentrism of the past. Men are not expected to be able to take care of children as well as women are not because women are seen as superior, or more deserving, but because we still cling to the idea that a woman’s place is in the home raising children, not indulging in career goals… while a man’s most valued role takes place out of the home, having a career, building an identity and a reputation in the world, while his family responsibility is primarily to provide for their material needs, and maybe see his children for a few minutes when he comes home from work before they go to bed. A man’s role traditionally is not defined by family the way a woman’s role traditionally is. A wife and family for men is supposed to be an acquisition, like a house or a car. For a woman, the family is supposed to be the meaning of her life and the source of her identity.

This is obviously not how we are expected to live today, at least not in the absolutist way of the past. Women have more choices, workplaces are slowly becoming more friendly to women, to people of color, to people with disabilities, to people of various sexual and gender orientations. Slowly. More slowly for some groups than for others, and more slowly in some geographic regions than others. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on where you stand, not every segment of society moves at the same pace, and the attitudes about gender remain entrenched in certain areas in ways that do harm both to men and to women. However, it is unquestionably an attitude that sees men as independent entities and women as tethered to housekeeping, men as strong and women as weak, men as intelligent, logical, and rational, and women as light-headed, emotional, and irrational, Men as stoic and women as hysterical, that is the genesis of the vast majority, if not the entirety, of gender inequality, regardless of whom it is seen to “favor.”

The term feminism will not be outdated until these deeply rooted attitudes change. Like with institutional racism, you can’t just say “Everyone should be equal” and ignore what lies underneath the current state of inequality, historically, societally, and anthropologically.

* It is important to note that there are more than a few problems within the disparate groups that make up what is understood to be the “feminist movement.” Institutional racism and the resultant silencing of women of color within the feminist world, “rad-fems” who reject trans women as fellow women, separatists (though they are rare these days), etc. all really exist, and are really a problem. While I identify as a feminist because I believe that the term is not and should not be defined by those elements that ruin it for the rest of us, I acknowledge that not everyone who I would understand as a feminist can associate with the term. I do not feel that it is my place to identify personally as a womanist, being a white woman, but I strive to be a womanist ally, as I understand it as part of my feminism, and my duty as a human being striving for general decency to ally with those who are marginalized.

Matriarchs in Liturgical Setting

I don’t add Imahot when I daven the Amida.

Okay, so, there’s terminology. My guess is that the vast majority of people who might read this will know already what all of those words mean. But, I guess the nice/kind/polite thing to do would be to try to notice define terms that may be jargony and opaque to folks not in the know. I’m not going to be able to do that with everything. But meantime, here it is, fast and sloppy.

Imahot means Matriarchs in Hebrew. Daven means “pray” in Yiddish. The Amida is the central prayer in Jewish liturgy. It is basically fixed in content, though there are variations for different days, but the first section is always the text that invokes the Patriarchs, or Avot in Hebrew (Abraham Isaac and Jacob) and their relationship(s)/covenant(s) with God. In the past few decades there has been a move in some communities to include the names of the Matriarchs in this section as well. What names are those? We’ll get to that.*

In my mind, in the liturgical and scriptural narrative, the relationship between the Avot and God represents something (or some things) specific and archetypical, like for instance in a Joseph Campbell sort of way, and that those symbolic relationships mean something in the context of this specific prayer.

What exactly are those archetypical roles? I won’t pretend that I can answer that question in any definite way. There are multiple possible  answers. One way to look at it is through a Kabbalistic lens wherein each patriarch represents a specific attribute. Another is to connect them with the mythical establishment of the three daily prayer times, and draw meaning from that, and the Midrashic narrative context given for those events. Another is to glean from the narrative itself what they represent: The Covenantal Partner, The Sacrifice, and The Conduit; The Originator, The Progeny, and The Disseminator; The Innovator, The Acceptor, The Wrestler; Three stages of life, Three stages of faith, Three stages or forms of relationship in various respects. I think that there is probably real power in that particular grouping.

My feeling is that perhaps, instead of inserting the Imahot into the beginning of the Amida, the relationship between God and the Imahot can and should be invoked for other liturgical contexts based on their own various narrative and archetypical roles.  I struggle with that though because it still puts women in one category and men in another which may or may not be harmful to the communal psyche.

Things get really difficult for me here. The fact of the whole tradition being patriarchal is something that really breaks my brain about my Judaism sometimes. That is a deeper element of my reluctance to add the Imahot to the Amida specifically: It doesn’t fix or change everything that underlies the development of the liturgy and the texts and the laws and everything else upon which Judaism is built. That makes me sad, and angry, and scared, because as Jewish women, no matter what we do, we are only building on top of a system that doesn’t see us, at least not as active participants.

I posted about this on Facebook and elicited some wonderful insights and perspectives from some very wise friends. These two appeared one after the other:

My kavanah in the first paragraph of the amidah is in essence to be able to approach the divine not just as myself but as the child of those who have tried this before. I can’t say that my father has more weight in this than my mother; I can’t say that being a child of the avot is more important to my ability to approach God than being a child of the imahot. I have never said an amidah without them — this is how I learned it as a five year old by heart. I’ve kept it to just Sarah Rivkah Rachel and Leah (though I’d be inclined to include others) to be an inheritor of the praying tradition of Jewish women who have invoked these four for generations in tehinot and other liturgies.

 

I don’t say imahot.. As an observant Jew, the way tradition regarded women in the past can’t be fixed post facto and adding some names to the amida doesn’t make up for the absence of women’s names throughout most of Jewish history. So just as with the rest of my engagement with traditional Judaism, i have to come to terms with these facts of history, I see amida as a representative of the many places where women’s potential contributions to the development of my tradition are lacking.

 

I relate very strongly to the techinas idea, mentioned in the first of the two above quotes. Techines, or techinot, are supplicatory prayers, and there has been a long tradition of women’s using and innovating supplications in their vernacular. These supplications often invoked the Imahot and related specifically to the real concerns of women in their day-to-day lives. The women of the Bible became, in a sense, the spiritual patronesses of the women in their eras… they shared their struggles as women, issues of family, fertility, illness, death, poverty, purity, nutrition, the messy stuff of life that falls on the shoulders of the keeper of the home. We are most of us no longer limited to “women’s realms,” but that doesn’t mean that those realms should be dismissed, or denigrated, or erased. Being a fully participating Jew should not have to mean becoming like a man, and what we think of as “real Judaism” should not be limited to the historical liturgical and ritual realms of men.

The invocation of Imahot in other contexts, contexts to which the Imahot are particularly narratively relevant, innovating new liturgy for the invocation of the prophetesses, who transgressed and transcended their traditional roles as women, makes more sense to me than trying to shove the Imahot into the androcentric liturgy, placed alongside the Avot, in a position that the Imahot themselves would not have understood given their context. This is where I relate to the second quote: we should not erase or gloss over where our mothers were to lend legitimacy to where we are and/or want to be. It is not that I want women to remain separate from men, and women’s stuff to be separated from men’s stuff forever. I certainly don’t want that which is normative to be equivalent to that which is male. But the men have a head start and an unfair home field advantage, as it were. Every time we add something on top of the existing system it feels artificial, not because it’s dumb or inauthentic, but because it is sitting on top of a system that actively looks up at it and says “What the hell are you?”

Lest you jump on me for denigrating the work done by feminists and allies to bring women into the androcentric world that we understand to be the “mainstream,” I don’t think that the work being done by egalitarian activists doesn’t, or won’t make real progress. At least, depending on what is meant by “real progress.” We already have made progress in that we’ve gotten women involved actively in the public mechanics of Judaism, which allows these ideas to even occur to us, and for these conversations to happen in the first place. However, I do think that too much of the cosmetic sort of change gives a sort of permission to not dig deeper, to not address the more core issues facing us as moderns, as feminists in a religion that developed over millennia from the active purging of the feminine divine, and asking hard questions about what we really mean when we say God, Judaism, Feminism, and what we actually believe, deep in the scary places of our faith and practice.

*Who are the Matriarchs and in what order will have to be another entry for another time. There is plenty to say on that topic.

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