Beginnings Blogfest

My Horny Hump Day post is here.

Beginnings

Today, 9 January, L.G. Keltner of Writing Off the Edge is holding a blogfest in which participants write about various beginnings—blogging, books, writing, jobs, relationships, life, etc. It’s in honor of her first blogoversary.

I was strongly leaning towards writing one of the stories of how I got into any one of my favorite bands, but decided against it. (If you don’t like those bands, you might not like my stories!) I also considered the story of how I was inspired to write my first Russian novel, since my 20th anniversary of that beginning is coming up at the end of this month. (Where did all that time go? Was 1993 really twenty years ago?!)

I decided to go with my story of how I began moving towards greater religious observance, excerpted in part from a blog entry I wrote in October. Until I was 22, I’d believed all the stereotypes about Orthodox Judaism, and didn’t realize what a diverse community Orthodoxy is. At the moment, I’m still not in a position to officially affiliate Orthodox, and I may never be 100% of the way there, but I would love to someday be part of a Liberal Modern Orthodox community. None of the Orthodox people I’ve ever known are the crazy fanatics who get all the bad press, people who throw rocks at women at the Western Wall or making blurry glasses so men can’t see women.

***

In late February 2002, I decided to take an Orthodox friend up on his invitation to go with him and a few other friends to Chabad after the Hillel services and dinner. I believed all these stereotypes about the Orthodox, and hated the idea of sex-segregated services. But he said we were going there for dinner, not more services.

It was such a lovely community. I immediately took to it. It’s easy to dismiss something when you’ve never experienced it, but when the real and the ideal conflict, you often change your perspective. I suddenly wasn’t offended at the fact that I couldn’t shake hands with the rabbis, or that men and women had to dance separately, or that the married women wore wigs.

At the end of March (the day the Queen Mum died), I bit the bullet and went for a Saturday morning service. It was my first time at an Orthodox service, and I ended up really enjoying it and feeling at home. I really liked the separate davening (praying), and how we have our own secret little world the men don’t know about. It’s easier for me to concentrate behind the mechitza, and I like the old-world feel to it. There tends to be a smaller crowd in the women’s section, and I’m usually one of only a few women who’s there for the entire service instead of popping in and out, but that just makes it feel more special, gives me even more private space to talk to Hashem.

For the first time, I was called by my Hebrew name, Chana. My full name is Chana Esther Dafna, but it’s not always easy for people to remember a triple name. I became Shomeret Shabbat (guardian of the Sabbath, or observing all the Sabbath prohibitions against things like using electricity). I added long skirts to my wardrobe and stopped wearing pants. I was Orthodox in all but name.

Sadly, I had to go back to the Berkshires after graduation, and all that beautiful forward momentum was lost for many years. I’ve been unmarried and childfree way longer than I ever dreamt I’d be. But at least I’m finally back on track with my spiritual identity.

14 thoughts on “Beginnings Blogfest

  1. What an interesting post. I always love to learn about different traditions and cultures, and it seems that it’s always the case that the truth is much different than the fanatics that get the press! Also had to laugh at your comment about 1993, I can’t believe it was 20 years ago either. Yikes!
    Nice meeting you! 🙂

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  2. My uncle (by marriage–as in, when people ask if I’m Jewish, my answer is, “by marriage” because my mother is actually an Evangelical minister and my father is Catholic . . .) is an Orthodox Jew. He and his family are just about the nicest, some of the most amazing people I know. I wish I had the wherewithal to be that dedicated. But I guess there’s something to be said, too, for knowing one’s limits.

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  3. It’s easy to have regrets about not having made progress in various parts of our lives earlier – but as you said up there, at least you are on your spiritual path and are not still being held back in that regard!

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  4. Popping in from LG’s blogfest. My kid recently asked me why I’d made the decision to go to an all girl Catholic high school (the Catholic bit wasn’t a choice, but the all girls was). I said I found it freeing to not be distracted by sex, basically. I could concentrate, I could learn, I could be myself without feeling the need to try to impress anyone. Reading your post reminded me of that. In the end, I got to enjoy only one year of that lovely freedom, as my school wound up merging with our “brother school,” and by that point I’d made friends I didn’t want to lose, so I went with them, rather than looking for another all girl school. Alas. 🙂

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