Self-Harm & Self-Piercing

Not very long until A. is back now.

Looking back at this break I can honestly say that there were definitely times when I didn’t think I would be around to see her return to work. I had some very very low points, where it felt entirely impossible to think that I could make it through. As you know, early on during this break, I did accidentally on purpose overdose, and even though this may sound weird, that wasn’t even the lowest point I got to. In fact it wasn’t even near to being the lowest point.

Then I had a bit of a breather, where I went to spend time with my sisters, where I reconnected with my faith, where I felt a little less frightened. Went back to only having the normal amount of flashbacks. And that was nice. And much needed. I count my blessings that I do have those times when things are a little easier. I try to take notice of the good in life, I really do. I know that reading this blog, it may seem that I only focus on the hard times, but I really do try to balance it out, to see the bigger picture.

I have to admit, however, that these last few weeks it has felt a little as if I am starting to slip again. I’m not sure if that is perhaps because, knowing that this therapy break is nearing its end, I am allowing myself to feel a little bit more than I have during the majority of this time. It’s possible. People keen to criticise my choice of therapy and therapist will, I’m sure, draw the conclusion that going back to therapy is what is making me worse; that therapy is itself the culprit. Needless to say, I disagree. Strongly.

Still, I do have to take these dips seriously; I am very well aware of my tendency to sink hard and fast, and to try to waive it off as nothing would be decidedly unwise. So, I’ve reached out. I’ve talked to my sisters, my friends, the Samaritans, just to make sure that I don’t plummet.

I did have a night last week which was particularly bad, where I felt very very tempted to get the scalpels out again, to release the tension, to get away from the bad feelings surging through my whole system. I resisted. Sort of. I had them out. I looked at them. Held them in my hand. Then I put them down. Put them away. Decided it was a bad option. Thought some more, and decided that there was something else I could do, which was a little less destructive, a little more spiritually meaningful. Something which I had been thinking about doing for some time.

The end result is a freshly pierced nose.

I know, to some, this seems little better than cutting myself, but to me, there is a big difference. Self-harming through cutting is a way of making my body look worse, it’s almost like physically punishing myself, not just through the pain inflicted while cutting, but also in the way the scars will always be there [and, trust me, I have plenty]. They only serve to make me feel bad, because they make me think of how I was unable to control my impulse to cut. Make me feel weak. And I don’t like feeling weak.

A piercing to me is different.

Whilst people may have varying views on the aesthetics of body piercings, or religious reasons for opposing them, to me, they are pretty – plain and simple: I like them – and my interpretation of religious text does not cause me to see them as forbidden. And so, in my mind, choosing not to slash my skin in destructive desperation, but deciding to do something different [albeit similar]; it makes me feel that I can control my impulses, I can convert destructive energy to something much more positive:

A sparkling reminder, right in front of my nose, that even bad nights do pass.

I feel I need to write a little something here about self-piercing: I am not an advocate of it, despite having done it more than once myself. Each time I’ve done it, it has been done as responsibly as possible. No dirty safety pins, no pound shop jewellery. Always clean hands and/or using gloves, always clean work surfaces, always proper after-care. Never without thinking it through, and never without, in my opinion, a genuinely valid reason for doing it myself.

You can read a detailed piece I wrote about my first self-piercing and my reasons for doing it myself here. Some of the things I say there are not quite how I see things now; it’s been four years. But the key is that it was a thought-through and reasoned decision. Not an in-the-moment act. In contrast to self-harming.

Even this latest piercing wasn’t something I did lightly. The reason I had the appropriate equipment in the first place was that I had been thinking about doing it for some time. And by thinking about it I don’t mean in the middle of the night in a moment of feeling very low, but during the day, consciously weighing the pros and cons. I made the decision to do it that night, because I wanted to – perhaps even needed to – prove to myself that I could do something other than cut, something which for me had meaning, something which wasn’t a destructive and impulsive form of self-punishment.

If you do choose to DIY pierce; do the research. Then think again. Think about why you are wanting to self-pierce and the risks involved. Also, think about where you want your piercing. Not all places are ideal for self-piercing. In fact, most aren’t. [In hindsight, I would have to admit that the nose definitely isn’t particularly ideal for self-piercing. And it was darn painful!] Also, just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

If the reason you’re considering not going to a studio to have it done is that you’re underage, get your parents to come with you to give their consent. Or wait until you are legally able to give consent. If you want it that badly, you’ll still want it in a year or two. From a religious point of view, getting your parents’ consent also matters in terms of honouring your mother and father through not choosing to do something your parents directly oppose. I’m not meaning to be preachy, I’m merely pointing this aspect out. [For me this was always a non-issue, as my mother sports a sparkling lip piercing of her own.]

For most people, people who just want a piercing because it looks good, my advice will always be: Go to a professional piercer! You won’t end up accidentally mis-aiming and come out with a wonky piercing in a place you hadn’t meant to have one. Seriously. Going to a professional piercer will generally be a much better experience; quicker, more than likely less painful and much much simpler all round.

First and foremost;

remember to be kind to yourselves.

xx

PS. I do realise I am displaying an astonishing amount of double-standards when it comes to self-piercing, but in my defence: I am an adult, I had a valid reason to do it myself and it was a thought through decision. And, as I wrote earlier, looking through a rear view mirror: I wouldn’t recommend piercing your own nose to anyone. Anyone. That includes my future self.

Staying Awake For Shavuot

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What Happened At Mount Sinai?

It’s a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning. I’m just back from shul. I’ve been there since six in the afternoon yesterday. You see, we are celebrating Shavuot, when we, in addition to eating hideous amounts of dairy food [particularly cheesecake, which I really don’t like], we do a full night of studying followed by a special morning service at sunrise, known as tikkun leyl Shavuot.

You see, Shavuot marks the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the Israelite nation at Mount Sinai, and there is an often told Midrash which tells of how the Israelites, in preparation for the receiving of the Torah, went to bed early the night before in order to be well rested the following morning, as the Torah was to be given to them at the first light of day. Sounds sound enough, doesn’t it? Proper good night’s sleep before a major event. Only the Israelites forgot to set the alarm on their iPhones and ended up oversleeping, and God had to wake them up. Not great, and as you can imagine God was decidedly unimpressed with this. So rather than just gently waking the sleeping Israelites, He – or She – did so by lifting up Mount Sinai and holding it over their heads, telling them that they had better get up pretty darn sharp or He [or She] would drop the mountain on them. A pretty rude awakening – but hey – it’s God, and I suppose God can do as S/He wishes.

So, to make up for this embarrassment, and to ensure there is no risk of oversleeping yet again, Jews all over the world stay up all night studying the night before the anniversary of this momentous occasion, and as soon as the sun rises a special service is held where the commandments are read out for all to hear.

[Also, being Jews, we get through an enormous amount of food on this night of study, but that’s a whole nother story..]

Now, I’m not someone who has a literal understanding of the Bible and of what happened at Mount Sinai, but I do like this idea of staying up for a whole night with my friends, learning lots of things, and having really fun and interesting discussions.

At my shul – which belongs to the Movement for Reform Judaism – we hold a joint tikkun leyl with one of the liberal synagogues every year, which makes this night even more interesting, as you don’t just get to argue and discuss with people from your own synagogue, but you actually get to do it with people from a different strand of Judaism. Although reform Judaism and liberal Judaism are both progressive strands of Judaism, there are also some very distinct differences, and that really adds a bit of extra spice to the mix.

This year the sessions I chose to take part in were a dialogue about conversion to Judaism – which, for obvious reasons, caught my interest, a discussion about whether God is dead and a more hands on creative session, where we made clay figures to try to express our own personal relationship with God. Trust me, at three-thirty in the morning, having not slept, there is nothing more fun than being allowed to regress to childhood and play with clay!

As the sun rose this morning, we all [well, us brave souls who had made it all through the night] climbed the stairs all the way up to the roof of our synagogue and held the morning service up there in the open, overlooking a beautiful but still sleeping London. It’s a very special service indeed.

There is a lot more I could write about this night of study, but to be honest, I’m so tired I could quite easily fall asleep if I stare at the computer for too long, and I wouldn’t want that to happen, as I’m going for another service at 11. I have contemplated going to sleep rather than attending this service, since, technically, I’ve already been to a Shavuot morning service, but this later one will have all of our little kids there, dancing and singing on the rose petal strewn floor of the Sanctuary, and it’s just the cutest thing ever. Noisy – but cute!

So for now I am going to stop writing and just focus on staying awake until it’s time to get back to shul.

All the very best, and if you are so inclined:

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

xx

PS. My memory of the above Midrash may very well be faulty, as my brain isn’t entirely alert and with it at the time of writing, so please don’t ask me to cite my source more specifically.

AN HOUR LATER:
On second thought, I think I’ll watch the service online, I don’t think I could possibly get my body in an upright position for long enough to get to shul. Just sooooooo tired.

EVEN LATER:
Did by some miracle make it to 11 o’clock service and back. Now: Bed, bed, BED!

Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Beit Din, Mikveh & Conversion – My Big Day

It has been nearly two weeks since my formal conversion to Judaism, and I have been meaning to post an update about it ever since, knowing full well that I will never be able to find ample words to describe what the day was truly like.

I was incredibly nervous on the day, much more so than I had thought I would be, and I am really glad that I had both Dev and my friend D. with me to help keep nerves in check [or at least be on hand to make sure I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be there].

True to form we arrived ridiculously early, meaning we had time for a stop at The Bagel Café before my appointment. Not sure if this was a good idea or not, really, as I had a Twix, and sugar-rushing myself just before going before the Beit Din may not really have been the wisest of things to do.

Having all but choked on my Twix we made our way upstairs to where the Beit Din convenes and had a bit of time to wait around before it was my turn. The person going in before me happened to be one of the women from my J-Prep group, so that was quite nice.

Then all of a sudden [or so it felt] it was my turn. Rabbi D. escorted me into the room and slipped me a “They are going to love you” on the way in; a really kind and warm touch.

Was a little jolted by the fact that this was an all-male Beit Din. Not because I mind male rabbis, or because I felt strongly about having a mixed Beit Din, but because I simply don’t do well being alone in a room with only men, regardless of who they are. Had to take a moment to steady myself and mentally focus on the fact that this was a completely safe setting and that there was no real danger, regardless of my internal warning bells going off like crazy.

I really wish I was able to remember who was on the Beit Din that day, but honestly, I haven’t a clue. Well, that’s not entirely true, one of the men was someone who I sort of knew, or at least have met previously, only I was far too nervous in the moment to recognise that.

My meeting with the Beit Din is all a bit of a happy blur, but I do remember one of the rabbis starting out by saying that this wasn’t really one of those tests where you pass or fail, and although this was of course something I had been telling myself over and over in the past few hours, I found this exceptionally reassuring coming from someone other than myself.

What did they ask? Well.. I’m not entirely sure. I know that there were a lot of questions, many more than I had expected, and that they asked about how I had found my way to Judaism, [why not Islam or Christianity?] and that I gave them a run-down of that, including why, for me, Reform Judaism was the natural choice.

I was also asked if there was anything I had struggled with or found difficult, and I explained that I had had a conversation with one of my rabbis about the exceptions to the principle of Pichuach Nefesh, because I was unsure if I understood it correctly and was finding some interpretations I had come across somewhat hard to stomach. I also mentioned how I find the somehow socially acceptable interdenominational slagging off quite offensive, because although I could never be anything other than a Reform Jew that doesn’t mean that I think of other denominations as somehow lesser. That, just as we work on interfaith matters, perhaps some work is needed on intrafaith dialogue.

I only had one properly ‘factual’ question, and that was to talk to the Beit Din about the festival of Simchat Torah which was starting the evening after my conversion. Had no problem with that, since I had pretty much assumed they’d ask about that, and also Simchat Torah happens to be one of my absolute favourite holidays.

The other more precise question I was asked was regarding my own observance; I decided to talk about making Havdalah at the end of Shabbat and also how I had made a special Havdalah upon leaving Drayton Park, to mark the transition between going from this very very difficult period, to something more positive. As a follow-on question, or perhaps to check I wasn’t just making this up, one of the rabbis asked could I recite the blessings for Havdalah? My immediate reaction to that was to panic as I normally use my siddur when I make Havdalah, but then I just firmly told myself that I do know these blessings without reading from the siddur and went on to recite them by heart.

I also talked about how, for me, action is a very important expression of faith; that praying and going to shul are only two ways of being observant, that I think that social action is every bit as important as other more conventional ways of practising religion. Talked about tikkun olam both in terms of green thinking and in terms of looking out for others less fortunate than myself.

I have a feeling that my reciting the Havdalah blessings, may have been the reason why I was not asked to read anything in Hebrew to the rabbis. I was, however, asked what I would have read, so I told them that I had decided just as I stepped into the room that I would like to read the Modim part of the Amidah, since that seemed appropriate for the occasion, and – really – there is no time when the Modim isn’t appropriate, in my opinion.

Was asked to step outside for a moment while the rabbis conferred, so I did, being greeted by Dev, D, and rabbis D and H outside. Have no idea how long I had to wait, not too long though, I think, and then we were all filing back into the meeting room, crowding it somewhat.

My conversion certificate was read out to me, but in all honesty I was still buzzing so much I can’t say I really remember much of what was said. I was mainly just really moved by the occasion and only truly remember the moment I was called by my Hebrew name for the very first time. That felt like a very powerful moment.

Following the meeting with the Beit Din we made our way down to the mikveh for my ritual immersion. Rabbi H. was my Jewish witness and came with me as I immersed in the water and recited the blessing for tevilah and the Shehecheyanu, marking my entry into the Jewish people. I have to say that I’m not great with people seeing me naked, especially my various scars, but it still felt OK. The mikveh at the Sternberg Centre can, admittedly, not by any stretch of the imagination be accused of being a particularly serene place [think septic tank meets oversized foot bath..], but making tevilah still felt deeply spiritually moving.

After I got out of the mikvah Rabbi H. asked how I felt. I had to take a moment to feel it through before answering that I felt like I was exactly who I have always known I was, yet everything was different.

I know this has been a bit of a blow-by-blow account of my big day. There is so much more I could write about it, and chances are that I will, but for now I think this is what I can offer.

All the very best,

xx

PS. If you are interested in reading my letter to the Beit Din, please click here.

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My siddur (prayer book) - complete with nail varnish flowers..

Freedom

Today is my day to go before the Beit Din. But,

Today belongs to Gilad Shalit.
And freedom.
And the value of human life.

Much love,

xx

Reform Judaism, Conversion & Finding My Own Path

It is now less than two weeks ’til I go before the Beit Din, the Jewish rabbinical court, for the formal completion of my conversion to Judaism. Prior to that I had to sit down and write a statement to the court about what this means to me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

~ * ~

Nearer to two years ago a lovely lovely lady called P. was the designated meeter-and-greeter at the doors of my shul. It was also the very first time I visited a synagogue. I introduced myself to her and openly admitted that I was very nervous as I had never attended service before and was worried about doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Without hesitation, and with what I now recognise as characteristic generosity, P. asked would I like to sit with her and her husband so that I could just copy what they were doing?

I’ve been sitting with them ever since.

These days P. likes to embarrass me by introducing me to people as “their star pupil”, when, really, the truth is that they – alongside the rabbis and my fellow J-Preppies – have been star teachers; have been people I have learned and continue to learn so, so much from. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been befriended by long-standing members of the congregation as well as newbie J-Prep students, allowing me to not only stand on the sidelines, but to feel genuinely part of the congregation and synagogue life. A true blessing.

This past year has been a big year of learning, of spiritual growth and understanding, yet at the same time I firmly maintain that my Jewish journey did not start with the J-Prep course, nor will it end with it. Certainly, this year has been different to any other year, and my life has been truly enriched by it, but rather than seeing the meeting with the Beit Din and the formal conversion as the end goal, I feel that it marks the end of the beginning of my Jewish journey.

I came to the J-Prep course having never lit Shabbat candles, never made Kiddush, never affixed a mezuzah and so forth; I had a very bookish understanding of what Judaism is. I now feel that I have much deeper insight into what it really means to be Jewish, and have discovered that the things I had connected with prior to J-Prep; my faith in the one true God, the Torah as a religious compass and so on – all the things that had brought me to the J-Prep course in the first place – have held true for me and haven’t changed. But, I now also know and appreciate that Judaism offers so much more on top of that. I have discovered that many of the core principles of Judaism hold the same moral values as those passed down to me by my parents; the pursuit of justice, championing democracy, being generous to those less fortunate and being open to those different to myself.

I have been struck by the strong sense of community, the constant strive to make informed choices and decisions – even the freedom to challenge the texts we’ve studied – and they have all added a whole new dimension to my life and to the way I think about faith and religion.

Being Jewish means, especially this time of the year, to stop and reflect introspectively, to take a long, hard and truly honest look at what I can do to better this world through bettering myself. It means doing that very difficult thing; asking forgiveness. From God, from my friends, sometimes even my enemies, and, maybe the hardest thing of all; forgiving myself for those times when I have let myself down. To, rather than simply berating myself for my shortcomings, accepting that I am not perfect and never will be, but also recognising that I have been given the blessing of making a different choice in the future.

Even my choice of Hebrew name – Emunah אמונה – serves as a reminder to keep faith in my mind and to remain faithful, not just through words, but through actions and deeds; through actively doing what I can to help heal this very precious and beautiful world we have been given, whether it be through choosing Fairtrade products over products of unknown origin, making sure I recycle things rather than just binning them, or through taking on an active role in the setting up of a refugee drop-in centre rather than leaving it for Mr & Mrs Someone Else to do. It is a reminder that it’s not enough to just tell people that I am now Jewish. I need also recognise for myself and demonstrate to others that I am Jewish not only when I attend service or say my prayers, light my Shabbat candles or study Torah (all of which are, of course, integral parts of living a Jewish life), but that I am living Judaism in all aspects of my life.

To formally convert to Judaism is the difference between looking at someone else’s photograph album and being alive and present in the very moment that snapshot is taken.

Being Jewish is not just an adjective, it is also a verb.”

~ * ~

Click here to read about my meeting with the Beit Din.

Below is this year’s film from The Movement for Reform Judaism.


The End Of The Beginning

It’s been a little while since my last post. Guess I just needed a bit of down time to myself to feel things through without writing things down. I’ve also been quite light on the journal writing, so it’s nothing personal. It’s not you, it’s me.

Had my final regular J-Prep session on Wednesday, including a lovely Havdalah [separation] ceremony to mark the transition between being on the J-Prep course and continuing our Jewish journeys on our own. There were hugs, tears, well-wishes, all the things you’d expect at a graduation of sorts.

I have mixed feelings about the course coming to an end. There were no tears on my behalf, but – as I said to my classmates – I think I was emotionally shielding myself from the idea of J-Prep being over by focusing on the fact that next Wednesday we’re all going on a walking tour through Jewish history in the East End, so goodbye wasn’t really goodbye.

This course has been different to any course I’ve ever taken. I’ve learnt a lot, but even more than that, I’ve grown as a person. I’ve had a place to explore my own beliefs and an opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings with other people being on a similar journey, and that’s been one of the best things with this course.

I came to the course having – naturally – read quite a lot about the religion, but it was a bookish kind of knowledge. What the course has given me is a more real way of relating to things. Also, throughout the course, I’ve more and more discovered how Judaism is about so much more than just religious beliefs and studying the Bible; how the emphasis on tzedakah [charity,  fairness, justice] and tikkun olam [healing or repairing the world] really fits very well with my own way of thinking, and the values I was brought up with.

Spent a good part of Friday’s therapy session talking about J-Prep and what it’s been like to be on the course, and one of the things I realised, sitting there talking about it, is that while I have really enjoyed being part of my particular J-Prep group, I’ve also got to know a lot of the people in the other J-Prep groups, as well as being fortunate enough to have been welcomed into the community by some long-standing members of the congregation, who have been very generous in answering my questions and sharing their knowledge and experience with me.

That I’ve been able to form relationships with people in all the different parts of synagogue life, and so, even tough the course is now ending, I will still be as active in my new community as ever.

Though I feel sad that J-Prep has come to an end, I also feel ready to take the next step; going to the Beit Din to formally complete my conversion and to move on to truly being a part of the synagogue community.

All the way through the J-Prep course I have said that my Jewish journey didn’t begin with joining the course, nor will it end with the completion of it, and that feeling has not change. This really is just the end of the beginning.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. To read a lovely little blog post by one of my rabbis about her experience of J-Prep please click here.

To learn more about Reform Judaism in general, click here.
Or here to learn about how Reform Judaism views conversion.

Independence, Community & Cyber-Kiddush

The week spent at my ex’s flat is drawing to an end. It’s been an indescribably luxury to have a place to myself, to be able to come and go as I wish and to have to justify to no one my need for solitude, which I am aware does not exactly fit in the House I am currently living in.

Some time ago I gave my notice to my house mates, saying that I’ve decided the time to leave has come. That said, I gave my notice quite far in advance; I’m  still going to be living in the house for a while – I’ve said I’m leaving at  the end of May. The reason for this is that I didn’t want my moving out to be seen as a direct response to things that were going on in the house at the time, but a decision in its own right. Naturally, things going on in the house is part of my decision, but I think there is a difference between something being a part of a decision and somehing being the cause of it. Also, I felt I needed the time to mentally prepare myself for moving. Because it is a big deal. I’ve been living in this therapeutic community for over two years, and although I am the first admit that I’ve not opted to entirely be part of this House in the way that perhaps people feel I ought to have, moving out is still a big step.

Staying at Dev’s flat, the second time this year, has been helpful in terms of testing the waters, of seeing how well I can cope on my own, to check that I am able to find a good balance of allowing myself time to myself, yet keeping myself from completely shutting myself off to the outside world. While staying here I’ve been taking part in my J-Prep course, I’ve gone to therapy as usual and – as an added extra – I’ve had friends over. This added extra, seeing my friends in the comfort of my home, has really reminded me of how much I have missed it. Back when I was still with Dev and we had our flat that was the place where my friends and I would meet. And I always loved that. While meeting in town, as I have been doing these past two years is fine, it’s simply not the
same as having people round to your own place. It just isn’t.

So, staying at the flat has made me feel very strongly that I am definitely on the right track with moving out. Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to get a place of my own, even just moving out of where I’m staying is a step towards that sense of independence. As much as I don’t regret moving into the House, it has also made me see how much I value my independence, and how much I struggle whenever I feel that that independence is under threat. I’m not a child, and while valid points have been raised regarding my need to keep separate from my housemates, I do feel that safeguarding my right to living my life the way that feels right for me is more important than a lot  of other things.

On to something entirely different.
This Shabbat I wasn’t able to make it to Shabbat morning service owing to ridiculous problems with public transport and an incessant dry cough which I would rather not pass on to the people I normally sit with in shul. Felt quite sad about not going, since it’s such a big part of my Shabbat routine. I love sitting in synagogue, listening to E. leading the choir and congregation in song and praying together with my community. Somehow the idea of saying the prayers and singing the songs on my own felt just not enough to truly celebrate Shabbat the way it should be celebrated. So I had a think and remembered reading about how some synagogues stream their services online, so that housebound congregants can still be part of the service.

Now, I don’t normally use the internet over Shabbat; this is my personal choice, my way of making Shabbat different to the rest of the week when I am always available and always hooked up to some techie-gear or other, but having given it some thought I decided that switching on the computer to be part of Shabbat morning service would enhance my Shabbat experience rather than detract from it.

My shul doesn’t yet broadcast the services online (although it’s apparently in the pipelines) so I had a look on the MRJ website to find a synagogue that does. Found one and with the click of a button I found myself virtually joining another of the reform synagogue congregations for their Shabbat morning service.

This turned out to be a really interesting experience. Having not really visited other synagogues it was really cool to see how in some ways things are very similar, but how each synagogue has its own little tweaks. One thing I really liked about the service I was joining was how the rabbi leading it at one point turned around and asked the members of the congregation to share their thoughts and hopes and prayers out loud, asking what their week had been like and so on. It felt like a very nice touch to make the congregation feel like a real community.

I was amazed at how I really felt I wasn’t just watching the service, but actually being part of it, joining this little community. The angle of the web cam allowed me to feel
like I was sitting in one of the pews of the shul, and – siddur in hand – I stood and sat with the congregation, just as I would have at any other service.

So, I guess my conclusion is that although people sometimes say that technology gives us a way to cut off from the world, it can also be used to do the exact opposite.

That said, I am already looking forward to seeing my J-Prep friends on Wednesday and my Shabbat service gang next Saturday. Somehow cyber-kiddush just isn’t quite the same thing as the real deal!

xx

About Converting

It’s been a while, I know. That pneumonia thing knocked me for ten, I have to admit. But, I’m here now, freshly manicured [silvery black with white swirls and flowers] and ready to blog!

I was thinking the other day that I’ve really not written much about my conversion and how that’s going, despite it being such a huge part of my life. In fact, to say that it’s a part of my life feels like an understatement in the extreme, considering that it’s a life change, rather than something which affects only a partof my life. It’s not something which can be kept separate from everything else, or even separate to who I am.

The way I look at this goes something like this: being on the Jewish preparation course [J-Prep for short] is neither the beginning nor the end of this journey. This journey began much much earlier. I know I’ve previously said that it started three years ago, following a particularly difficult time, having survived something I really ought not to have survived and deciding that the time had come for some serious thinking in terms of what really matters to me, but – although this certainly made me set out on this journey in quite a purposeful way, I’d have to say that drafting the subconscious mental map for this journey probably began many many years earlier, perhaps even as early as when I at 14, told my priest – the night before taking first communion – that, actually, I wasn’t so sure that the core of the Christian canon was really something I wholeheartedly subscribed to, that I felt very unsure about some quite major parts of it. I’m not suggesting that I was, at 14, forming the idea of converting to another religion, but I do believe that questioning things in the way I did, was a definite step away from one thing and towards something else, even if I didn’t at all know what that something might be.

I met with my rabbi a few weeks ago for an end-of-term meeting [although time wise it was more of a beginning-of-term-two meeting] and we talked about what my experience so far has been of being on the J-Prep course and starting my Jewish journey. We also talked about how, initially, the rabbis had asked me to wait a term to start the course, because they felt unsure of how possible it would be for me to fully engage in this process while still living in a therapeutic community. At the time I was very disappointed by this request, because I felt that it was based not necessarily on their knowledge of me, but on their idea of what a therapeutic community is and what sort of people live there. At the same time, this setback wasn’t going to put me off pursuing this path in any way, because – as I said at the time, and reiterated in my end-of-term meeting – this is a life decision, and waiting a few month to start the course wouldn’t really make much of a difference. As eager as I was to set out on this more formal stage of the journey, this was never a race to the finish line and I always felt very strongly that my conversion was never going to be about the J-Prep course in and of itself, but about something much bigger. Something which started before, and will carry on after my formal conversion. The J-Prep course gives me the tools, or at least some of the tools, to help me lay the first few bricks, but this is the sort of building work that can be infinitely added to and has no final form.

Anyway, I will try to write more about how my religious construction work is coming along, but I think I’ll stop here for now.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in finding out more about reform Judaism (the denomination I am converting with), you might want to check the Movement For Reform Judaism website out.

All the very best,

xx

Birthdays, Psychotherapy & London Rain

Called my little brother today. I rarely talk to him other than when I’m home and he happens to be there at the same time. We don’t really stay in touch much in between. But, today is his birthday, so a phonecall was due. It was nice to hear his voice, but, for some reason, on the phone we are quite awkward. The conversation isn’t exactly free-flowing. But, I’m still glad I called him. He’s my little brother, and fraught as our relationship is, I do love him.

My very first memory is of him. Well – technically – the more vivid bits of my memory is of riding the lift up to the maternity ward, but I do also have a fleeting memory of seeing my little brother for the first time. I was very nearly three at the time.

In other news:
I’ve finally “outed” myself in therapy.
No – this isn’t a sexuality related thing. It’s faith related. Which most of you reading this post will already know.

It’s taken me the better part of eight months to get to the point where I felt able to talk about my decision to convert in therapy. That – by the way – says more about me than it does about A. Or.. hm.. is that true? Maybe it says something about the both of us? Our relationship? Just having a few random thoughts in my head, as I’m writing this.

I have talked about this to pretty much everyone of importance in my life. My various family members, my close friends, most of my workmates, housemates.. Pretty much everyone but A.

For some reason something has held me back in these past several months. I mean, some of the reasons I feel quite aware of; the question of “Am I allowed to do this?”, the worry about intruding on someone’s turf.. [Someone meaning A.’s turf]. But I’m sure there’s more to it than just what I can see on the surface. And I’m looking forward to exploring what those reasons could be.

What else?

Went out for dinner with some of my workmates on Saturday evening. Really enjoyed it. It’s a really good, friendly gang. Got absolutely soaked on the way home, though.

That said, I kind of like torrential rain. There’s something quite purifying about it. Like being washed clean, spiritually, somehow.

It’s like Heather Nova says: “..nothing falls like London rain..”

Just love the opening lines of that song. Used to be a favourite text message to send to my ex on a rainy day.

“..I’m coming..
..I’m coming home to you..
..I’m alive, I’m a mess..
..I can’t wait to get home to you..
..to get warm..
..warm and undressed..”

London Rain [Nothing Heals Me Like You Do] – Heather Nova

Lyrics from London Rain [Nothing Heals Me Like You Do] ©  Heather Nova