I’m feeling surprisingly good! The day started badly when I overslept and was half an hour late for shul (synagogue), partly my fault as I stayed up late last night reading The Jewish Chronicle and feeling depressed about its contents (it’s always bad news of one kind or another; if it’s not antisemitism, it’s assimilation and if it’s neither of those, it’s some kind of communal broiges (argument), although the problem was also that I couldn’t sleep because it’s turned hot again. But the afternoon was better. I spent a couple of hours studying Torah and enjoying it. A few months ago I was worried that the depression had killed my love for Torah study, as even though I was no longer depressed, I did not really enjoy it, but I spent two hours this afternoon reading the beginning of next week’s sedra, finding questions and looking for answers in Rashi’s commentary (I realized I love Rashi…) and in The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities followed by a lengthy read of Rav Hirsch’s Horeb, feeling glad that, as he suggested, I have a rabbi mentor I can turn to for advice (religious and general) and use as a role model.
I then went back to shul. After Mincha there were sheva brachos for the rabbi’s daughter. To explain: when frum Jews get married, they don’t have one party. That would be too easy. No, they have a party every night for a week, preferably with at least one new guest each evening (except Shabbat – Shabbat itself counts as the new guest). (Weirdly, people think Judaism is a boring and serious religion…). I wasn’t sure whether to go as I somehow didn’t get the email asking people to say if they were coming, but the chairman of the shul assured me they had over-catered (well, it’s a Jewish event…), so I went. I was nervous as I still don’t feel like I’ve completely settled into the shul, large crowds make me anxious and weddings can make me feel depressed, wondering if I will ever get married. This is especially true of very frum weddings like this one, where the couple are typically in their early twenties or even late teens, which just makes me feel on the shelf.
However, I had a good time. I sat with someone I know from Talmud shiur (class) and spoke a bit to him and to some other people, including a blueberry-scoffing young boy of five or six, who was fascinated by a kiwi fruit that had been cut into the same shape as the opened-up satsuma (“They’re the same! This one’s smaller! It’s the baby!” That was the kid, not me). There was singing, some divrei Torah, lots of jokes (including a surprisingly risqué one from the chairman), some alcohol (I didn’t have any, I don’t risk it with the depression and anti-depressants) and, inevitably, lots and lots of food. I thought that there was going to be dancing after Ma’ariv and havdalah (Jewish dancing, where you just go around in a circle holding hands with the people next to you and maybe stamping or clapping), but after one dance people started drifting away. Still, the fact that I was looking forward to the dancing is nothing short of amazing, considering normally I hate it and slip away to avoid getting involved (I usually find Simchat Torah really tough), so I do feel that I’ve come a long way tonight.
I enjoyed the evening and it made me feel more sure that I should formally join the community soon. Currently my membership is at a shul I go to sometimes in the week, but rarely on Shabbat or Yom Tov; the rabbi there has been incredibly supportive of my mental health and the official hashkafa (religious philosophy) there is closer to my own than at the shul I do go to on Shabbat, but I find the community not focused enough on davening (prayer) with too much talking in the service (there is no talking at all at my Shabbat shul, even though decorum at Orthodox shuls is often surprisingly poor), but above all it’s just too big and unfriendly compared with the tiny and welcoming shul I go to on Shabbat. Also, my parents go to the shul I am currently a member of and I feel that I don’t exist in my own right there, even though the rabbi and assistant rabbi have invited me to dinner without my parents on occasion. Going to a different shul to them over the last year and a bit has helped me develop my own sense of identity and independence for the first time in a very long time, so I think it’s about time I took the plunge and formally joined. I’m just slightly nervous of the fact that I have to have a talk with the rabbi before I can join, though. I don’t think they turn anyone away, but I’m still nervous of being judged in some way and I don’t really know how to describe myself, my level of Jewish education and observance or my outlook.