Today was focused on shul (synagogue) despite quite a lot happening at home. I was with my parents as usual for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and my uncle and sister were staying with my sister’s fiancé coming for lunch. I had some OCD, unfortunately, although it wasn’t too bad.
Shul started earlier today and unfortunately I overslept and was fifteen minutes late (so I would have been on time most weeks!). I forced myself to talk to people at the kiddush and on the way home on Friday night which was a positive step to dealing with the social anxiety. I was called to the Torah again, which was nice, but I wonder if it’s more than my fair share as I seem to have been called three or four times in the last few months. The part I was called for started with curses, but ended with blessings, which part of me wants to see as a good sign, but I try not to look for signs because (a) we’re not supposed to and (b) once you get into that mindset, there is no end to the things you can convince yourself that you’ve seen, good and bad. It’s true that last year started badly but seems to be ending a lot better.
Bizarrely, the most profound religious moment for me came during the rabbi’s sermon, when a two year old child wandered in to shul and interrupted proceedings calling “I fell over! Where is daddy? Where is daddy? I fell over!” I reflected that’s how I feel right now: I fell over and I’m looking for Daddy (Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King). I know there are militant atheists who see religion as a childish search for love and security and normally I would disagree, but at the moment I think the only mistaken word in that is “childish.” Because adults need love and security too and I don’t see anything wrong with getting that from God as well as other people (let alone money, fame, drugs, meaningless sex or the other things some people turn to fill the void in their life).
The evening was more positive. I met with the rabbi of the shul I’m joining. The meeting turned out not to be a scary interview, but simply a little chat to get to know me a bit better and to see how I will fit into the community. I had mentioned my mental health issues a bit to the rabbi in the past and we spoke a bit about them (it was good that I felt able to speak about them), about the way that my personal growth as a Jew is tied up with managing my mental health, about the need for realistic, small goals for the future and so on. The rabbi seemed very understanding and sympathetic, especially when I said that I struggle sometimes to get the energy or mindset for prayer or Torah study, which was good as I had been particularly worried that he wouldn’t understand and would try to cajole me into going to shul more often that I feel comfortable with. He was pleased that I get to a weekly beginners Talmud shiur. We spoke a bit about dealing with religious OCD and I said that while he would normally answer questions, sometimes with the OCD it’s better to say that something is not a serious concern and not get into it any further, because otherwise it actually fuels the OCD, which he seemed receptive to. He offered to meet every few weeks if I would like just to “touch base” which I thought was a nice offer and one I might take him up on in the future.
I spoke about going down a bit over the summer and I was just going to leave it at that, but on impulse I mentioned that the low mood had been triggered by dating, by a date that seemed to be going somewhere which did not work out. I didn’t make a huge thing about it, but I thought I would drop a hint that I am “in the parasha” as they say (literally “in the paragraph/passage” but idiomatically at a particular stage in life, usually referring to the life-stage of looking for a spouse). Who knows, he might meet someone who he thinks is suitable for me (rabbis meet a lot of different people) and arrange a shidduch (date). I also mentioned that there is a rabbi I speak to regularly about my mental health and personal growth (the rabbi I refer to here as my rabbi mentor) as I thought that was worth saying. As it happens, he turned out to know him a bit, which didn’t surprise me as my rabbi mentor knows lots of people and used to live in this area and fortunately he approved of him.
One little thing I noticed that indicated that the community rabbi understands me is that he said that normally when someone joins the community, they make an announcement in shul, but he wanted to check that I was OK with that, presumably because I mentioned that I have some social anxiety. I said I would like it, because I’ve been going to that shul about eighteen months now and I’m beginning to be recognized so I think it will be nice to announce that I’m finally paying my dues, literally and metaphorically, and becoming a proper member, but I’m glad he checked it was OK with me first.
I came away from the meeting feeling very positive about be accepted into the community more and having the positive relationship with a rabbi that is necessary to be part of a frum (religious) community. I definitely feel that a small, friendly, observant community is the place for me to be right now. Hopefully it will be somewhere I can grow both as a human being and a Jew and maybe even make some friends and feel accepted.