I’ve been feeling better today, although I still feel that I’ve got things to process and think about. I’ve actually been more social than I’ve been in a long time. I had a Skype call with my oldest friend. I had already told him about the autism diagnosis and we spoke about that a bit. He had had some (very different) long-term health issues when we were at school, and he felt there’s a difference between before and after diagnosis, even if you know that the diagnosis is coming; a switch from reading things and saying, “Is that me?” to saying “That is me.” It was good to catch up with him again. In recent years we haven’t seen each other so often for various reasons, but we still connect well. I did shake a little while talking though, which I found a bit strange and frustrating.

Then in the evening I went out with PIMOJ, largely because it was the first chance we had after lockdown. It was raining and windy and we couldn’t go anywhere because most of the lockdown restrictions are still in force, it’s only the ban on meeting people outdoors that has been lifted so far. So we walked around Golders Green in the rain and cold, but we had a good time. I think we were just glad to meet in person again after over two months. But “seeing” two people in a day is a big step for me.

Other than that I did a little Pesach cleaning and some Torah study and that was about all I had time for. While I was doing the Pesach cleaning I listened to the Tradition journal podcast tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl. Not for the first time, I wished I could have spoken to him. I mean, really spoken to him, not just meet him at an event and say hello (as my father did, I think). On the podcast, Dr Daniel Rynhold spoke about the way Rabbi Sacks supported young people into positions of leadership in the Jewish community. It made me feel that I missed out, not just on the chance to meet him, but on the chance to have some kind of role in Orthodox Jewish life in this country. Jewish teenagers tend to join youth movements which gives them contacts and experience as they move into university, where they tend to become active on campus Jewish life and then on into adulthood in communities. I missed that because I was too withdrawn and scared of being bullied if I was around people my own age when I was a teenager. At university I knew people who were involved in the Jewish Society, but I felt it was mostly a social group and I didn’t know how to run social groups, so I didn’t get involved, to the anger of at least one person who thought I was being selfish and stand-offish. I didn’t even go to events much as I was scared of talking to people and didn’t think I would enjoy socialising with other people much anyway. The reality was I was mostly scared and uncertain: of myself, of other people, of what needed doing. Then my depression started and I was on a downward spiral that took over my life until I was on the way out from the “young person” label.

Speaking of community involvement, I have mentioned that my shul wants to buy its own premises, having rented space in other people’s institutions since the community was founded thirty years ago. I was supposed to get a fundraising brochure about it, which was not delivered, although I eventually got a pdf version that I squinted at on WhatsApp. I’m going to be phoned to ask how I can help. I’m not sure what they mean by “help” – is it a polite way of saying how much money can I give? The pdf brochure had a list of possible donations; the smallest is in four figures and most are in five or even six. The cheapest thing listed is that for £1,800 I could donate a cover for a lectern for the small Beis Hemedrash, which is about two orders of magnitude greater than I could afford. That’s if I want to get my name on something, of course. You can give less, but I think they will still want a heftier donation than I feel able to give. But my real worry is what if “help” actually means “do something”? A WhatsApp message from the shul yesterday said that they are looking for people to help with admin, fundraising and marketing. I guess I might be able to help with admin, but fundraising and marketing sound worryingly like talking to people, probably on the phone.

I don’t want to sound negative. I don’t have a problem with the shul trying to raise money for a good cause, and promising to slap someone’s name on a wall or bit of furniture is a time-tested way of doing that, even if it means that some people are in more of a position to give (and be seen to be giving) than others. If it comes to practical help, it’s a nice idea, I just worry that I’m at capacity already, even just working two days a week and trying to help at home. Plus, I worry that I have an ability to screw up even the simplest of tasks lately.

I appreciate that this sounds a lot like I sounded when I was at university and not helping the Jewish Society. Maybe the photos of people having fun at shul events in the brochure sent me back in time a couple of decades, the feeling that everyone fits in and has a good time except me. I don’t know. I have a few days to think about things before I have to have that phone call about how I can help. The hardest thing is that it’s my closest friend in shul who is going to be phoning me, which makes the whole thing ten times more awkward.

14 thoughts on “Surprisingly Social

  1. I think “help” in this context means a donation, although I also hate when they set the suggested donations so high. We were doing a fundraiser for a new Torah and the board was also debating about setting suggested amounts to help ensure that we would meet the goal, or to not set suggested amounts. We chose the latter and received donations from $5 to $1000+ and got about 80% of the way towards the goal (a Torah is much less than a whole new building) until we put the fundraiser on hold because of COVID. Definitely a different situation when the congregation needs the space and when the amount to raise is much higher, but I still don’t love the practice of setting the suggested donations so high.

    I found that while I enjoyed being involved in campus Jewish life in college, my college experience didn’t really translate to long-term Jewish community involvement or leadership roles. I know of some people for whom it did, but it didn’t in my case. My point being that while it’s one thing to mourn Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl, I’m not sure it’s worth beating yourself up over what you did/didn’t do at university.

    I’m glad you finally got to meet up with PIMOJ, rain and all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s frustrating that the suggested donations are so high, especially if they’re going to chase up people to donate. I guess the thinking might be that the community is pretty small, so the ratio of needed donations to families requires big donations.

      Interesting about your college experience. I’ve been beating myself up about this for a long time (before Rabbi Sacks), but you’re right that it’s probably not worthwhile.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Probably true about the ratio of needed donations to big families, but it still sends an unfortunate message to congregants I think. Unless your congregation is mostly comprised of extremely wealthy people. But I suspect that more people, especially in the lousy COVID economy, are not feeling up to a 4-, 5-, 6- figure (!) donation!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to take your newly minted autism diagnosis and put it to work. If the choice is between people judging you for having autism or judging you for just not contributing financially/effort-wise for unknown reasons, whipping out the autism diagnosis is likely to be better for boundary-setting over the longer term.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting idea! Although I think autism doesn’t have much bearing on not contributing financially, which is more because I only work two days a week. If they want me to do marketing or fundraising… I’d like to think I could talk about autism, but I’m not sure that I could. Part of the problem is not knowing what they’re going to ask; if I could plan a response and practise it, I think it would be easier.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m actually not sure about this. I am actually puzzled as to why I’m still struggling to work. I assumed it was depression, but I don’t think I’ve been depressed for a couple of months now. It could be autistic burnout, but I just wonder why I struggle to deal with burnout a lot more now than I did when I was younger. I guess I see this as something I still need to figure out.

          Liked by 2 people

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