Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

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7 thoughts on “Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

  1. I don’t follow what you’re saying about Judaism/feminism/pragmatic reasons. For me, Judaism re: feminism is values-driven, so anything I do/don’t do in this regard is driven by philosophical reasons, not pragmatic or practical. For example, there’s no practical reason why I couldn’t have my male Shabbat guest or husband lead kiddush; the reason I don’t is because I believe women are equally obligated and our house custom is for me to lead kiddush and I do not see why I should do things differently if we have guests.

    There are other things that I do/don’t do because of practical/pragmatic reasons. Philosophically, I believe in Shabbat. But I cannot figure out the time management needed to complete everything needed to be completed on Friday before Shabbat, and it makes Friday night a stressful, lousy experience. But that has nothing to do with feminism.

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    1. I argued that badly. I just meant that Judaism is a religion of action rather than faith, and Jewish feminists want to do actions that were previously forbidden to them. I wasn’t trying to suggest that feminism isn’t rooted in values e.g egalitarianism. The feminism bit wasn’t really relevant to my real point, which is that we need some kind of form of Jewish engagement for people whose inability to do Jewish actions stems from practical factors e.g. disability.

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      1. Ah, this comment makes a lot more sense!

        Yeah, I think this is a good point. I have a post I’d like to write at some point about instances when I feel like the community (myself included – I could have done more…) wasn’t quite there for certain people with a disability/illness and for elderly living alone.

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  2. I’m afraid I have to take issue with you on your characterisation of Christianity as a faith of contemplation and not action akin to Buddhism. This is totally incorrect and I feel very sad if this is how some people view the Christian faith. For practicing Christians, Christianity is a religion of action in every sense of the word, from the words of Christ that his followers will be recognised by their fruit (i.e. their good deeds) (Matt 7 16-20), to St James’s reminder that faith without works is useless (James 2:14-26). I think you are confusing the doctrine of justification by faith alone with the idea that good works are not required — this is false. Good works are the evidence of justification by faith. As a Christian I know that there is nothing I can do to merit salvation, but I also know that the evidence that I am Christian is demonstrated in my actions.

    The other reason you may be confused is that Jesus did teach that rules and rituals, important though they may be, are not ends in themselves – but an aid to worship and can be put aside if needed e.g. when he healed a man on the sabbath day, to the fury of the Pharisees (Mark 3:1-6). He made the famous remark: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

    And then you state that Christians marginalize non-believers. Not sure what you mean here. Surely if you don’t believe the basic tenets of the faith then you are not a Christian? I do agree Judaism is different here as it is more than a faith – it is also a culture and an ethnic group — you probably accept secular Jews as equally Jewish even though they may not even believe in God – am I right? Yet in my opinion Christians are among the most tolerant and accommodating of people, accepting a broad range of views and opinions evident by the sheer variety of denominations.

    Having said that belief or faith is fundamental to Christianity, there is always plenty of room for accommodating differing interpretations and for doubting. By definition faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1.) Christ himself understood that his people would sometimes have doubts (as did St Thomas) – and there is plenty of guidance for supporting Christians who struggle with doubt. I expect you have sometimes doubted elements of your own faith. Ultimately, when it comes to faith, it is a decision of the will as much as of 100% conviction all of the time.

    Sorry to have gone on at length here, but it does upset me to see my faith so misunderstood.

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    1. I’m sorry if I’ve upset you or mischaracterised Christianity. It was not my intention. I was thinking of justification by faith alone, yes (I admit my knowledge of Christianity is mainly from the Reformation era, which I studied at university). But I was also just comparing the daily ritual involvement required of religious Jews with the required ritual involvement of Christians.

      I do want to point out that it was specifically more fundamentalist forms of Christianity that I said were more hostile to religious doubt/disbelief, not all forms of Christianity, based on my encounters with people raised fundamentalist (usually in the USA) who left the church.

      (I would also like to point out that the Talmud, which is essentially descended from the Pharisaic tradition, also states that one should break the Sabbath to save life.)

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  3. Unfortunately, the Christians who get the most attention and press here in the U.S. are the least tolerant, most judgmental and unkind factions of the religion.
    I also hate bureaucracy so I can understand your worries. So much of it is petty and illogical.

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