If We Ever Get Out of Here

Trapped inside these four walls,

Sent inside forever,

Never seeing no one

Nice again,

Like You,

Mama, you,

Mama, you.

If I ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To a registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If I ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

The extended quote from Band on the Run by Wings is indulgent, but expresses better than I can how I feel with the latest COVID restrictions just announced as coming in this week, as England (and I mean England, not the whole UK) goes back into full lockdown, albeit with schools, colleges and universities staying open this time.

***

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I didn’t come to any great insights or peace of mind over Shabbat about my autism diagnosis. I’m still too scared that I don’t have a 100% definite diagnosis yet (if you can ever have a 100% diagnosis of something as subjective as high-functioning autism), even if the psychiatrist did describe the rest of the process as “just dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s.” I think it’s probably something that will sink in more over time. My parents are hopeful that I will find more help in the workplace now. That may be true, but I need to find a job first, something that will be harder with the return to lockdown.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal semi-lockdown Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue), ate with Mum and Dad, read, did Torah study etc. I was not intending to do so much Torah study after the assessment, but I got into it and did an hour or so on Friday and Saturday. I guess it shows that I do really enjoy Torah study when I feel able, particularly when I’m studying topics I’m interested in, which over Shabbat was Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), specifically Iyov (Job), which I’m now halfway through, as well as teachings from Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav and letters of Rav Kook.

Other than that, nothing really happened until after Shabbat. I had a list of chores to do, most notably getting ready the stuff that the psychiatrist wanted to see before my final assessment. This was interrupted by the news of the new lockdown. PIMOJ and I were supposed to be going on our third in-person date on Thursday, which is now out of the question. We’re hoping to have a hurried date tomorrow, although I’ll have to reorganise the call I had scheduled with my rabbi mentor. Technically I can still go to volunteer on Wednesdays (I think… the announcement is not completely clear to me), but I don’t drive and I’m not sure that I want to risk travelling on the buses with infections and the “R-number” rising. I was also due for a checkup at the dentist next week which has been delayed since the summer for various reasons. I don’t have a toothache, but I have always been good about dental checkups, so it feels worrying postponing it indefinitely. I guess I’ve been vaguely worried about my teeth since I had my first filling (at the age of thirty-six!) last year. My parents were also supposed to be going to the dentist soon, in Mum’s case for quite important reasons about seeing whether she can take a particular cancer drug she’s been prescribed. Then there is shul. I was just getting back into the habit of going regularly and now we’re not sure if places of worship will close down again.

Things feel grim. At least in the first lockdown the weather was good and the days were getting longer. This feels like a cold, dark, bleak time. The government are hoping to ease the lockdown by Christmas, but I worry it won’t happen. That may just be pessimism and negativity talking, though. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I feel sad for those who do, especially the children. (Of course, we’ve gone through five Jewish festivals already this year with limited or no shul access or ability to meet friends and family.)

Autism Assessment (1)

I slept badly last night. It probably wasn’t surprising that I had an anxious dream the night before my autism assessment, but the details were a bit odd. I dreamt about someone who was around (in the real world) at the worst time of my life who I hurt, and by whom I got hurt by in the process. I still feel I haven’t had closure on that and probably never will. It’s not that surprising I dreamt about her, as I still think about that situation a lot and am drawing on it for my novel, so it’s been at the forefront of my mind lately. The same dream also involved being in the library of a university I worked at for a while, where a (real life) Jewish lecturer was talking about the library having sixty-four windows representing sixty-four types of knowledge (philosophy, history, physics etc.) none of which included Torah study, which I think was about feeling sometimes that there is no place for religious Jews in secular Western society, and perhaps more broadly that there is no place for me in the world.

I woke feeling anxious and drained, which was not a good start, and I still didn’t know when my appointment was actually going to bed. I got ready for my appointment at 9.30am as per the email I received yesterday, only to be phoned a few minutes beforehand to be told the appointment was at 10.30am after all, as I was told on the phone. NHS, etc. At least they did get in touch.

The appointment itself went well. It lasted over an hour, with me talking for most of the time. We went over childhood experiences, recent history, general medical history and so on. I did use my prepared notes a bit. At the end, the psychiatrist said that I’m probably on the spectrum. However, before she finalises the diagnosis, she wants to look at the notes from my previous assessment ten years or more ago (which were not on file for some reason). I’m going to scan a copy of that over the weekend and email it along with my notes about why I think I’m on the spectrum so she can see the rest of that. Then we’ll have a shorter meeting in a few weeks to discuss diagnosis and recommendations. But it sounded like it was very likely that I’m going to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, or at least close enough that I won’t feel stupid for thinking that I’m there.

I think it’s all positive. It’s a relief just to hear that I’m probably on the spectrum. It explains a lot, and hopefully will stop me beating myself up so much about things when I can’t cope well with them.

I’m glad I have Shabbat to pause and process what happened today. Shabbat is good for processing. I am going to shul (synagogue) this evening. I did think about skipping a week as I’m tired, but I think it’s good to stay in the habit of going regularly and if I stay at home I’ll probably be just as tired. I might not do so much Torah study as usual though. I will probably be exhausted tomorrow, but that’s not a problem.

I might post more about this after Shabbat, if I have any more thoughts to add. I’ve got to dash now as Shabbat starts in an hour and a half now the clocks have gone back.

The World War I Flying Ace

I didn’t post on Friday because I ran out of time before Shabbat (the Sabbath). That’s probably going to be the case for all Fridays until late spring. I didn’t have a lot to say anyway. Now I have the post-Shabbat in the winter “wanting to curl up and not do much” feeling. Not a lot happened in the last two days anyway.

On Friday I did manage to get my medication before Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue). It wasn’t raining, so we had the first half of the service (Kabbalat Shabbat) outside so we could take off our masks and sing, which was good (the singing and the masklessness, although I took care to stand over two metres from anyone else regardless). I intended not to do so much Torah study after dinner so I didn’t burn out the next day, but I got involved and did over an hour, which I guess is good (that I was so involved). Then I read the Jewish Review of Books and went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep, so read more of the Jewish Review of Books. Today was much the same, eating, sleeping, praying and reading.

I had a settled feeling over Shabbat. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. A feeling that I’m looking for a stronger connection with God, but that I no longer feel victimised and attacked by Him, or that I can never find religious meaning. I guess PIMOJ has something to do with that, but it’s not entirely down to her. I feel like I know what I should be doing with my life, which is writing Jewish books. At the same time, I do still worry that I’m not a good enough writer, or that I won’t be able to handle the more practical aspects of writing (finding an agent and a publisher etc.). I also feel obliged to look for other work so I’m not entirely dependent on my parents and the state hence my intention to send off some more job applications this coming week, even though I increasingly feel that I’m not going to get work that way.

That was really it for the last two days. After Shabbat I did some stuff around the house for my parents, but nothing much.

***

After about two years, I finished reading all the daily and Sunday Peanuts (Snoopy) cartoons. That’s 17,897 comic strips. There is actually another volume in The Complete Peanuts series, containing various one-off strips and ephemera; I’m not sure if I’m enough of a completist to buy it. It’s pretty well-known that American culture celebrates heroes, not “losers.” Just look at the way Donald Trump shouts “Loser” at everyone he doesn’t like (which is a lot of people). Somehow Charles Schulz managed to take a comic strip about a loser and make it popular in the States, which is not easy. I mean “loser” in the nicest possible sense, from someone who considers himself a loser and thinks that losers are more interesting than winners. It’s a surprisingly deep and existential comic about failure and frustration, but also very funny and endearing, perhaps because it’s not actually pitched as a comic about failure, it just happens to go there a lot.

400 Word Post

I think I may have overdone things on Friday. I went to shul (synagogue), which was quite good, at least by COVID standards. We went out for Lecha Dodi so we could sing it, as currently singing is only permitted outside. I sat with one of my shul friends who I hadn’t really seen for months. I do find shul hard at the moment and it’s hard to tell why. I don’t like wearing a mask, I know, but somehow the lack of talking and atmosphere affects me in a way that I did not expect. It feels like I needed the social aspect of shul to be there in the background, even though I did not like being involved in it myself, and even though it sometimes fed my social anxiety.

I came home and we went straight into dinner, then I did some Torah study for an hour or so. I was going to read a novel before bed, but I was too tired to read more than a couple of pages. Maybe I needed more downtime, as I got a headache today that reduced the amount of Torah study I did this afternoon. I didn’t really do much today because of that, just half an hour of Torah study and prayers. I slept for an hour and a half after lunch, which I didn’t want to do, but I was too tired to fight against it.

I guess it’s not surprising if the headache is a physical symptom of burnout, as I was busy all week last week and Shabbat (the Sabbath/Saturday) was my first day off. Tomorrow is set to be busy too, with a date with PIMOJ and then home for a Zoom meeting with my shul community. The shul has never had premises of it’s own, currently renting spaces in other institutions. There is the possibility of buying some land that would enable us to have a custom-built building, but obviously finance is a big question for a small community like ours, hence the meeting. I’m not sure how much of it will interest me bearing in mind (a) financial stuff tends to go over my head and (b) settings don’t matter so much to me, but I felt I ought to show my face and take an interest to be part of the community.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

A fund-raising email from an autism charity told me today that autistic people are nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-autistic people, which is depressing, but I fear has the ring of truth. Elsewhere, a blog I follow tells me that only 16% of autistic people are in work (although I suspect there are more non-diagnosed autistic people who are in work and haven’t needed a diagnosis) and only 5% get married (it doesn’t say how many of those marriages work out). I’m not sure what happens if you take out the severe autism. Of course, secular Western society defines people by their career and Orthodox Jewish society largely defines them by their marriage and offspring, so it is easy to end up feeling like a failure – which I guess is where the suicide statistic comes in.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like the first Shabbat of winter, cold and dark, and over early enough that it wasn’t worth eating dinner for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). I slept for something like thirteen or fourteen hours out of twenty-five, which was not good. I read two chapters of Iyov (Job) which was good, as Iyov is about the hardest book of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) from a linguistic point of view, very, very difficult poetry with lots of obscure words (hard from a theological point of view too, of course, but that wasn’t my main point). Other than that not a lot happened.

I was vaguely anxious, or at least apprehensive about a lot of things: maybe Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which starts tomorrow night and certainly the job interview on Wednesday and my fears about what will happen if I get the job which is at a Very Important Institution (can I work full-time? Will they let me work part-time? Can I cope with work at all? What will it be like working somewhere so important and prestigious, not to mention high security? What about commuting with COVID restrictions?).

I also worried about dating PIMOJ. At the moment I feel inhibited from telling her when I have a depressive day, because she’s so positive and I worry how she will react if I’m depressed. However, that leaves me feeling like a fake and worrying that we can’t build a relationship on honesty if I feel I have to hide how I feel for fear of rejection. I also wonder if she is too religious for me, which seems a weird thing to think, compared with my previous relationships. It doesn’t help that we’ve never met in person because of COVID and it isn’t certain when we will be able to do so. I feel that things might be better, or at least clearer, if we met in person, but at the moment we’re stuck with instant messenger and Skype calls. I do like her, though, even if I worry we’re not on the same wavelength.

Love of God; Loss and Gain of Friends

Shabbat was good. I slept too much though: about ten hours at night and another two and a half after lunch. It meant I didn’t have time for much Torah study or recreational reading.

***

I had a thought about being loved by God. I used to say that I couldn’t believe that God loves me, then that I could accept God loves me intellectually, but not emotionally. I thought this was all tied up with suffering, mine and that of the world in general. I realised yesterday that that’s not the issue, or not the main issue. While I’m not sure how much I accept that God loves me, my real worry is that I won’t be able to cope with the future suffering he makes me go through, whether it’s physical pain or even greater loneliness (when my parents aren’t here). I worry that I won’t cope and (a) will be in extreme pain (physical or emotional) and (b) will stop being religious out of anger or despair. I’m not sure where to go with these thoughts right now.

***

I realised I’ve changed a lot of my social contacts in the last six months or so. I’ve lost touch with shul (synagogue) friends and acquaintances because of lockdown. I have not been in touch with E. properly since we broke up (although she tried to get back together with me, or at least to get back in contact, I did not think it was a good idea). I think there has been a high turnover of people reading my blog in the last six months to a year, with some people vanishing and others starting to read. I guess I find all the change a bit disconcerting (blame autism if you want). I’m still blaming myself for friends that I lost a couple of years ago (real life and online), which was at least partially my fault.

***

I was trying not to think about my novel over Shabbat, but a possible solution, or part solution, to the problem of the climax came into my head suddenly. It will take a lot of restructuring, but I’m open to that at this stage.

***

More Rav Kook: “Every person who feels within himself the depth of penitential remorse and the anxiety to mend his flaws — both those whose redress is within his reach and those he hopes to redress in time by the mercy of God — should include himself in the category of the righteous.” from The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems p.65

***

I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but can I just say how much I hate the new WordPress editor? I thought I would get used to it over time, but the more I use it, the worse it seems. I can’t work out how to get back to the classic editor (properly, not just for a particular block). I can only assume the new editor was developed by a mole for rival blog platform, trying to bring the company down from within; I can’t believe someone actually thought it was a good idea.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

Quiet Shabbat

Someone is playing loud music outside at 10.30pm…

Shabbat was pretty good. No insomnia this week. I woke up at 9ish and said the Shema (the most important morning prayer, which at the moment should be said by 9.30ish). I wanted to stay awake, but was tempted to wrap myself in my duvet to self-comfort and fell asleep BUT I woke up in time for the later deadline for saying the Shacharit Amidah (second most important morning prayer), so I’m counting this morning as a win as usually I don’t manage those at all. I didn’t doze this afternoon either (read, studied Torah and went for a walk), so I might go to sleep at a reasonable time tonight (if the music stops).

I mentioned to my parents my theory that my depression is now mostly autistic burnout after doing too much and they agreed. They said they’d thought that for a while, but hadn’t known how I would react if they said anything. I definitely still have odd days when I hit clinically depressed-type lows when burnt out, but I don’t think they stick around long enough to be classified as clinical depression (which should last two weeks). I look forward to hearing what my therapist says about this on Tuesday. (For what it’s worth, I think I still do have things to bring to therapy at the moment.) I do still struggle with mornings, although as my Dad said, none of us in the family are morning people (actually my sister is now, but only since she married a morning person).

That was it, really, aside from some dating anxiety. I seem to be able to keep a lid on it during the day, but it explodes in the evening for some reason. I’m excited to be messaging the person I’m messaging and so far things seem good, we seem to be connecting well, but I’m just terrified some unsolvable problem will open up somewhere down the line. I know, it’s been LESS THAN ONE WEEK that we’ve been messaging each other, I really shouldn’t be worrying that far ahead. But I do jump ahead when thinking about dating. I get so terrified of rejection, or of losing someone who I have come to care about, that I worry about it from the off, which is not good on multiple levels.

***

Speaking of JDate, I got an amusing message from someone who does not think we are a match but who recognised me from primary school! I have to say I don’t recognise her, but I suspect her hair in her profile picture is not her natural colour or style. In any case, I don’t really remember most of the girls from primary school, I didn’t really speak to them much at that age. I mean, I didn’t speak to most of the boys, let alone the girls.

***

I mentioned that I’ve been reading Mishlei (Proverbs in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and that I’ve struggled in the past with its rather rigid theology that good is always rewarded and evil punished in this world, which is not what I see. It’s fair to say that many of the proverbs do read like that, but some don’t. I found one I liked over Shabbat: “The way of a man may be torturous and strange/Though his actions are blameless and proper.” (21.8, The JPS Bible translation). I like that. I don’t know if my life is bad, but it does feel torturous and strange at times, so it’s good that I don’t have to blame myself for that. Also, the Hebrew word translated as ‘torturous’ is ‘hafakhpakh,’ which is a good word to say aloud (the ‘kh’ is a guttural like in the Scottish ‘loch’).

Running Out of Petrol

It rained a lot last night.  I stayed up for a while listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lightning.  It’s been raining on and off all day, but without thunder and lightning.  That’s brought the temperature back to the comfortable range (mid-twenties Celsius), although it’s still warm and humid.  The BBC is predicting more thunderstorms for this afternoon and evening.

I woke up late again, somewhat more refreshed than recently from sleeping in the lower temperature, but still depressed and tired.  I feel like I’ve been struggling against the weather the last few days, which distracted me from depression, but now the temperature is lower, the depression is back.

***

Mum was sick last night, probably side-effects from her final dose of chemotherapy, which I guess is a reminder that there’s still a long way to go with regard to her treatment, even if the chemo is over now.  It’s still scary if I think about it.

***

I created a JDate profile.  I hope I’m not making a big mistake.  I sometimes procrastinate about something for ages, then something in me snaps and I seem to do it very suddenly, as if on impulse, if you only saw my external actions and not the inner procrastination beforehand.

I described myself as a librarian and writer, which is true, I’m just not being paid to do either of those things at the moment.  There was a bit where you could pick interests from a list: no reading, but loads of different sports and genres of films.  Hmm.  I put running, cooking, writing and “sci-fi” (even though serious science fiction fans tend to prefer “SF” to “sci-fi”), but I found the lack of options, particularly unusual option, irritating.

They seem to have massively changed the site since I was last on it and I didn’t get time to experiment with searching.  It showed me a few women whose profiles seemed to match with mine, for what that’s worth, including someone I went to school with who I’ve come across on dating sites before – one could say that we are constantly being thrown together by FATE, except that I see zero chemistry or shared interests with her and am pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

I did see someone I might like to email, but am currently too nervous.  Her profile said she was looking in an age range that was somewhat younger than I am (she’s twenty-seven and interested in dating men up to thirty-two; I’m thirty-seven).  I think I look younger than I am, but who knows?  I was nervous even before I saw her preferred age range, just nervous about reaching out to someone even though the worst she can do is ignore me.  I would need to upgrade my access to the site to message her i.e. part with hard cash!  You have very limited access to the site without paying these days, it seems, but I am still nervous about this and not sure it’s a good idea.  I’m having a lot of “No one would want to be with me if she knew I’m depressed/autistic/unemployed/weird” thoughts.

***

It always seems so hard to do anything on a Friday, even in summer, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts at a sensible time.  I did my chores (still need to hoover), but I feel exhausted, without having done much else except the JDate profile.  The mystics say that God pumps new energy into the universe via Shabbat and that without it, the universe would run out of energy.  That seems to be empirically testable in my life.  Fridays are definitely a “running out of petrol” day, every week.

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

Bonus Post: Why I’m Religious

I’ve been thinking lately about why I stay frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) when I struggle a lot with Orthodox Jewish practice because of my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as feeling uncomfortable with some attitudes in the frum community.  At a basic level it’s that I believe in God and Judaism, I just struggle on a practical level with keeping it sometimes.  But I think there’s more to it than that.  I know lots of Jews believe in God on some level without translating that to religious observance.  My fears that God does not love me could have been a push factor away from observance; certainly my religious OCD (which thankfully is largely under control now, although it still takes effort to keep it that way) was a push factor that made it hard to stay frum, although I did manage to stay.

Some kiruv (outreach) organisations talk about proofs of Judaism, generally arguments for the existence of God and the divine origin of the Torah.  I’m not going to go into them here.  I don’t really find them convincing.  I don’t think you can “prove” that God exists in the way that you can prove that 2 + 2 =4 or that the atomic number of hydrogen is 1.  I don’t think that standard of proof exists outside of maths and the physical and natural sciences.  As someone with a background more in the humanities, it doesn’t bother me so much these days that I don’t have that same degree of certainty in my beliefs, although it did in the past.

I think the survival of the Jewish people through thousands of years of statelessness, exile and persecution is inspiring, and a little eerie, especially our return to our homeland, as predicted by the Torah.  That fills me with a kind of awe, although it’s not strictly speaking a “proof” of anything.

I also find it interesting how much Judaism has shaped Western culture, and to a lesser extent global culture.  The historian Paul Johnson, who is not Jewish, says the following in his History of the Jews:

“All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time.  The Jews had this gift.  To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.  Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”

(If this interests you then The Gifts of the Jews by another non-Jewish historian, Thomas Cahill, explores this theme in greater depth.)

I find this inspiring.  I’m not sure it’s really at the core of what motivates me to be Jewish, but it does help.

In terms of other things that motivated me to stay observant, while I don’t want Jewish observance to sound like a quid pro quo, there are a few things that I get from Judaism that I probably wouldn’t get in secular postmodern Western society if I wasn’t religious.

I think Judaism gives me structure.  I would probably structure my days even if I wasn’t frum, but I don’t think I would observe Shabbat as a day totally without work, chores, TV, laptop, phone, etc. without being religious.  I just know that without it seeming an absolute commandment, the outside world would slowly creep into it and ruin it.  Shabbat helps me structure my week in a very clear way, making sure I have time for physical pleasure, rest and spiritual re-connection.  And I don’t think I would structure my year the way Judaism makes me do.  The festivals are mostly connected with particular seasons and bring with them times for doing particular things, like thinking about freedom and Jewish history at Pesach or repentance and personal growth before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It provides a shape to the whole year that I would not otherwise have.

I enjoy the richness and complexity of the Jewish tradition.  The fact that it is so vast, and that there is always so much to learn and that people have spent three thousand years thinking about the big questions of life.  There is definitely something enjoyable about discovering a new idea in Judaism, a new perspective on a text or on life, particularly when it involves translating a text in a dead language or finding a sudden insight into an apparently bizarre or meaningless story or saying.

Connected to this, I find it meaningful that there is a bond between me and other Jews in other times and places.  I find the Jewish community difficult at times, but there is something to be said for being part of a three thousand year global tradition.  While it is easy to complain about the internal divisions in contemporary Jewish life (Orthodox vs. Progressive vs. secular; Israel vs. diaspora; Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi/Mizrachi), I think when the chips are down, so to speak, when Jews are in serious crisis, 90% of the global Jewish community will come together to pray together, send practical help, volunteer, whatever is needed.

I think the Jewish ethic appeals to me too.  One can obviously find aspects of Jewish/Biblical ethics that are challenging from a modern day perspective and I’m not going to deny that (religious war, sexuality).  But the Jewish ethic as a whole appeals to me.  I find it very balanced.  It praises learning above everything, but also sees the importance of putting learning into practice.  It admits that this world involves suffering, but it wants to make it better, rather than postpone happiness until Heaven, yet it also admits that utopian perfection is for the End of Days; in this world, we do small acts to make things better.  It has a strong ethic of not hurting others, not just physically or financially, but also with words; it’s understanding of the power words speaks a lot to me.  Also the fact that in Jewish thought all people are equal because created by God, but there are multiple paths to God, both within Judaism and outside Judaism; non-Jews don’t have to convert to be “good.”

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Because God is Infinite His Pain is Infinite

I made a crucial typo in yesterday’s post.  It should have read, “Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.”  I put “with” instead of “without.”  Whoops.  Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a whole long list of historical editions of the Bible that, thanks to typos, enjoined readers to “sin on more” instead of “sin no more” or commanded them that “Thou shalt commit adultery” missing the “not” or suggested that “The fool hath said in his heart there is a God” (instead of “no god”).  Ahem.  At least my mistake won’t cost me anything; the missing “no” in the last quote cost the printers £3000 (a huge sum of money in the seventeenth century) and the edition was suppressed, so they couldn’t make anything back from it.

Anyway, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK.  I was mostly bouncing back and forth between depression and sort-of OKness.  I worried a bit that I made a mistake in breaking up with E., or that I didn’t make a mistake, but I will still be single forever.  I think I had some other depressive thoughts, but I don’t remember what they were now.  I know I had a few morbid thoughts about my parents dying.  I slept a lot again, hence feeling really awake now (midnight) and not sure what to do.

The one really good thing that happened was something I came across in the holy book Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, translated by J. Hershy Worch.  It’s from a sermon delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto on Shabbat Shekalim (Mishpatim), 14 February 1942, in the middle of the Holocaust.  I’m going to quote it at length:

For behold!  A Jew, tortured in his suffering, may think he is the only one in pain, as though his individual, personal pain, and the pain of all other Jews, has no affect Above, God forbid.  But, as the verse (Isaiah 63:9) says, “In all their pain is His pain,” and as we learn in the Talmud (Hagigah 15b) in the name of R. Meir, “When a person suffers, to what expression does the Shechinah (Divine) give utterance? ‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’”  In sacred literature we learn that God, as it were, suffers the pain of a Jew much more than that person himself feels it.

Possibly because God is infinite – and hence unknowable in the world – His pain at the suffering of Jewish people is also infinite.  Perhaps it is just impossible for any human to feel such immense pain, it is impossible even to apprehend the level of God’s pain, to know that He bears it.

Hagigah is actually one of the few masechtot (volumes) of Talmud I actually own a hard copy of, so I looked up the reference.  In the Steinsaltz (Koren Noé) Edition Talmud, the translation explains that this pain (‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’) is referring to someone who is in pain because he has been sentenced to lashes or to death by the court (in ancient times, when Jewish courts permitted corporal and capital punishment).  The Talmud goes on to say, if God feels so much pain when a wicked person is punished, how much more so when a righteous person is in pain.  In fact, the quotation comes in a whole long narrative about Elisha ben Avuyah the Talmudic rabbi who became a heretic, and how some of the rabbis tried to get him into Heaven (so to speak) after his death even though he was very wicked.

So this would indicate that God does feel my pain and care about me on an individual level, not just because I’m human/Jewish (I know it is a very particularist Jewish text, like a lot of Jewish texts, particularly mystical ones).  This is the question that has been bothering me for a couple of years now.  I’m not sure what I feel now I have an answer.  I think I do feel closer to God.  I’m not sure what else I feel.  My mood has been going up and down, as I said.

That’s all I have to say tonight.

“Boy, does that sound like a boring person’s idea of fun!”

I’m hearing Alice Otterloop’s dismissal from Cul de Sac applied to my life today (see the title comment).  It’s not so bad really.  Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner yesterday was fine, but late.  I then ended up spending an hour or more on Torah study, mostly trying to get back into Talmud Berachot to keep up with the resumed shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue), even though I can’t go to it because we’re shielding Mum.  I didn’t understand much of it and 10pm is probably too late for Talmud.  I read a bit and went to sleep around 1.30am.

Today I went for walk after lunch, which I hoped would stop me napping in the afternoon, as it seemed to do last week, but it didn’t help and I still slept for a couple of hours (not sure how long exactly as I forgot to look at the clock when I went to bed).  Hence, it’s just gone midnight and I’m quite awake, although listless and vaguely bad tempered.  I’m not sure why I feel like this.  It may connect to bursts of depression that I had on and off during the day.  I only managed forty-five minutes of Torah study today, much of it going over that Talmud passage again.  I spent some more time reading a novel.  Then we had seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) and played two games of Rummikub.  Dad won both.  He usually does as he has a mathematical brain and it’s a numbers game.  Despite being autistic, I don’t really have a numbers brain.  It’s things like this that make me worry that I’m not actually autistic, just rubbish at living life.  Huh.

I’ve nearly finished the novel I’m re-reading (Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Bad Therapy).  I don’t think I enjoyed the Doctor Who spin-off novels enough for me to enjoy re-reading them too often.  I find a book I don’t think I remember much about, but once I start reading, it comes back to me.  With Doctor Who TV episodes, I enjoy them so much I can watch them umpteen times even knowing the plot (and dialogue, cliff-hangers, and more interesting shot compositions).  Ditto for some of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, but apparently not for the novels.

I’m back in a depressed mood, and too awake to sleep…  Not sure what to do.  I might break my “No screens after 11pm” rule (honoured much more in the breach than the observance) and watch TV.  Maybe The Avengers or something.  Something silly, to try to unwind and switch off the depressed thoughts.

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.

Crushes and Being in the Present

There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly.  I’m not sure why I do this.  I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up.  Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything.  Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.

One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes.  I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time.  As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on.  It’s very adolescent.  I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance.  It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way).  So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.

I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).

It’s not just that.  Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends.  She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes.  Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either.  Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am.  Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her.  I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships.  I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.

***

The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.

He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13)  I don’t like that translation very much.  I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation).  Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.

He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak).  I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future.  Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.”  This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.

In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.”  This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.

He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage.  “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.”  Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering.  Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)

That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me.  Whether I can do that is another question.  It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.

***

Today I slept a lot.  When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed.  I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege.  I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.

I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard.  I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger.  It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.

“Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

(I don’t like The Rolling Stones much, but Dad was just playing this and it seemed appropriate.)

I feel very depressed today, but quite not as much as yesterday.  I still feel alone somehow, even though I know people care about me.  I worry about my life, my future,  if I even have a future.  I just want to withdraw, from everything.  I’m still trying to accept and experience my feelings, but it’s hard when they are like this, so strong and overwhelmingly negative with no obvious truths to teach me.  I try to focus on E. and on my parents.  Maybe I’ve become over-reliant on this blog, and reading other people’s blogs.  Maybe it’s no substitute for real-life contact and friendships, not that real-life contact of any kind is easy at the moment.  I thought a bit about going cold turkey from blogs (mine and other people’s), but I don’t think I could do it.  I’m glad I’ve been in lockdown with my parents; I think we would all have gone crazy if I hadn’t been, particularly given Mum’s chemo.

I’m going to try to recuperate over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Not to worry too much about prayer or Torah study (although it might be helpful to read a few more pages of Sacred Fire), just to read light things and try to relax.

***

I wrote the above in the early afternoon.  After that I managed to engage with the day a bit: I picked up my prescription, went for a walk, did my Shabbat chores, finished my devar Torah (Torah thought) and spent an hour or so working on my novel (only writing 400 words, but doing some research and planning, so pretty good overall) as well as having a quick Skype call with E.  I’m not sure how much this engagement was a cause or an effect of my mood picking up in the afternoon i.e. did I do things because I felt better or did I feel better because I did things?

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Self-Hating Jew

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) next-door neighbours held more socially distanced, but (I think) still lockdown-breaking, minyanim (prayer meetings) in their garden over Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. There was also some kind of gathering or party going on last night in the garden of the house behind us. They didn’t go in until 2am and made a lot of noise before then. Strangely, I got bothered more by the minyanim and couldn’t work out why, as the party seemed more antisocial (assuming they weren’t all from the same house, which is possible).

My eventual reasoning was that, despite being an Orthodox Jew myself, I’m carrying around a lot of anger and possibly other emotions around Orthodox Jews and my place in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, particularly around feeling that I never found my place in the community, that I have to hide who I really am or fear ostracism, as well as anger about people not being friendly or setting me up on shidduch dates when I was single. It’s something I might bring to therapy this week, although there is some other stuff I’d also like to talk about (I might have to prioritise). The anger and hatred is kind of weird. Jewish self-hatred is a real thing, but it’s usually associated with people right on the edge of the community, not people who are religious and integrated to the community (and I am integrated on some level).

I think it ties in with my view of God as punitive, or at least indifferent to me. I don’t believe God is punitive or indifferent to other people, just to me. It might be related to low self-esteem in general, or to my feelings of not fitting into the community. Not being a good enough Jew, which then leads to anger back at the community.

***

Otherwise it was a fairly normal Shabbat. I struggled to sleep again on Friday night. I’m not sure why. It seems to happen sometimes without cause, but this time it could have been the noise (although insomnia carried on for two hours after the noise stopped), the fact I drank some Diet Coke at dinner (I don’t know why I’ve got in the habit of doing this again, although I’m not convinced it really makes much difference) or the fact that I forgot to take my tablets until right before I went to bed. The latter is probably the key factor.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I lay in bed for quite a long time with my thoughts, which was not comfortable. I thought I was feeling more comfortable with my thoughts and in control of them lately, but obviously not. I can’t remember exactly what I was thinking, just that it was unpleasant. I did intermittently get up and read, a mixture of The Siege: The Saga of Israel and Zionism (which is really good) and Batman graphic novels.

I fell asleep around 4am and slept through the morning, being woken intermittently by the Shacharit minyan (Morning Prayer Service) next door and falling asleep again (I dreamt I wrote them an angry letter of complaint), then I slept for three more hours after lunch. Not good. I will struggle to sleep tonight. I did wake from my nap refreshed though, which was good as generally I don’t feel so refreshed from sleep, either night sleep or naps.

Other than that I just did some Torah study and ate with my parents. There’s not a lot else to report.

The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.

***

I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.

***

That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

Anger and Resentment

I had a not so good Shabbat (Sabbath).  It wasn’t bad exactly, just not great.

Our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) next door neighbours had a minyan (prayer quorum) in their garden again for all the Shabbat prayer services.  I got annoyed about this because I worry about whether it could expose Mum to coronavirus.  Last week some rabbis from the local community sent out some guidelines saying that now lockdown has lifted a little, garden minyanim are OK, but only if people stay in their own garden and just daven (pray) at the same time as their neighbours.  This on the other hand was ten men in one garden and it annoyed me a lot (plus there was the noise when I was trying to pray in my own room).  So that upset me.

I was tempted to write a load of angry stuff about Haredim, given that there have been a LOT of incidents of Haredi Jews breaking lockdown in the UK, US and Israel, some of which have got into the mainstream media as a result of the police breaking gatherings up.  I decided I shouldn’t stereotype, because some Haredi Jews are keeping lockdown, but not only have they got themselves a bad name, they’re giving other Jews a bad name too, which upsets me.

I guess I have a degree of anger and frustration over the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community (I’m deliberately blurring the line between Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox there).  I felt that I wasn’t particularly well supported with my mental health or integrating into shuls (synagogues) and the wider community.  I don’t get many Shabbat meal invitations, as single people in the frum community normally do and certainly not many people tried to find me a wife they way the community “should” do for “normal” people. I know a lot of people with similar issues to me (“older” singles, depressed, ba’alei teshuva (became religious later in life), not accepting certain Haredi beliefs and practices) complain of being marginalised in the community.  I haven’t experienced that clearly, but it could be a factor.  I hang out sometimes on… not antiHaredi blogs per se, but blogs by people who see problems in the Haredi world that they want to change (or mock).  It’s easy to get sucked into a negative, critical attitude, particularly as I don’t really subscribe to a lot of things the Haredi world believes in.

On the other hand, I admit I feel like a square peg in a round hole not just here but in every community I try to fit into (e.g. Doctor Who fandom, group therapy).  I never feel like I fit and that’s probably at least partly my fault, or the fault of my social anxiety and high functioning autism.  “High functioning” can be a bit of a misnomer, as there can be plenty of situations, especially social situations, where I don’t function well at all.  I feel like it’s partly my fault and I should find a healthier way to work through my anger and resentment.  I worry that even if I find a Modern Orthodox community that is a better fit on paper, I still won’t be able to fit in and make friends.

***

I got a bit upset around seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, so effectively dinner time) today.  Mum and Dad had accepted some food from friends during the week that I wouldn’t have accepted because of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) fears and there was a bit of discussion about what to do with some other food that was OK, but had a question mark on it for another reasons.  Things became a bit tense for minute.  We didn’t have an argument, but it made me think.  I used to look forward to leaving home so I could run my kosher kitchen the way I wanted.  The reality is that because of depression, I’m thirty-six and still live with my parents and their rules.  I have to compromise.  And I have to compromise with my sister’s rules when I go there.  And on one level that’s OK, because life is about compromise and only crazy fundamentalists are happy about riding roughshod over other people in the name of Absolute Truth.  But on another level, I feel envious of other people whose families all keep the same level of kashrut.  It must be so much easier on so many levels.

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I had finished the Doctor Who short story collection I had been reading and didn’t feel like engaging with the history book I just started, so I ended up reading a Batman graphic novel (Death and the Maidens).  It wasn’t a particularly good one, sadly.  I hadn’t read Batman for quite some time.  I got really into it for a while, then drifted out again.  I just started a re-read of a long arc that I had mixed feelings about first time around.

I did fall sleep this afternoon, so my sleep pattern is going to be messed up now, particularly as I’m having a lot of late-night, post-Shabbat screen time, offloading here and catching up on blogs posted today.  This might be a mistake.

Well, I should probably think about bed, as it’s long past midnight now.  I’m not sure how coherent this post is, either in the abstract or to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Orthodox Jewish community, but it’s too late to work on it any more, so here goes…

Audacity Towards Heaven

I started re-reading the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942.  It’s a collection of sermons Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe, gave in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  He hid the papers, along with other writings of his, with other papers about life in the Ghetto hidden by the Oyneg Shabbos group who tried to record life in the Ghetto.  Rabbi Shapira was murdered by the Nazis, but after the War the papers were rediscovered and Rabbi Shapira’s books were published.

I’ve read the book before, but I read it as a sedra book i.e. all the sermons on one sedra or festival (it actually starts with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in 1939 and not Shabbat Bereshit several weeks later) and then all the sermons on the next sedra to coincide with those points in the Jewish year.    So three sermons on Rosh Hashanah (1939, 1940 and 1941) and then three on Shabbat Shuva and so on.  I’m now reading it as a work of Holocaust theology in chronological order of delivery (1939, 1940, 1941, 1942).

Already in November 1939, Rabbi Shapira is voicing bold ideas.   For parashat Chayei Sarah he refers to the rabbinic tradition that Sarah died of shock when she heard that Avraham (Abraham) had nearly sacrificed their son, Yitzchak (Isaac) at God’s command:

The Torah may also be telling us that our mother Sarah, who took the binding of Isaac so much to heart that her soul flew out of her, died for the good of the Jewish people.  She died in order to show God that a Jew should not be expected to suffer unlimited levels of anguish.  Even though a person, with the mercy of God, survives and escapes death, nevertheless elements of his capability, his mind, and his spirit are forever broken and, as a result of his ordeal, lost to him.  In the final analysis, what difference does it make, whether all of me or part of me is killed?

Here we see rabbinic chutzpah klapei shmaya, audacity towards Heaven, protesting that human suffering is unfair.  What resonates with me is the image of being “forever broken” in mind and spirit and partly killed.  I have not suffered like those in the Warsaw Ghetto, but there is the fear that I can never be whole, particularly in terms of making up for the years (decades, really) of life lost to mental illness, in terms of lost experiences, love, career progress etc. and in terms of the scars left by what I thought and felt.

***

In other news, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was an ordinary lockdown Shabbat.  Eat, sleep, read, daven (pray), study Torah etc.  I didn’t go for a walk today, mostly because I slept too long in the afternoon.  That was it, really.

Matt Pritchett (“Matt”) is The Daily Telegraph‘s pocket cartoonist.  I think he’s wonderful.  We’re all big Matt fans in this house.  We bought Dad the Best of Matt 2019 book for Chanukah last year.  I flicked through it today and it’s still really funny, but it made me realise that we didn’t know how lucky we were when all we had to worry about was Brixit.  To think that we used to say, “If only Brexit was over and we could talk about something else…”

Sour Grapes?

I got to bed at 1.30am last night, which is late, but is pretty early for a motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) in the summer, when Shabbat goes out late and it takes time to tidy up, blog what happened during the day and have something to eat and just generally shift from “Shabbat mode” to “weekday mode” and then to “bed mode.”  I didn’t fall asleep until after 2.30am, though.  I did, however, manage to get up at 10.00am this morning, although not 8.00am when I first woke up and tried, and failed, to get up.  The lack of sleep was perhaps partly due to ideas for a my novel, and now for a second novel (which I’m worried may be tasteless, but trying not to think about that for now).  The second novel is very different from the first, but I’m trying to focus on one at a time.

Despite this, I struggled with writing (the first novel) today.  I don’t know why, I just felt like I was wading through treacle.  I felt drained, despite getting up early.  I was not tired exactly, but it was hard to think.  I was stuck in part of the novel that doesn’t really relate to my life and which is a necessary, but not terribly interesting part of the story, and I felt I was just spinning my wheels, trying to get through it to get to the next bit, even if I radically rewrite it in the redrafts.  I think that’s the thing to do at the moment, just to press on and try to get the first draft finished as soon as possible and then see what work needs doing on it.

I probably wrote for about an hour and a half overall today, excluding lots of procrastination mixed in there.  I think I wrote around 700 words, finishing the chapter and then reading back the finished chapter.  I also did some restructuring of the chapter divisions in the plan for the book.  I felt that I would have liked to have done more.  I just feel negative about things today.  I guess there are always going to be good days and bad days.  The word count is about 26,000 which is pretty good.  I’ve been told an average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words, so I’m about a third of the way there, which matches where I am in my outline for the book.

I went for a thirty-five minute run, but I was sluggish there too.  It was hard to get going, I was frequently short of breath and prone to aches and cramps.  Still, I did my usual length run.

I did about thirty minutes of Torah study by myself and another forty-five with E. on Skype.

Despite achieving quite a bit, I think depression and uncertainty about my writing blended into general depression and uncertainty about my life today.  It’s hard to be objective about things like my writing, my relationship, my position in the Jewish community… so many different things affect how I see those things.  Sometimes I get terrified that my life is going irretrievably down the toilet; other times I feel more optimistic; but it is hard to tell which is objectively correct, if either.  I wish everything didn’t have to be so hard for me.

In this regard, I’m glad I have therapy tomorrow, but I’m also very nervous about it.  What if the therapist tells me I’m living my life wrong?  OK, a therapist wouldn’t say that in so many words, but what if I’m left with the conclusion that I’m living it wrongly?  I can’t see any better alternatives.

***

When I was trying to write, but procrastinating, I read about the shidduch system, the system of arranged blind dates in the Orthodox community by which people date, the system that I felt rather failed me (although as I’m happy with E., it’s good that it failed me, but I still have some resentment and feel like a second-class citizen generally).  I don’t know why I keep looking for stuff that I disagree with about the Haredi world.  Maybe it’s a sour grapes feeling.  “Yeah, I may have failed to be a good Haredi Jew, but I don’t even want to be part of your dysfunctional society, so there!”

There are things I admire about the Haredi world: the close-knit supportive families forming close-knit supportive communities; the dedication to religion, Torah study and prayer.  Yet the good is often inseparable from the bad: the hostility to outsiders, the obscurantism, the conformism.  Unfortunately, if the demographic trends in the Jewish community continue, in a couple of generations most Jews will be Haredi.  The Modern Orthodox don’t really get a look in these projections, for all that they’re a prosperous and well-educated (generally and religiously) minority at the moment.

I’m not sure why I’ve written so much about this (most of which I cut before posting), or why I’m thinking about it so much at the moment.  There is a weird, “wanting to be accepted, but also not wanting to be accepted” feeling about it.

***

shul friend emailed to check on me, which was nice.  It’s moments like that make me feel more accepted into the community.  And I will finish on that positive note.

Very Short Post

I was going to be good and not go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I needed to put my computer on to send an email and record some writing ideas, so I thought I would say hi.

The shul Zoom Kaballat Shabbat (synagogue Zoom Friday evening service) was not great.  I had a lot of social anxiety, worried people could see my room, worried people would think I had switched off my webcam when it simply doesn’t work for more than a minute or two, worried I could be heard even with my microphone muted, just generally worried…  They got everyone to mute their microphones, but it meant it didn’t sound particularly loud and “together,” if that makes sense.  I probably won’t do that again.  To be honest, I think using Zoom for more than three or four people just freaks me out and confuses me a bit and I’m not sure why (probably an autism thing).

I seem to wake up around 8am and go back to sleep because I worry I haven’t had enough sleep or simply feel too overwhelmed to start the day.  I think I need to try to get up then and stay up, somehow, as it would get me some more time in the day.

That was it, really.

Oh, I get emails from various library blogs for work reasons.  I opened my email after Shabbat and found that The New York Public Library blog has just posted a massive list of “raised Orthodox, rebelled, became secular” fiction and non-fiction to go with Unorthodox.  I know I said the other day that I don’t think there’s a massive conspiracy of publishers to promote leaving Orthodox Judaism and to silence people who join it, but it seemed a bit much not to put any books that present Orthodox Judaism in a positive light on the list, not even Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and its sequel The Promise or My Name is Asher Lev and its sequel The Gift of Asher Lev, both of which deal with people who defy the conventions of their Orthodox upbringing while not entirely burning their bridges with the community and still remaining fairly religious.

Wanting To Make Good Impressions

I went to bed early last night, at least for me, before midnight, but I couldn’t sleep, probably from having screen time too late, being up speaking to E. then blogging, then finishing the episode of Star Trek Voyager that had been interrupted by the Zoom call to my family.  I think I eventually fell asleep sometime between 12.30am and 1.00am.  As I expected, I didn’t wake up any earlier today or feel any better when I did wake up.  It’s hard to function when I can carry negative experiences over to the next day, but not positive ones.

I tried to do two hours of work on my novel today, thinking if I aim for two, I might regularly hit one, rather than aiming for one and ending up not doing anything.  E. says to regard writing as my career, but I keep feeling that it’s a hobby and I shouldn’t focus on it to the detriment of family stuff, religious stuff, exercise, job hunting and so on.

I’m also worried my female protagonist isn’t proactive enough.  I’m trying to make her story more clearly a kind of parabola of being sucked into an abusive relationship and then escaping from it.  Nevertheless, I spent about two hours writing (including some procrastination time, but I think my unconscious mind keeps working even when my conscious mind is stuck in ‘idle’), producing 1,000 words.

On a related note, I listened to the Intimate Judaism panel discussion on the presentation of Hasidic sexuality in Unorthodox, the Netflix TV series based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir of leaving her strict Satmar Hasidic upbringing.  I’m vaguely worried that in writing in my novel about issues like domestic abuse or mental illness in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world, non-Jews will have an unfairly negative view of Judaism and Orthodox Jews will feel I’m doing a hatchet job on the community, which is not my intention.  The problem is that well-adjusted people living healthy lives with healthy relationships does not make for an interesting story!  Drama is built on conflict.  In later drafts I may deliberately expend some energy on more balanced secondary characters (I will need to work on secondary characters anyway; in classic autistic style, I’ve struggled to remember that my three main characters can actually interact with other people).

I remember when the book version of Unorthodox came out.  I think several other ex-Orthodox memoirs came out around the same time.  There was a lot of discussion online about them, and whether secular publishing houses were biased in favour of religious-to-secular-journey memoirs rather than secular-to-religious-journey ones.  While the former probably does make more sense to most potential publishers and readers, I suspect the lack of secular-to-religious books is dictated by the numerically small number of ba’alei teshuva (Jews raised secular who become religious) and gerim (non-Jews who convert to Judaism) and the fact that the Orthodox community simply does not put a premium on literature.  Our energies go elsewhere, rightly or wrongly.  In any case, it is hard to imagine a ba’al teshuva memoir that wasn’t reluctant to acknowledge negatives in the religious community or which didn’t create a stark moral divide between the Orthodox and secular worlds, the former positive and the latter overwhelmingly negative.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that I can’t see the type of people who write “how I became frum” memoir articles for outreach websites writing it.

Although I also worry that my book is going to finish to heavily in the “God” camp.  I’m trying to work hard to earn some measure of redemption for my characters, but it’s hard.

***

Other than that, I went for a forty-five minute walk, including a few minutes in Tesco.  I was worried to see that they have apparently ended the “one in, one out” policy they had in place.  I still got the milk we needed, but I will try to avoid going back there until after lockdown, although it’s not always possible.  I spent about ten or fifteen minutes finishing my devar Torah for the week and another half an hour on other Torah study (I’m hoping to do a little more before bed).  I also backed up my iTunes library, a task that I’ve been putting off for ages and was pleasingly easier than I feared it would be.

***

My omer beard itches like crazy, and we’re only halfway to Lag Ba’Omer.

***

My shul (synagogue) is doing a special Friday night thing tomorrow.  Starting with a lechayim (why must alcohol be involved?) they are doing a Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat, the early part of the Friday night Shabbat service, where most of the singing is.  Most of this can be said before Shabbat so computers can stay on.  This will stop before Shabbat so we can turn off our computers and then finish the service by ourselves.

I’m not sure what I feel about this.  It could be good to sing Kabbalat Shabbat in a group again.  However, I feel it might feel weird over Zoom, plus I do often find the service too noisy if people are banging on tables or clapping.  Plus, we would be starting extra early, which might make things a rush, especially if tomorrow I feel burnt out from doing so much today.  Still, it would probably be good to feel part of a community again, even if only virtual.  Hmm.

Eat Pray Read Sleep Fret

It was another ordinary COVID-19 Shabbat of eating, praying, reading and sleeping.  However, there was also quite a lot of agitated thoughts about religion.  I was thinking a lot about a few things, most notably Rambam’s (Moses Maimonides’) thirteen principles of faith and his understanding of reward and punishment.  These thoughts came from a number of things I’ve been reading recently, most notably Rabbi Joshua Berman’s Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith and debates on the Rationalist Judaism blog about whether God can be meaningfully said to have “caused” COVID-19, which led me to re-read the appendix on Rambam’s view of reward and punishment at the back of Menachem Kellner’s Must a Jew Believe Anything?

Rabbi Berman’s book has left me wondering whether I really believe in Rambam’s thirteen principles in a way he (Rambam), and other Orthodox rabbis, would accept as truly Orthodox, mostly because lately I find myself drawn to some Medieval rabbis who believed that certain apparently anachronistic phrases and short passages in the Torah (e.g. the long list of Edomite kings which seems to cover more people than can easily fit in the gap from Esav’s (Esau’s) birth to the giving of the Torah) can be explained by saying that they were inserted by a later prophet or by Ezra the Scribe as an explanatory gloss, similar to a modern editorial footnote.  This seems logical, and more traditional than the answers proposed by modern biblical criticism, which see whole chunks of text as later insertions by otherwise unknown “redactors” (as this version is limited to just a few verses and still assumes some kind of prophetic source).  However, Rambam said Jews have to believe in the unchangeability of the Torah‘s text for reasons that Rabbi Berman ascribes to the influence Islamic polemics (basically, Muslims said that Jews had edited the Torah to remove references to Mohammed being the greatest prophet, so defending the integrity of the text became of paramount importance).

On the other hand, the more I think about Rambam’s view of reward and punishment, at least as explained by Kellner, the harder it is for me to see it as (a) authentically Jewish, (b) coherent in a world that no longer accepts Aristotlean metaphysics and (c) morally and emotionally viable, especially post-Holocaust.  As I understand it, Rambam’s view of the afterlife is based on Aristotle’s idea of the “acquired intellect”.  According to Rambam, the more we learn about God in this world (partly through Talmud study, but mostly through studying Greek philosophy, which he believed contained universal truths lost from Judaism in the exile), the more we perfect our intellects and join them to God’s intellect in the next world, which is the only true happiness or reward.  There is no get out clause for people who can’t do this for some external reason such as mental impairment or dying in infancy.  There is no mechanism whereby God can miraculously extend them reward.  So Rambam would say that there is no reward for the million children murdered by the Nazis.  He doesn’t believe in next-worldly punishment either, so at least they don’t go to Gehennom/Hell… but then neither does Hitler, whose only punishment was to live long enough to see his Thousand Year Reich destroyed by the Allies, which does not really seem enough.  It’s a hugely austere and elitist approach to life that in some ways I admire for its bravery and unwillingness to offer cheap comfort, but really it does nothing for me either religiously or emotionally.

As for why this upset me, well, there are two slightly different reasons, or rather the same reason in two slightly different ways.  I’m rejecting a belief, which of course leads to the fear that I may be making a mistake and rejecting true dogma and condemning myself to eternal non-existence, but I’m also rejecting communities.  Although both sets of opinions I’m rejecting were proposed by the same Jewish thinker, I’m actually rejecting two very different communities.

The first one is the mainstream Orthodox community, where Rambam’s thirteen principles are seen as the definitive Orthodox dogma.  In the Modern Orthodox community there is some debate about how they became accepted and what to do with the opinions of those rabbis who disagreed with them (and a lot did disagree – see Rabbi Marc Shapiro’s The Limits of Orthodox Theology (I haven’t read the book, but I have heard him lecture on when people stopped believing it was OK to say that God has a body (corporealism)).  Likewise, there is some acknowledgement in the Modern Orthodox world that there is no one perfect Torah text; there are minor variants out there and a history of rabbinic debate about how to preserve the text from corruption and deal with mistakes in copying.  But in the more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world there is no legitimate academic historical interpretation in the sense that Rabbis Berman and Shapiro are engaged in, attempting to ask how beliefs became accepted and to what extent they were seen as binding at different times as well as placing them in their historical contest.

The second community is the one at the Rationalist Judaism blog.  There was a time when I felt very much a rationalist Orthodox Jew as opposed to a mystic, but over time I’ve moved on.  I’ve learnt that there are ways of understanding mysticism and myth that don’t involve anti-scientific beliefs about the world (as I explained a bit in this essay I wrote for Hevria) and I’ve moved towards a much more “religious existentialist” understanding of the world that has room for doubt, uncertainty and feelings of distance from God.

Still, it does feel a bit like I’m burning bridges in a way, because the idea of rationalism, at least in the rather simplified version discourse on the blog where it’s a shorthand for accepting evolution and an old universe and being opposed to the Haredi kollel system, was important to me once.  And Rambam is such a huge, towering figure in Jewish thought and Jewish history, sometimes seen as the most significant post-Biblical figure: jurist and legal scholar, philosopher, theologian, prolific author…  There’s even a saying that “From Moses to Moses [Maimonides] there was no one like Moses” – it’s just a huge thing to say that I disagree with his principles, even in a very small and non-committal way, given that I was brought up to see them as the essence of Orthodoxy (and despite Rabbi Berman’s arguing at length that Rambam himself walked back most of his principles in his later work, especially the one I’m most concerned about, the unchangeability of the Torah).

I haven’t felt like a member of the Rationalist Judaism blog community for a long time.  I was never a prolific commenter there and I have walked away from it at times from boredom, as it turned primarily into a prolonged attack on the Haredi world rather than a real examination of rationalist Judaism.  Still, I feel like I’m walking away on my own, trying to find where I fit.

Beyond that, there is, of course, a fear of what will happen to me after death, but I can’t pretend to believe something I don’t believe, even if I don’t at this stage accept the “prophets adding to the Torah” hypothesis either, I just find it hard to fully dismiss.  It just fits in with other worries I’ve had over time, wondering what will happen to less religious/outright atheist friends and family after death.  I believe that God is loving and just and I don’t believe that good people lose out on reward.  I also don’t believe that belief is everything.  I hope that that means some kind of eternal reward in the next world, given that good people often seem not to be rewarded in this world.

The reality is, of course, that whether or not there is an afterlife, and who gets to go to it, is nothing to do with me.  Still, reading these writers and other Jewish thinkers and historians makes me realises how small a place faith (in the Christian doctrinal sense) really has in Judaism, how much more focused on good deeds it is, and how present-focused it is.  There is almost no discussion of the afterlife in the Torah, while the Talmud contains three stories (Avodah Zarah 17a and 18a; I can’t find the third story, I think it may be in the Talmud Yerushalmi Ta’anit) about people who have led reprehensible lives managing to attain Olam HaBa (The Next World) with a single good deed or moment of repentance, leading Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (the editor of the Mishnah, the oldest layer of the Talmud) that some people can acquire Olam HaBa only after many years of toil, while others can acquire it in an instant (I think I’m in the many years of toil category).  Belief seems to play very little role in these stories, which are focused on kindness and repentance.  I view them through a religious existentialist lens, seeing them as being about repentance, encounters with other people and perhaps with God (which is not the same as straightforward faith) and personal authenticity (an extended analysis of one of these stories can be found here and here).

***

I thought about these thoughts a lot over Shabbat, sometimes in a rather agitated way.  Still, I don’t know if it qualifies as religious OCD.  I felt that it just wasn’t as powerful and obsessive as my religious OCD thoughts usually are.

Still, I feel exhausted now.  I meant to write this blog entry quickly and go and read, but I got involved, said a lot more than I intended and it has taken nearly two hours.  These thoughts have been brewing inside me for weeks, though, so perhaps it is just as well that I got them out of my system.

Groundhog Shabbat

Today was difficult.  I woke up and had a weird Groundhog Day moment when I realised it was Shabbat (the Sabbath) again.  Too many days lately have been ShabbatYom Tov (festival), Erev Shabbat and Erev Yom Tov (day before Shabbat or Yom Tov).  I just want some normal days, where I can write and Skype E. and go jogging and vegetate in front of the TV.

I was quite drained over Shabbat and didn’t do a lot of the stuff I would normally do.  I went for a walk and I did a bit of Torah study, but not as much as I would usually have done.  I have finished re-reading the first fifty Psalms in Hebrew, which makes me exactly a third of the way through the book, but it’s taken me a very long time to get here (about ten months, I calculate with help from Goodreads).  I did a bit of recreational reading too, but not a huge amount.  I slept a lot again.

I feel even more than before that I need to speak to a therapist.  I have a lot to process about the changes in my life: Mum’s illness, getting back together with E., continuing unemployment and the fact that I’ve dropped a mental health coping strategy without really having considered what the emotional side-effects would be.  I mean, I was right to stop it, as it was very negative, but I’m not sure how well I’m coping.  There’s probably a lot to say in therapy about my relationship with my parents, which I’ve spoken about before, but not regarding confronting their mortality, which has only just become a non-theoretical issue.  Likewise about my sexuality – I’ve spoken a lot about it in therapy in the past, but I probably did not say everything I needed to say or work through everything, and suddenly it’s more relevant than at most times in the past.  I mean about the way being single in a community that only permits sex after marriage forced me to repress my sexuality for so long, with a concomitant build up of guilt, shame and who knows what else, as well as interactions with other emotions and thoughts.  I’m not expressing myself clearly here, and that’s partly deliberate, but partly not – I don’t really know what to say about this other than things feel so difficult so much of the time.

Tonight I’m feeling listless again, and lonely.  It’s frustrating that my girlfriend lives on the other side of the world, although I worry I would mess things up somehow if she was here.  I’m in two minds about watching TV tonight.  It’s after 11pm, so I shouldn’t, but I need to relax and I feel too depressed and lacking in concentration to read.  I’m not likely to sleep soon anyway, given how much I’ve slept today.

I feel the interest of these posts is diminishing, if there ever was an interest to other people (apparently there was, but I find it hard to believe).  I’m just trying to dump my thoughts so I can move on from the evening and towards sleep.  I feel unless lockdown ends soon (which it won’t), even I am going to run out of things to blog, just endless lists of runs and books read and self-criticism about not enough Torah study.

I hope to use some of the energy that would have been spent on writing long blog posts on fiction writing.  I want to finish the short story I’m working on and then move on to the novel, away from the dull, but necessary bit I’m writing and onto the more interesting/disturbing stuff, although as I’ve said before, the novel isn’t exactly the type of thing I read, or want to write, but it makes sense to start with something semi-autobiographical.  I have so many images in my head so much of the time, but forming them into stories is really hard.  I suspect that most of them are pilfered from other books/TV/films/comic strips, but talent borrows while genius steals.

Listless

Today I just feel exhausted and depressed, a bit anxious.  I would like to be vegetating in front of the TV.  What I don’t want to do is be preparing for another bout of DVD-free Shabbat, but that’s where I am today.  I could really have done with a few more days before Shabbat.  I’ve done some TV watching anyway.  I don’t really feel up to writing or Torah study today, not even writing here.  I just want to crash.

***

I increasingly feel like I really need to see a therapist again.  I just feel a bit of a mess.  Some of that is post-Pesach mental hangover, but I feel I also need some help to process some emotions to do with Mum’s cancer, and to do with my relationship with E, which is good, but hard to process because taking me into completely new territory on multiple levels.  I think I want to stay in lockdown, on some level, because it stops me needing to engage with my life.

Post-Yom Tov Post

I’m breaking with my usual post-Yom Tov (festival) habit of trying to catch up on blogs and stuff in the hope of getting to bed before 2am.  For the same reason, this is going to be more of a summary of the last three days than a blow-by-blow account.

The shortest version is that the first two days (Yom Tov proper) where an emotional rollercoaster, but I was broadly coping, but Shabbat (the Sabbath) was just too much and I was not good.  To be honest, three day Yom Tovs, or “Three Day Events” as my parents call them, are pretty draining for everyone even without COVID-19 disruption and without depression and OCD.

As for the more detailed version… well, the first two days I was up and down.  At times I was worried or depressed about some things, but mostly I was able to calm myself by reminding myself that my rabbi mentor told me not to worry about chametz (leaven food, forbidden on Pesach) smaller than an olive (although I know he is being lenient with me here, so it doesn’t always help) and by reminding myself that I’m not responsible for what my parents choose to do.  I think there was probably in the background the usual current worries: worries about my Mum, her cancer, and her risk of COVID-19 infection; worries about COVID-19 in general; worries about E.; worries about my relationship with E. (which is going well, I hasten to add, but is at a crossroads, which is exciting but also scary, or was at a crossroads until COVID-19 put our plans on a back burner).  And so on.

The sederim went quite well, considering there were just three of us, although it felt a bit weird.  Usually we would have about ten or so people in total one night; the other would be me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law.  This year it was just three of us both nights (“Why is this night so different?”).  We did have some more discussion than usual, which gives me an idea of how to do things differently in the future.  I had a migraine on the afternoon of the first day, but it had subsided by the second seder, which was good.  I still struggled to learn anything new at the seder, and to connect emotionally with the ideas of the night.  I still end up over-thinking things and not feeling them.  I wish I could get more out of seder, and out of Judaism in general.  The only real feeling of connection I had was via guilt and anxiety when I did something wrong (see below).

One interesting thing while I was eating the matzah (unleavened bread) was a strong feeling that freedom is being able to “just go,” which obviously connects with the story of the matzah in the Torah, that the Israelites did not have time to bake bread before leaving slavery in Egypt, but is interesting in terms of my usual procrastination and my awareness that my relationship with E. is going to require quite a bit of risk-taking and adventurous departures if it’s going to work.

I made some mistakes, in terms of forgetting to do a few things.  Most of them were rectifiable, but in opening some celery I had forgotten to open before Yom Tov I tore some writing on the packaging, a big no-no on Shabbat and Yom Tov (it’s considered erasing).  I felt very upset about this, and then managed to do it again the next day on something else (that was less obviously my fault though).  As I say, I felt upset, but I did manage to move on.

And then we got to Shabbat…  It was going well, and then there was an Issue.  There was an oversight in the kitchen (I won’t go into the details which are fairly complex) and potentially we had messed up the Pesach kosher-ness of some food.  I was 80% sure it was OK, but still couldn’t bring myself to eat it.  I didn’t argue with my parents, but they did eat it, and put it on our plates, which meant that the plates were now potentially problematic.  I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to do that with all the worries I mentioned above in my head plus the minor Pesach worries and now plus this.  I tried not to eat anything potentially ‘contaminated’ for the rest of the day, but it was hard to keep track of what cutlery had gone where and by lunchtime on Saturday I was de facto relying on my opinion that the food was OK (which at least had now grown to 90% certainty).

After Shabbat we emailed my parents’ rabbi and he said what I had thought: it was OK, we had just infringed a protective measure intended as an extra level of safety.  But it’s hard to spend Pesach every year wrestling with feelings that God is going to deny me any reward in the afterlife because of confused and panicked decisions I take at Pesach, especially as those are motivated more by a desire to avoid arguing with my parents than some selfish desire to eat chametz on Pesach.  I thought I was past this stage, but apparently not, or at least, not in this crazy year.

It’s hard to treat OCD at a time of the year when we are supposed to be worried about what we eat.  I suppose the analogy would be to someone who had germ contamination OCD and was trying to treat it with exposure therapy, but now has to deal with COVID-19 and suddenly being told to wash her hands all the time.

I also ate a load of junk over the three days and little fruit and veg, again because of a complicated religious/not-arguing-with-parents reason (I usually eat a lot of fruit and veg).  On the plus side, my biscuits tasted good, despite the cinnamon balls turning into macaroon shape and the almond macaroons ending up as a solid block that my Mum had to hack into smaller chunks.

Other than that it was the usual Yom Tov mix of over-eating, oversleeping, praying and reading.  My parents more or less forced me to go for a half-hour walk each day, which I needed.  I worked through a couple more Tehillim/Psalms in Hebrew and read more of Ani Maamin as well as more than half of a murder mystery set in a Haredi community, the first in a long sequence.  I’m enjoying it enough to stick with it to see how it ends, but I’m not sure if I’ll be reading any more.  It’s not really as interesting as I thought it would be, maybe because the Haredi community doesn’t seem so exotic; if anything, it seems less strict than my own community, which probably wasn’t the intention.

***

I should really go to bed.  I’m already violating my “No screens after 11pm” rule just to write this, but I’ve been struggling for the last few days with trying to keep going without being able to off-load.  I feel like I need to watch some TV to unwind.  I know it might keep me awake, but not relaxing will also keep me awake and I don’t really feel like reading any more.

The Seeking is the Finding

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly normal, at least according to the new normal (no shul (synagogue)).  I finished the Doctor Who book I was re-reading, The Scales of Injustice.  It was better than I remembered, but I think the open-ended ending annoyed me when I first read it as a teenager.  I think there were semi-sequels that continued the story, but I don’t feel particularly motivated to seek them out.  It has to be said that I’m not entirely sure what the point of the story was.  I’m slightly scared to elaborate though.  From being someone who used to be quite willing to review things online, including (what I felt were) justified negative reviews, I’ve become reluctant now I realise that it could be my work being reviewed.  I know other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people who will only write positive reviews for fear that negative ones contravene Jewish law about gossip and negative speech.  I was not convinced by that argument in the past, but now I wonder about it, worried that one day all the negative things I’ve said will crash back on my head in bad reviews of my writing.

Mind you, part of me would be glad of negative reviews if it meant people were buying my book.  So far sales of my self-published book are stagnant.  I’ve sold six copies, two to myself (one a proof copy and one to send to Doctor Who Magazine when things are more normal as a review copy), one to my parents, one to E. and two to fan friends.  I need to publicise it better, but am not sure how especially as I won’t link to it here, as it’s published under my real name.  WordPress won’t let me back into my Doctor Who blog which is the logical place to publicise it.  I’m not good at publicity and marketing anyway.  Someone said I should set up a Facebook page for the book, but I’m not sure what good that would do, given that I don’t have a personal Facebook account and have no intention of going back into that bear pit just to sell a few more copies of my book.

***

In terms of Jewish stuff, I read some more of Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman.  There was some interesting stuff about the improbably large numbers of Israelites in the exodus from Egypt and what those numbers might really be signifying.

***

I know I say here I struggle being Jewish in some ways.  Not so much through doubts as lacking inspiration and connection.  Judaism is important to me, but depression just wipes out my passion and enthusiasm and social anxiety gets rid of anything that’s left.  I see people at my shul (when we were allowed to go to it) who seemed to really connect to God in prayer or Torah study and I can’t do that, at least not for long.  It’s possible other people are faking it, on some level, but I’m not cynical enough to believe that everyone is faking it all the time.

I thought about a passage in the Talmud that says (I’m quoting from memory) if someone tells you they have sought and not found, don’t believe them; if someone tells you they have not sought, but have found, don’t believe them; but if someone tells you they have sought and found, believe them.  I’m not going to discuss the first two clauses, but on the third one, the Kotzker Rebbe said, many centuries later, “The seeking is the finding.”

I was thinking about this and that it does seem to apply to me, that I’m more conscious of the existence of God when I feel very far from Him.  It’s pretty much in the tradition of religious existentialism, which I’ve mentioned in the past that I used to be quite into.  I read it a lot less nowadays, but it still influences my worldview, and I feel that’s what is happening here.  I just feel so far from God so much of the time, yet when I feel consciously very far from Him, I feel on some level connected, whereas a lot of the time I’m not even thinking about Him.

There definitely is something to be said here about being able to feel things rather than just thinking them, but I’m not sure I really have the vocabulary to say it.  Judaism is a very intellectual religion, but I increasingly feel that I can’t cope with pure intellect and need to engage better emotionally, but I don’t know how.