Saturday, January 31, 2009

My life in light of religion

Well, after having jumped in the middle of things I think it would be only fair if I put some background information about myself.

I have been raised in an atheist family, I have not been baptized Catholic until I was 26, so that I can get married in a church to my first husband. His family insisted on us having a church wedding and I thought I could do that for the man I loved and whose baby I was carrying (halfway along by the wedding). So I got baptized but to be honest, for me it was nothing more than a ritual, meant nothing religiously. One may say that I got baptized against my principles, and it would probably be party true, too. In my view what happened was that my relationship and future baby meant more to me, they weighed more than my principles. Or let's put it this way: I gave up part of my principles (which I did not consider very important compared to my other principles, moral and ethical ones that I'd never give up and therefore one who loves me would never ask me to do so) for the greater good.

The marriage ended after we suffered a bitter loss: our baby died. He was born at week 29 (7 weeks after the wedding) and died soon after. His name was Mark. I almost followed him to death but doctors were able to save my life, for which I will always be thankful. Even considering the fact that these events lead to my infertility and hardship to give the love of my life a baby.

After the baptism I really tried hard to internalize the Christian faith. I had doubts and questions that were never answered. At the wedding the minister blessed me and my fertility. Results described above :-( So, it made my trying even harder, until I finally decided I simply CAN'T.

After the divorce I was struggling with myself, with my faith, because I needed one so bad. I just could not find one that would fulfill my soul and my intellect. I am unable to accept dogmas and the "because I said so" type answers.

4 years later I met my husband who is my life and soul, my heart and mind. He is atheist but supportive for my quest for faith. We have been in the IVF program for 3 years now, have had 5 embryo transfers, 2 pregnancies (an ectopic and a miscarriage) and our life never became any easier. I have tried again the Christian faith, maybe now that I've been through so much horror, I could see it in a different light. Well, I didn't. It is simply not mine.

A few weeks ago I started to look up synagogues in the city to see whether I could join one to learn more, and that is how I found the Temple and Rabbi SGM. Before I met her I read some books about Judaism, basic ones, I guess, to get to know more about it. I felt this inexplicable draw to do so. And this is how I ended up at Rabbi SGM's office, discussing about potential conversion. I started studying about Judaism with her guidance and I am happy to be at the place I am now. In transition, on the road which -- I can feel it so clearly -- is leading me to where I belong.

The first Shabbat

I have started this journey because I have always felt the inexplicable attraction to Judaism. Now, that I am on this spiritual road I feel even more so. Yesterday I have experienced the first Shabbat service at the Temple and I think I will always remember this Friday evening.

When I arrived N greeted me at the chapel door and introduced me to her friend, L, who is also studying for conversion with Rabbi S. L is a really nice lady, we sat together – and also with N and her husband – at the service.

I love the atmosphere and the feeling of „oneness” that is circulating in my mind and body ever since. The music (someone played the piano while the Rabbis and the congregation were chanting the prayers) was uplifting and the speeches of the Rabbis were realistic, calm and most of all, very-very intelligent. I think this is what I like the most about Judaism: the intelligence that is nurtured and placed very high among the Jewish values.

Rabbi M told the story of a Rabbi who was traveling on a train in Poland to go back to his hometown. He shared the compartment with some businessmen who were playing cards and after a while invited the Rabbi to join the game. The Rabbi refused, he preferred to go on with his reading. The businessmen asked him again and again, and as he turned down all the invitations, one of the businessmen grabbed him and threw him out of the compartment. When they got to the Rabbi’s hometown (which turned out to be the destination of these businessmen, too), the attacker saw how people greeted the Rabbi and got to know who he really was. He asked the Rabbi for forgiveness, but the Rabbi said he could not forgive. Later we learned that the Rabbi could not forgive the attacker because he did not attack the Rabbi. He attacked someone he thought the Rabbi to be. Forgiveness can only be granted by the victim, no one can grant it on the victim’s behalf.

The story related to the discussion about the denial of the Holocaust (and its extent). Although I am not yet Jewish I have always had great compassion and empathy for the Jewish people and was always amazed by their ability to cope with all the hardship they had to face all through history. There is no other people who could survive so much persecution and oppression and even genocide (in the case of the Holocaust). I admire these people from the deepest of my heart and I feel for them whenever they speak or hear about the Holocaust because you can see how they are still hurt and yet open even towards the ones that hurt them. This is why it always upsets (even angers) me when someone attempts to deny this horrible event of human history. My strong belief is that humanity should learn from the mistakes they make and therefore not to repeat them.

About the extent of the Holocaust: this is the thing that angers me the most. I mean, there is no question that people (millions of them, too) died in the Holocaust merely for their belonging to a group. Killing is a crime. Whether one person or thousands or millions of them are the victims, it is not less of a crime. Therefore I think denying the extent of the Holocaust is utterly „stupid” (sorry, but there is no other word I could use here) and thinking that by theoretically reducing the number of actual victims is going to make the Holocaust any less of a very serious crime is beyond my ability to understand. Holocaust is a crime. A lot of people died or became handicapped (mentally and/or physically) , a whole People was hurt and there is no way to make this appear any less of a huge mistake of humanity against itself. I wish humanity was able to learn from its own mistakes and not forget about them. I have been to the Dachau camp and I saw pictures and videos and I saw the places where people were tortured. I think everybody should see these, maybe visual aid would help them remember. Arrggghh, it makes me so sad ...

When I left the Temple I was smiling and feeling so „complete”, this „oneness” filled me with joy and was strange, too, in a way. Because I have never felt it before. It is as if I had different compartments in my soul, one of them empty for a long time. Now this last one is filled, too. The first thought I had when I started the ignition of my car at the parking lot was: I wish it was Friday next week already, so I can go to Shabbat service again. It feels so great!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meeting the Rabbi

A first step that I should have made long ago. But of course, it is never too late, if we consider spirituality a growing and evolving factor in one's life. It was probably necessary for me to wait such a long time to actually do something about my spiritual development. I mean, I was constantly trying to find the way that was waiting for me and was among the less lucky ones for whom it takes a little longer. But now I am positive and confident that I have found it, no matter what and how long it took me to get there.

A few weeks ago I have started to look up every information I possibly could about conversion to Judaism and about Judaism itself. The more I got to know, the more I felt attracted to what seems now less unknown. I have always admired the Jewish people, their traditions and their history, even though it was -- and still is -- full of suffering and torture. This people is still alive and growing, and there are more and more converts, too, beside the ones who are born to belong to this amazing people.

I met a Rabbi today at the Temple and not only is she gracious and welcoming but also she is very smart and open-minded. Just the approach I was seeking. She spent more than an hour of her time talking with me about my thoughts and purposes, she has not turned me down 3 times as traditionalist Rabbis do -- only understandably --, for two reasons: one, they want to see the commitment of the convert-to-be, and two, they want to protect their people from newcomers that could be wrongdoers to the community.
She gave me the syllabus and the outline for my study -- with her guidance -- to be able to make an informed decision: whether or not I want to convert to Judaism. I can't wait to go to the library tomorrow morning and get the books she recommends and requires for me to educate myself about Jewish life, culture and the people. I am so excited!!! I left the Temple with all kinds of positive and uplifting thoughts and feelings, I kept smiling all the way while I was driving back to my husband's office to pick him up.

I am in a transition and I can feel how this journey would take me where I belong. This blog is serving as my journal, as I go through this transition, for me and for those who are interested. Most importantly, for my Rabbi who is going to help me find my way.

I would be more than happy to read comments -- if any -- but inappropriate comments and those of hatred are going to be moderated. It would really not worth it to post such comments, because my pacifist nature and the spiritual nature of the topic do not leave room for them.

I thank everyone for reading my posts with respect.