Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Label Free

I have always struggled with religion. Always tried to fit into a box, trying different skirt lengths, hair coverings, and tefillah strategies. I've tried to match my actions to my beliefs, but I have never succeeded.  Because the truth is, I don't know what I believe.

I don't have the answers about God and the creation of the world and right and wrong.

I do know that I want to live an authentic life, and make decisions that I can stand behind. I know that I don't want to keep pretending. I know that I want to feel comfortable in my clothes, my hair, my skin.

My religion has always been driven by guilt and insecurity. Guilt, because our people have struggled and sacrificed for generations to keep our traditions alive. Guilt, because it is the tool that my religious education was built on. Insecurity, because I want to fit in to the religious community around me. Insecurity, because I don't want to be different. I care about what others think about me, how they see me. 

I am scared. No - I am terrified. I have always imagined my future self living in some yishuv, wearing a full mitpachat and long skirt, my husband learning on the porch swing, while my kids kick a ball in the backyard, tzitzit flying. That is how I used to picture my future. Dati Leumi. Orthodox. But for a while now, that picture looks like I've copied it from someone else's life.

I don't know what will happen now. Now that I've started wearing pants, have occasionally stopped covering my hair. I've admitted to myself that religious life does not hold the meaning or magic for me that it does for others. I don't know where I will be in ten years. I don't know who I will be in ten years. But I know that I have to be true to myself.

I love Shabbat. I love being Jewish. I love Israel. I love our nation, our culture, our pride. I love our resilience, our story, our passion. I love being part of something bigger, something historic.

I want to be able to give this a definition. I like things to be organized, to know where I should be placed on a spectrum. But I cannot label myself. I cannot label this. I don't know what I am, but I know that for the first time in my life, I feel free.

I feel so free.

I debated writing this for a while. But in the end, I decided it was important. The more I spoke about my feelings with others, the more I realized that I was not alone. And that knowledge gave me the courage to take positive steps. So if you feel something similar to what I have described, know that you are not alone. The world is not black and white. There is so much room in the gray.