I converted enthusiastically to Judaism as a young married woman. As my children grew up, our whole family was very involved in temple life, and Judaism meant a lot to me. Six months after my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a formal synagogue wedding, our marriage broke up. Or down. I felt terribly betrayed, and I pretty much divorced myself from my chosen religion.
Many years have passed. One daughter is very active and involved in Jewish life and education; the other is an agnostic who does not practice a religion. I live far away from both of them. And I feel lost, without an identity. I can’t work up the ambition to join a synagogue again, nor do I wish to “go back” to secular versions of Christian holidays. I don’t really believe in anything supernatural any more. Yet I hate feeling so alone and “orphaned.”
Any words of wisdom for me?
I think you’re much better off without your ex.
What I wish for you is Zumba.
Yes, I just went to my first Zumba class last week and the way I’m trying to use my hips is slightly illegal, but the feeling of community in that sweaty windowless room makes me ridiculously happy. The teacher plays throbbing Bollywood beats and there are several ladies (and a fishball) who are smiling giddily the whole time. It’s an hour of communion and connection and shimmying love.
Shulamit, what hurts most in hearing your story is how you felt divorced not only from your betrothed, but also from your community and faith. Maybe it’s not Zumba for you. Maybe it’s joining a local choir, art class, meditation circle, or book study. Someplace where you can feel vulnerable and alive with a roomful of seekers.
More than the subject matter, I want you to ask yourself:
Who are the people I want to connect with?
Who helps me feel strong and sassy and fascinating?
I asked my wise friend and guru, Rabbi Jeffrey Sirkman of Larchmont Temple, how he would define the word “congregation.” He said:
Like every other key term, it’s better understood from the Hebrew. Kehilah is the term for congregation. Broken down it is Ka Hal, which is a crowd or gathering and Ah (the Heh) signifying an abbreviation for Adonai. So, to create congregation you bring people together and share a sacred purpose. Helping them see the image of God reflected in the folks around them, and likewise in themselves…such a community of sacred support and outreaching heart thus becomes a kehilah.
Freakin genius, right?
So who gives you that sacred support? Where do you feel your deepest purpose?
To me, this is much more important than redefining your identity. We are constantly evolving, I hope. That’s why they make you get new pictures for your pool pass each summer because maybe you lost some teeth, or gained some pounds, or dyed your fins orange.
I used to have a duffel bag full of ID cards that I pulled out whenever I met someone new. I belonged to the Dead Dads Club, the Anorexic Club, the Nobody Likes Me Club. I wanted to get a free refill or hug by waving these cards in people’s faces. It never worked. If anything, it kept me more alone.
Shulamit, you are already very boldly defined from this fish’s perspective. I see you as resilient, devoted, honest, and daring. You are a mom, a warrior, a seeker of truth and connection. I bet you’re sexy and enjoy a good cheddar, too.
Here is a new ID card for you. Please cut it out on the dotted lines and laminate as you see fit. Read it out loud, memorize it, feel it in your kishkas (gut):
MY NAME IS SHULAMIT
I AM NOT ALONE
I AM PASSIONATE, PURPOSEFUL, AND SEXIER THAN EVER
I HAVE A TRUE GEFILTE-FRIEND
Your membership has been paid in full and includes a free tote bag if you send me your address. We meet twice a day, in the quietest moments of just waking up and before going to sleep. Every time you speak out, share, or reflect. We are a congregation of heart-healing faith. Oh, and did I mention you’re our leader?
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to email@example.com, and you might just get an answer.