Culture, Religion, Sex & Gender

Being a pillar can be lonely

I’m realizing that sometimes it’s hard to negotiate my desire to live fully in the mainstream (Jewish) America while also dedicating my life to the Jewish tradition. Maybe some dear readers have known this for ages, but as a self-described baalat teshuvah, I only became observant and Jewishly learning about six years ago. I have these various visions of myself, and I want to say, “Yeah, totally, let’s go to that punk show on whatever night, Friday is fine, I’m not some looney religious person” which is partly a past voice, and also I want to say, “Hey, I’m going to be hosting a post-havdalah new moon drum circle in my house and chanting some prayers and melodies, let me know if you’re coming early so I can leave the door open so you don’t have to buzz up before Shabbat ends…”
For example, not so sure about finding someone on JDate in Boston. With all appreciation and awe for Ruby-K and General Anna, and with thanks to my mother for recently purchasing a three month subscription to JDate for me and then checking in with me incessantly about it (“So… meet anyone new lately?”), I’m just not sure this is going to be a goldmine for me looking for the specific subset of Jewish man who digs religion, intelligent women, feminism, humor, and fruitiness. (Ugh, this is starting to sound like my profile… Hey, if you fit the above description you can leave me a message here and you don’t even have to pay a membership fee!) It’s the religion part I’m thinking about tonight.
Some examples of philosophical/theological disconnect from my JDate tonight:
He: “You know what I find really ridiculous, is one time I was on vacation with my family and we were at a hotel and there was this really Jewish couple pacing in front of the door with one of those magic eyes, you know that opens the door? and when we walked through, they walked right in after us so they wouldn’t be ‘working’ to open the door.”
Me: “Yeah…”
He: “You don’t think that’s pathetic?”
Me: “Well, no. Actually, a lot of my friends do that.”
He: “It’s like with microphones in synagogue; the rabbi uses it during services, but then there’s always that one person who like runs the Hebrew School parents committee and has to do announcements and refuses the microphone and then no one can hear her. I mean, it’s good enough for the rabbi!”
Me: [When do I tell him I’m shomer shabbat? At this point he already knows I am a rabbinical student…] He: “It’s not even the same thing. Fire is work because you know how much work it takes to make a fire with all that wood? But turning on a microphone, that’s not even working.”
Me: [Should I go with an explanation of the 39 milachas in my response or just nod?] I mean, if I weren’t one of those people who identifies with the pacing electronic door couple (even though that’s not my practice), there would be a much larger pool of people to potentially partner with, right? …er, hmm…
It’s like a conversation I was having with my teacher-advisor-rebbe. I was saying how sometimes I wish I could just blend in with the crowd, go back to being a “normal” person, that with all this learning and observance and rabbi-ing, I am realizing it gets lonelier and lonelier when there are fewer and fewer people (I don’t just mean romantically) with similar knowledge about Judaism or simply who like “get” what I’m doing with my life.
He shared his more recent theory (a move away from his radical egalitarianism) in which all communities need “householders,” the regular folks, and then a few people who sacrifice to hold the community space, to be the pillars on which householders lean, to devote themselves to learning so as to provide that knowledge base to the community and to translate it (not stam linguistically) for them to make it relevant and accessible. But for those few pillars, it can get lonely, and we must seek out other pillars for support and strength, but our life work is really to be of service in that way, and yes, it might feel lonely at times.
I want to be of service. And I guess that means it’s harder to have a beer with just anyone. Ah well, so be it.
[With apologies to my date from tonight, whom I do not mean to offend but rather think that we had some funny moments of miscommunication, and with whom I really did have a pleasant evening and was wowed by his trivia knowledge… I really hope you enjoy the blog if you have stumbled upon it from my description, and thanks so much for the drinks and company.]

27 thoughts on “Being a pillar can be lonely

  1. It should be noted, if you’re going to use the example of Ruby-K and General Anna, that Ruby-K wasn’t the fruity Jew we all know and love until his wonderful now-wife brought him “in to the fold.”
    Nor were I and my now-wife fruity in the least when we began our relationship.
    Best of luck in your continues search.

  2. If it were me, then what I would have found the biggest turnoff isn’t his attitude toward specific practices, but rather, the fact that he said “this really Jewish couple”.

  3. I’ve been pretty observant my whole life, but I still hate telling people I’m religious because everyone has some specific idea of what that means and it’s invariably wrong and/or offensive, but if I don’t tell someone I’m dating that I’m religious and then I turn out to be on the third date, that’s also kind of obnoxious. I hear you loud and clear.

  4. From one lonely future-pillar to another: Yehudit Bracha, wanna get married? (Bonus: I can grant you access to cheaper education and free healthcare!)

  5. YB: The disclaimer at the end = priceless! If he finds & survives reading your whole post, he’s a keeper!
    BZ: That “really Jewish” comment would piss me off too. (speaking as one of those people who doesn’t trigger electronic doors on Shabbat)

  6. don’t overestimate your desire for a similarly observant man…. you never know where your interests will lead you… I had an almost identical list of “requirements” to what you mention (in my case I thought I wanted an egalitarian, observant man) and now, many years later, I have some very different interests. I guess what I’m saying is that nothing is really a requirement, especially since we are always expanding our essential interests, hopefully. Also, I wouldn’t overfocus on the religious qualities, because it may distract you from other important issues in the relationship. Just my two cents….

  7. I’m going through the same terribly frustrating situation, with the added complication of having to find a way to make sure the men who are responding to my ad are not freaked out by my history of dating both men and women. Which, combined with my observance level, has resulted in… One single not-so-exciting date. I feel like I can’t complete on Jdate because I’m too religious, not girly enough, and too left-wing. I placed an ad on Frumster but it’s yielded nothing so far (though there are far more men on there that are of interest to me than on JDate). The funny thing is I’ve found plenty of dates with women – But with men? Total failure. I don’t know if this online dating thing is going to work – But if not that, then what? I don’t live in a big city so I don’t exactly have lots of places to meet young, progressive, single Jewish men. Sometimes I seriously think of creating a fruity Jews dating site just for progressive Jews and inclusive of all orientations.

  8. The new Jew-It-Yourself/Matzat project?
    First Shul-Shopper, now “Bashertopalooza!”
    With an innovative check-box feature so you can select as many seemingly-contradictory religious practices and identities as you want! (why have to select from a list of set affiliations?)
    Functional sexual orientation management! (unlike Jewster)
    Cross-listing with your favorite independent Jewish communities so you and your date can coordinate Friday nights!
    And of course, a section for folks to describe their dietary restrictions! (I’m a queso-flexitarianist, myself).

  9. thanks for sharing this YB! i hope you will find much success. until that happens though will you make this a recurring feature? my wishes for a happy and quick end to the search.
    do you generally discuss halachic practices on first dates?

  10. BZ: I use baalat teshuva to say that I formerly had no relationship to Jewish law and commandedness nor to Jewish learning and now I do, and I do because I had some serious epiphanes about how I needed to live my life and worked damn hard to acquire the knowledge and spiritual communities to be able to do that. It’s true that when someone hears that term, they probably don’t think of my particular set of observances and beliefs. I liked the discussion over at zt’s. I want another term.
    It might be hard for people who didn’t go through this process to understand, but it really is like being born again. My life is totally different now than it was before 2001. The way I live my day to day life, the way my weeks and years look, the way I relate to morality and conscience, the way I relate to everything. It did and still does have implications on the closeness I have with my family, especially around Jewish holidays and at first around eating and certainly now around becoming a rabbi. My friend group changed entirely — I have maybe one or two friends tops from before 2001. And I worked my ass off to change my habits, change my lifestyle, change my life focus.
    So in experience, I can definitely relate to all people who call themselves baalei teshuva, much moreso sometimes than I can relate to people who grew up in a family or individually with similar Jewish practice as their current one. It WAS a process of teshuva, of turning and returning. I returned to some deep soul within me, and I honestly praise and thank God for embracing me.

  11. Ha, ha,
    I’m going through a similar situation…
    “how religious ARE YOU?” is my most often cited Q.
    Eh, believe in a Besheret and life will be good.

  12. Bashertopalooza! yes! Brilliant, chillul who…. Brilliant. I only wish I had the programming skills to make such a site. I know how to make a very simple HTML site only.

  13. Having been in a similar situation many times, and particularly at present, I have to say that the solution is not to only date other “pillars” or start “beshertopalooza” — as wonderful an idea as that is. If we are all, individually, making our own choices about halachah, observance, spirituality, etc, then how can we possibly expect to find someone else who has made the exact same choices?
    Indeed, it is only by happenstance that most of came into our wonderful fruity, jewschooly world. Should we hold it against others that their Jewish education hasn’t allowed them to fully question and adapt their Judaism as we have?
    Our partners need to be able to understand the process we have gone through, and respect it and our decisions. They dont need to go through the same process or make the same decisions. Though our Jewish choices greatly impact our daily lives, the core values by which live are of far greater importance in finding a partner. The rest (at least Id like to believe) is commentary.

  14. in addition to backbeat’s point, we are all still growing and changing all the time. it’d be short-sighted to settle down with a partner who is a perfect match for a specific set of idiosyncratic details that define us currently. much more important is that they share the general frames we see the world through and then the details will (hopefully work out). pick someone too similar and we may find ourselves having trouble continuing to journey as it is much more emotionally convenient to stay put.

  15. Thanks for sharing your story. I can empathize at least in part with it. I don’t like the idea of having or being a pillar, but because I live in China, where I’m in the minority of people who keep kosher and shabbat, I often feel like a pillar.

  16. “much more important is that they share the general frames we see the world through”
    For some of us, religious and political outlooks are part of those general frames we see the world through. Someone who will roll their eyes at the fact that I won’t go out to lunch with them on Shabbos is just not going to be a compatible partner. I don’t hear anyone saying they want a partner who has the exact same beliefs and practices they do – I perceive this post and the comments as expressing the desire to be understood by the people one dates and to not feel like a freak for being observant and progressive.

  17. Hey, YB:
    When you find the right person, matching the observance level might matter a whole lot less. Compromise, mutual respect and someone who ‘gets’ you are non-negotiable. At least in my experience, I found that the more concrete things I had on some proverbial list (like, you know, it should be someone with a similar religious practice) went straight out the window when I found someone with whom it just.. clicked. There’s been some hard work, but we’ve managed to work out the religious differences just fine in the end.
    Just a reminder.

  18. I was there where you are a while ago, even used Jdate, which to me is a waste of time and $. Much to my surprise, I found the fellow whom I am dating in minyan. I was there, he was there, we began to talk and hit it off right away. He’s Reform, but has become more observant because I am.
    Keep the faith, however you do so. I’ll be davening for your bashert. 🙂
    Bashertapalooza! I like that!
    Kosherly Organic,

  19. Sarah Naomi writes:
    He’s Reform, but has become more observant because I am.
    “She’s a woman, but has become better at math because I am.”

  20. “Sarah Naomi writes:
    He’s Reform, but has become more observant because I am.
    “She’s a woman, but has become better at math because I am.””
    chill out BZ, i think the poster means that envying her superior vision her BF has elected to get a new pair of glasses, thus becoming more observant.

  21. LT- good call. And I’d also add that in our case, I think I moved on what I was doing Jewishly, and the General moved some as well. I think it’s pretty safe to say that before, the General wasn’t hitting any concerts on Friday night or doing much traveling on a Saturday. For both of us, we were looking for a runnin’ partner as much as a partner, and so it made sense for both of us to shift.
    I want to write more about this later, but I have to finish my readings for class.

  22. btw, what is fruitiness? yall mentioned that few times on here
    it is hard for young yidden like us for whom enthusiasm about yiddishkeit is a high priority in potential dating partners. especially if maybe your views on some things are sometimes too complicated to explain on a JDate profile/first date (which is often the case). I get really tired of the “Are you Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox” question, because that question implies a one word answer, but mine is much much longer than that. I know a lot of yall can probably relate to that.
    I’ve stopped worrying about it. I’m trying to keep it that way, hoping that Hashem will help me keep my yetzer hora in check, but in moments of stress it aint always easy. I’ve decided its better just to focus on growing in Torah and avodah, and to just be a good friend, and just wait and see if any Jewish woman is really diggin the direction im heading. Some would say that’s the wrong approach, but I aint convinced by their arguments. Have a little bitachon yall…it’ll be alright. Baruch Hashem!

  23. I was pointed to your post by some friends. I definitely can empathize with the whole searching on Jewish dating sites for Jewish males in the Boston area with similar beliefs and failing miserably experience. Though in my case it has been more of interacting with some guys who are just completely incoherent. Like an e-mail that could have been written by a spam-bot and a profile that could have been written by a 3rd grader. Actually the 3rd grader would probably have better grammar…
    Hang in there!

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