a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Do We Really Know What Gd Wants?

Posted on: March 14, 2012

“I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants them to do to their fellows.” -Susan B. Anthony

As a social media personality you have access to a wide array of people.  People who agree with what you’re doing and people who don’t and while I don’t hope that everyone will agree with what I have to say, I hope that they will try to listen to my words and understand them.  Understanding them doesn’t mean agreeing with them, it doesn’t mean making them your own, it doesn’t even mean that they need apply to your life-I just need you to understand, as simple as that.

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that-which let’s me know that there is much work to be done.  A few things are on my mind right now.

Two evenings ago I responded to a Facebook comment about the Punk Jews documentary.  The question was, and I’m paraphrasing, what the implications of “re-branding Gd” means or does.  Having watched the Punk Jews trailer more times than I can remember and the years of patient waiting on bated breath for the film’s release I have a strong feeling that the people in the film are doing their best to show different expressions of Jewish practice, Jewish spirituality, and Jewish existence through a wide array of sometimes eyebrow raising tactics.  In my view, all in the hopes of bringing Jews who may be disenfranchised with Judaism back into the fold, so to speak, in ways that are more accessible or more meaningful for them.

Which is what I said : “I’m late in the game, and not Orthodox, but I know one of the producers of the film and he’s pretty frum. I think what X  is saying is that there should at least be communication/and option/a voice for different ways of expressing one’s Judaism. Fitting into a perfect box is sometimes extremely restricting for people who truly love to be Jewish and truly love Gd.  Therefore, finding their own ways to Gd through exploring different aspects of Judaism is their way to the Divine. While it may be different and strange and extreme, it’s religious expression that can’t and won’t be understood by everyone, but at least it’s something to consider.”

After a little bit of back and forth about the difference between what Gd wants and what I want I was told: ” Okay that may be but thats not what hashem asks of us. its like oh im going to make up my own version of what i think hashem wants… even though he already told me.. and its not like these people arent fitting perfectly in these bozes.. must of us have an arm or a leg out.. but these people just jump completely out of the box, and are like.. yeah well this is how “I” love hashem.. its not even about hashem anymore.. its about themselves…right its what YOU feel…. that was my point. What you feel connects you to someone else isnt what connects you with them, its fulfilling what THEY need and what makes them happy. being in a loving relationship is about putting yourself and your desires aside and saying to the other person what can i do for you, what will make YOU happy”

I left the conversation and did what I always try to do when in conflict with an idea, especially an idea that I don’t claim to be an expert on-I sat with it and I’ve been sitting with it until right now.  While I may be writing a response in my quiet little space online and not on the big bad Facebook-world’s wall I can honestly say that I’m a bit confused.  How can we, as humans, presume to know what Gd wants of us?  This is not a jab at Orthodoxy, because I find many many aspects of Modern Orthodoxy that I hope to permanently adapt to my life.  The reason I would never do an Orthodox conversion is for this very fact: How can modern-day Jews presume to know what the Gd of the Torah wants of us today? And who says?  Who claims to know what Gd wants of us?

If we base our lives on Torah alone then we should be making sure our care-givers and babysitters are all circumcised-otherwise they shouldn’t be allowed “in our camp.”  We would be living on the land, and working the land making sure to leave the corners for the poor to glean.  We should be keeping people who are sick, who have open, oozing sores, who are diseased or different way from our communities.  Clearly I’m just picking out extremes in the Torah, but the reality of Torah and the realities of today are completely different.  Sure we’re given 613 mitzvot to follow, but who decided that there were 613?  And as a woman, the majority of those mitzvot do not apply to me, so why would I try to do them?  Lastly, if my connection with Gd is through ways that I find spiritually fulfilling and spiritually meaningful and ways that allow me to connect with Gd in ways that are within Jewish Law, who are you (the broad “you” not this person) to tell me that the way that I praise Gd is wrong?  What’s wrong with saying this is how I love Gd, let me show you how I love Gd-even if you don’t get it, I do!  And it brings me so much joy and love to connect with Gd in this way.

For me the thinking goes like this:  Gd gives me a blueprint along with bunch of beams, some bricks, some plaster, some mortar, some nails and hammers and saws.  Do I appreciate the things Gd has given me or do I take the things that Gd has given me and use them to build something?  I’m not going to be a Jew that just sits there with the tools and the blueprint thinking they’re great and not do anything with them!

I will not paint all Orthodox Jews with one brush, because individual people do not reflect their communities, because I know that the Eastern European way of being a “religious Jew” that is widely-spread in the U.S. specifically does not reflect the other vast majority of “traditionally religious Jews” in other places-as I learned last night at Be’chol Lashon NY’s monthly meeting from a religious Yemenite Jew.  He is a religious Jew who lives “in the world” and finds his path to Gd through his Yemenite traditions, in Yeminite-Hebrew.  I was flipping through Claudia Roden’s book on Jewish cooking and read a passage about how Arabic Jews appreciate the beauty of life, in their food, in their families, in the world that Gd has so lovingly given then.  The Psalms tell us to praise Gd with music and singing and horns!

I just find it frustrating when some people sit with an idea and are completely rigid in that thinking to the point of not seeing everyone else’s “in.”  For some people rigid rules, restrictions, and formulas for connecting to prayer is great, but for people like me the rules are too confining because they cause me to pretend to be my full self, rather than being my full self.  The words on a page are rushed through in a hushed and quick tone rather than taking time on them and weaving them into a beautiful melody…that’s my in and I don’t need anyone telling me that my way of loving Gd is wrong.

Which brings me to an interesting occurrence on the Jewish blogosphere.  Blogger Social Media Maven, The Kvetching Editor, has gone of the air so to speak.  You can still find her on Twitter and on her new blog sharing her life but the years of knowledge and conversation that she’s attributed to the world of Judaism and conversion is gone.  My good buddy, Michael Doyle, has shared his views on the happenings and I commend him for his courage for speaking his mind.  I’m a pretty crappy blogger in that I don’t check into other blogs as often as I’d like.  When I noticed, after trying to click on Kvetching Editor to find an answer to a question, (something I’ll miss dearly) I noticed it was gone.  After quick checking on Facebook I saw that she’d taken down her site and sad to see it go.  I don’t know what’s going on on/offline between The Kvetching Editor and You’re Not Crazy and I’m okay with it.  I don’t need to know and if they want to share with me, then I’ll listen.  I do think that having an opinion, like my buddy Michael’s is worth listening to, even if you oppose it, even if you don’t understand because we can all learn something from one else.  None of us, as human beings, have the right to pass judgement on another but we do owe it to one another to listen.

Which brings me to something else I’m sitting, another Facebook conversation.  {Maybe Facebook is bad!}   Yesterday my friend, a black lesbian Jew, asked a simple question: “Why can’t Jews of Color simply be?” Meaning why are we always questioned when we go to shul?  Another friend, a Mexican-American Jew, answered frankly that racism was to blame which erupted into a long back and forth between people which lasted well past 85 comments.

As I read through the comments and refused to jump in late in the game yet again, I couldn’t understand why our plight was so hard to understand.  Curiosity killed the cat is a phrase which rings true.  While it may seem like innocent curiosity to ask about people who are different than you, learning to bite your tongue is a better lesson in the long run-that metallic taste of blood in your mouth when you bite your tongue serves as a reminder of the sting you would have inflicted on another if you’d said what you intended to say.  More over, acknowledging the racism that exists within Jewish communities is an important first step-way more important than trying to figure out how someone is Jewish.  As much as we’d like to think otherwise, Jews are not immune from racism, it’s a simple fact.  America is a country that has been built on the idea of one race being superior to others-it’s how our country was born, it is how our country continues to exists.  We’re making strides, that’s to be sure, but to assume that we’re done working or that Jews are the lone community immune to racism is naive.  Finding ways to work through this reality through conversations, education, building bridges, reaching out to people and being truly welcoming in your synagogue community through speakers, music, food, and lectures is a great step.    One thing is true, something I learned in all of these happenings online this week-We can never learn anything from misunderstanding, ignorance, or being unwilling to let down our walls.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about ignorance through an e-mail I received by a guy who calls himself Roger rogerk1500@gmail.com Roger sent me a message today that stated : All Jews are bad, we need those giant furnaces again.”

I’m always confused by people who spend their time trolling Facebook, Twitter and blogs for the sole purpose of sending hateful crap like this.  Roger, you ignorant schmuck, I love you.  I hope that one day you can learn to love yourself as well.

4 Responses to "Do We Really Know What Gd Wants?"

I don’t believe we can know what God wants and I am not convinced God wants anything in particular. To want seems like such a human thing to me.

Great post. lots to think about before I comment. Struggling with illness, I admit Im behind in following your posts but you are always thoughtful, kind and reflective even when folks dont return the same. will get back to you soon.

@Dena-I totally agree! That’s why I was so dumbfounded at the presumption of someone telling me that the way that I find Gd in my Jewish practice is what I want, not what Gd wants…I mean, how can a human tell me what Gd wants? I think if Gd wanted anything, and again I think that “wanting” is a human emotion and above Gd, that Gd would want people to know Gd-in whatever way brings them closer to Gd’s presence.
@Timahruth Elisheva-You don’t have to get back to me! I’m glad you’re reading and thankful for your kind words. Sending you prayers and lots of positive energy!

[…] cons and the cons always stack up higher than the pros. I struggle with the idea of what Gd wants, the audacity to presume to know what Gd wants, and being honest with the realities of the life I share with my partner and what I am capable of […]

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