Sunday, April 09, 2006

Which Way Out of Egypt?

No matter what I do, no matter what I eat, no matter how hard I avoid it, it's going to be Pesach in a matter of days. The stupid moon just keeps getting fuller. What's with that?

I once wrote a poem about the last days of Elul. Every year, I realize once again that I spend the days before Rosh Hashanah, not in serene, thoughtful self-examination, but in acting out, avoiding, and transgressing, and I've come to believe (maybe self-servingly), that this is part of an important process. Testing the limits before the chagim begin, and I find myself swept up in an affirmation of those limits, and of what (or Who) is not limited.

I'm somewhere similar right now. While before Rosh Hashanah I find myself having to assess where I am in relation to the world, I am having to sit back now and assess where I am in relation to Jews. Uh, could I have the world problem back please? (Sort of kidding. Anyway, we'll be back there in six months.)

After my last Pesach post, I had a long talk with my mom. She thinks that I idealize my family's observance during my childhood too much, and put too much pressure on myself to reach an imaginary ideal. (I think that's what she said.) This is probably true. I think that the core problem I have, Jewishly speaking, is that I still (at thirty-two), have not quite figured out how to be a Jewish grown-up. And this clearly bugs me. (I'm sitting here crying on my keyboard. Not entirely sure why. Need to go stir spaghetti sauce.)

OK. Sauce stirred. I've been hacking away at this post for a bit, trying to make sense of what I'm really thinking. I keep starting to type the entire history of me and stuff Jewish--childhood, college stuff, attempt at rabbinic school, attempt at working in Jewish community, developing intense allergic sensitivity to anti-Semitism after 9/11, all of it, but I actually don't think any of that is all that useful right now. It's stuff I've reviewed with myself, and my friends and my therapist a lot, but it's not what I'm actually thinking about now.

Now THAT was a useful paragraph to write. My whole personal history with the Jewish community has started to feel like Marley's manacles--to be dragged around clanking until Judgement Day. Enough of that. I doubt there's much left in there for me to mine. If there was ever a season for dropping the manacles and walking on without them, this is it. Where am I now, and what do I want?

Mostly where I am right now is obsessed with work. This is not a new problem. Since the demise of the rabbi plan (nearly ten years now...scary), I've been working feverishly to work out some way to find a job I like and am tolerably good at that pays the bills and fits into some sort of life I'm comfortable with. I'm closer now than I've ever been, in a lot of ways, but I'm not there, and in some ways I'm REALLY not there. My present job is awful. It's now time-limited--mid-June and we're done--but that means I have to find a job before the end of the summer. I'm working on that--I've been to two interviews, although neither panned out--and I have another on Tuesday. The other problem is that this current job is eating my head. It's really hard to be spending so much time and energy on something that so completely consumes me, and is so totally unrewarding. I leave the house at 6:30, and get home at 6:30, and really, there is not much outside of that. And I am afraid that I won't find another teaching job. The Paxil is wonderful, in that the anxiety is basically gone, but that does not make this pleasant, only tolerable. Granted, this is HUGE step forward, and will probably make all the difference, but Not the best of times.

So I'm not doing much except for wrestling with work, finding new work, getting through the old work. Most of my time outside of work is spent refueling to go back, or feeling guilty I'm not doing more work/job hunt related things. As a result, I am not doing a lot of other things that might result in more happiness, spiritual growth, or peace on earth.

To be expected, you might say, at a time like this, but it feels like it's been a time like this FOREVER. I don't go to shul. I don't volunteer. I don't get out. I don't even clean much, although I did get a jump on Pesach this morning by sorting through huge piles of old bills and odd mail, filing and tossing. (Yes, I realize old bills are not chametz. But in a spiritual sense, aren't they? I think it says that somewhere in the Gemara. If it doesn't, it's only because Bruriah and Rachel and Imma Shalom were too busy scrubbing and putting down aluminum foil on the counters to make an official statement about it.)

As you may have noticed, and as this blog title hints, I think, I have a bundle of crossed wires in my head about home, family, community and yiddishkeit. (I think I have just identified the four most crucial concepts/stereotypes in my whole psychic makeup. I should make a plaque or something.) I do idealize the way I was raised, and the haphazardness of my current Jewish/community/activist life does bother me. And my kitchen is a leavened mess, and I may not make it to a seder this year. (My mother and I are planning to eat chicken together on the first night and talk about leaving Mitzrayim. Second night I'm thinking possibly Chabad.)

But I think this is my year for leaving Mitzrayim in my own particular way--through decluttering, and examining with a critical eye what I really want to, and can, bring with me on the cosmic communal road trip. Clearing out my spaces so I'm no longer trapped in a house that's narrowing in on me--OK, I'm a literalist about Mitzrayim here--and freeing my head from preconceived ideas about what I would find out in the desert if I were a better person, (or my mother, grandmother, Emma Goldman, the matriarchs, some woman living in Mea Shearim, or Blu Greenberg) so I can actually go out there and see what I was meant to find.

Gotta go eat some more chametz and throw out old envelopes. See ya baMidbar.


Anonymous said...

I'm the husband of one of the other anonymous posters about Netivot Shalom. I'm afraid I'm sounding a bit evangelical, but, if you are considering Chabad, you should think about the Netivot Shalom community sedar for the 2nd night.

This is their first attempt at doing a community sedar (first Pesach in the new building) and the sedar is attracting many regular and enthusiastic congregants and there is an amazing rabbi/congregant leading, so it should be interesting. As of yesterday, there were a few spaces left. (I'll be out of town, but I'm sad I'm missing it.) They do have discounts if the price is too steep.

Very interesting and thoughtful post. I'd respond to some other parts, but I'm also in the middle of my own insane apartment cleaning right now.

Barefoot Jewess said...

Man, I really enjoyed this post. Sounds like my life day to day (without the Jewish baggage). Very insightful.

May I ask what derailed you from rabbi school? It seems to me, that you may have a certain knack for it, or something like it.