Saturday, January 19, 2008

On loneliness

So, a couple days ago, right after I had made my plan (detailed before), I decided to speak to them to Mrs. Fabio. Mrs. Fabio is the wife of Rabbi Favio, who is my sponsoring Rabbi. They were the first "official" Jewish people I told about my desire to convert, and they are very close to Baker. They have always been friendly towards me, and when I needed a sponsoring Rabbi, I asked Rabbi Fabio. He said he didn't know what he would need to do, but he was willing to try. Since then, he and his wife have always been very kind to me, but they have never really discussed where I am in converting, nor have they given me any clear offers of help. It is ok, though, I have not minded. They are extremely busy people and they mostly do college outreach and are always on the run.

I approached Rabbi Fabio last year about teaching me something from my list, and that led to a small class where he taught from one of his favorite Rabbis. It was really nice, but it wasn't something from my list, and the class ended. It has since been supplanted by Mrs. Fabio leading a large group of girls in learning. I see the invitations go out on facebook, but I have never been invited. I had discussed this with Baker, and his suggestion was that I should just show up. I am far too southern to do such a thing. Plus, even if she had missed my name the first five or six times, she could not have missed it every time. I thought it was intentional, but I was not sure why. Anyway, Mrs. Fabio comes to my school and gives talks for girls. After the last one, I was really excited to tell her my plan and get her feedback.

I gave her a rundown and explained that I thought it might help Rabbi Dan (the conversion Rabbi), realize my sincerity. She said they didn't need to know I was sincere. I said, "But, I want him to know that I'm working hard and he will not be wasting his time." She told me that they were not worried about waisting time. She said the concern was that a convert is the responsibility of those who convert him. After someone converts, if they break laws, the beis din suffers, too. I explained that I understood (she had told me this before), but I said that even given that, people still convert and I wanted to do something, anything, besides this stagnation. She then went on to say that barriers between Jews and non-Jews existed for a reason. She said that all people were the children of Hashem and worthy of love and respect, but that not everyone should become too familiar. She explained that non-Jews are not supposed to learn the Torah from Jews and that there were no exceptions for me. Now, I know that there are prohibitions on teaching a non-Jew Torah, but I thought that there were exceptions for people converting. How am I ever supposed to learn that list if I do not have someone to teach me? How am I supposed to be able to show that I know how to keep the mitzvahs if I am not allowed to know what they are?

Then, she continued to tell me that she knows of some seminary in Montreal where people go to convert. I told her that I had not heard of one there, but had heard of things in Israel. She said that where I am, I am too comfortable. I am not alone enough. I have Baker and Edgar and Cala and other friends. I am not like Abraham because he was alone and had to travel to a foreign land. This upset me. I am very pleased that she was willing to be completely honest with me. I appreciate her candor.

However, I think there are a few mistakes. First, Abraham was not surrounded by people who believed as he did, he was surrounded by idol worshipers, which is why he had to leave. In fact, when Hashem told Abram to travel to the land of Canaan, Bereshis says, "Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot...and the persons that they had acquired in Haran." Which clearly indicates that he was not alone. He went with people.

Additionally, in many ways, I am alone. Sure, I have made new friends in the Jewish community since beginning this process. Edgar and Cala are among them. Baker and I have been friends for a long time, but we had gone four years without much interaction at all and in high school, we were friends, but not really close. This process has brought us closer. Probably a combination of our being in law school and the fact that we are both learning and growing in the same community. However, having friends does not make a person not lonely. Many times, I feel very isolated. There are many Shabboses where I do not receive an invitation to go anywhere and it feels lonely. When my friends do not receive an invitation, they can eat at their family's home, or, as with Baker, they can always eat at those people who have practically adopted them into their family. Baker and Rabbi Fabio are extremely close and Baker can always go there and feels comfortable doing so. I have not been embraced to such an extent. Many times, I see people being invited and I am overlooked. I think it's because most of my friends are targets of "outreach," but I, of course, am not. I'm already sold on the club; I'm just not a member.

I have been asking people to learn with me for almost a year now. So far, one person has accepted (not counting NG, with whom I will start learning this week), but even she became too busy and seemed too disinterested for me to continue trying to impose on her. It is difficult because my friends all know that they are welcome at the classes sponsored by the shul; they are all called and told about trips to Israel or learning programs at various schools. I am not called and I am often not really allowed. It is very difficult.

My mother, and my mother's family thinks I am crazy. They are all Southern Baptists and, although they do not know too much about their own dogma, they do know that Jews aren't Christians and that they have been told that one cannot go to Heaven without being Christian. My mom told me that she did not think I was going to hell, but that God said I was going to Hell. My non-Jewish friends think I am a bit nutterbutters because why would anyone want to give up Friday nights? Sure, I am around Jewish people and have befriended them, but it isn't always a choice. It's practical. My other friends are available Friday and Saturday nights, but often, I'm not even available on Saturday nights because Shabbos ends too late. Being in law school leaves very little free time, and what I have is often dedicated to studying school work or Jewish things. I won't even start to explain how all of my childhood memories with my family center around some holiday that I will no longer practice. Every one of my new friends has warm seder memories, even if they have become more religious. I have those memories, but not from a seder.

I am a member of a debate society from my Undergraduate school. It was my "fraternity" and how I made all of my friends in college. Every year, they have an anniversary meeting which is attended by most of my friends who have disbursed since graduating. I cannot go because it is on Saturday. I missed it last year and I will miss it this year, and every year to come. The society holds regular meetings on Thursday nights, but even then, I do not go. I have work and school and giving up Thursday night to study and driving the three hours it would take to go there and be back by Shabbos is too much when I am also not studying on Shabbos. It's lonely for sure.

The final thought I have regarding what BG told me is that I wish she had told me this earlier. I would not have continued to request that she learn with me. I would have understood why I was not invited to her learning classes. I would have been able to question RF about the rules regarding my learning Torah. If I really do have to move myself across the world to Montreal or Israel, I could have known. I would still learn, but I probably would not have told my mother so soon. It would have saved her from a lot of pain and it would have allowed us to have a better relationship for longer. I could have initiated plans for moving, and tried to include them in my plans for the future. Although I intend to talk to RF about this, law school moves at a set pace, and once I graduate and my debts become due, it will be much more difficult for me to uproot myself and still meet my obligations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

D, This was difficult to read in a sense of not really understanding what your going through all the time but feeling the hardship through your words. I think what BG told you is right. She's extremely smart and forthcoming. I know you really want this and you'll do anything to get it. So maybe moving out of ATL would get you there. It is a lonely process but know it wont be like that forever. And of course I am always only a phone call away :) Sending love,