Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Radical turn of events, and a change of heart.

I know this will sound crazy, and it's painful to imagine how deep I got myself. I was called down to my principal's office. I had intended to negotiate a higher salary for next year, mean while, he told me that he was phasing out my special needs department and there wouldn't be a job for me next year. He said that he was open to using me as a substitute. Of course, I am shocked at myself that despite how angry I was at myself for finding myself in the role of a Rebbe, I still was considering working there the following year. As soon, as I heard him say that I had no job next year, I breathed a sigh of relief, I felt so good inside, I would no longer need to fake and pretend.

I got a job around the corner from my school at a kosher restaurant. To be honest, I was angry for a while. I still had a lot of pride in my jewish mind, the mind that had conquered so much gemara, the mind that had seen itself as so smart,and so much better than everyone else. I had been a rebbe, at least I had some respect, and now I was a "nobody" just a simple person working in a restaurant and picking up french fries off the floor, and loading snapples into the refrigerator. Surprising as it may seems something about this new job seemed very right. I never imagined that it could be this way, but here it was, and it seemed more than ok, I really liked it. I was wondering if I was allowed to love this this much. How can this be possible? They had always told us that work was bad and it seemed like something that I should better stay away from. There was nothing glamorous about it. I wasn't spreading yiddishkeit, but still I felt like I was doing something really good. How could I be feeling this good, doing something this dumb.

Little did I know that for my kind of mind, I actually benefited from this kind of job. It was great. I blossomed more at that job than I did in all those shukel-filled years of bending over the gemara. In this job, I had to deal with real people, and real problems.

It's true, there were some awkward and painful moments. My restaurant was right around the corner from the school I used to teach in. I used to wear a suit and tie, now I was wearing a hawaian shirt and jeans. I used to be someone who they asked advice of and now they were asking me for another order of french fries. I used to have others cleaning the floor, now it was me. Still I must admit that I got so much inner reward from feeling that I was doing something that was real, that it made it all worth while. I felt honest. For once in my life, I was being really me. I never knew that being real could feel so good. I knew now, with every fiber in my body that i was living my truth, and that was a great reward.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Now I know why people love sex

I had been at the house for a while now. I had my little life. It was the first time that I was truly on my own. I was exhausted and tired and confused. I had come to LA for companionship. I had come because I wanted sex, and now I was really angry. Where was my sex? Why hadn't I had sex yet? There were all these woman running around but I didn't seem to know how to get any. Was I awkward? Was there something wrong with me? I felt that there was. For some reason, I simply didn't see myself having sex. I wanted it, but there was something missing in the human connection department. I wanted pleasure, but I don't think that my mind saw it as a means to connect with other people. I was scared, and tired, and hiding deep inside, and I yearned most to know me. That was my true desire. I couldn't honestly say that I wanted to get to know another person.

There came this one Saturday night, and I had had it. I just needed to get out of my mind, and out of my house. I thought about the whole city and thought to myself, "there has got to be someone in this city that I could hang out with". I decided to park my car, and head to Ocean Avenue. There were some bars, and people walking around, I figured, if anything was going to happen, that would be a good place to start.

I walked into a drum shop. I had never done this before. It must have been about 8:00 at night and I started drumming on one of the drums. I was semi enjoying myself but looking back, I can tell that, inside, I was dying to have sex, or some kind of close connection with another person. I wanted to know that I was human. I needed to know that I was whole, that I was human , that I could get close to another person. I was aching to know that my body could be touched by another and have another touch it.

As my luck would have it. In came JC. he was a man I had met a couple years earlier. H was good looking and in the gym, he had once given me a very warm hug. I did not know it at the time, of the hug, but looking back, it was probably the kind of hug a gay man gives to another person he is interested in. I knew nothing of hugs, and gayness. I just knew that I really appreciated that hug. I remember it felt so good to be held that close. I needed it and I remembered it, but at the time, I knew nothing of what a person might do with a hug or where it could lead. I just knew that it felt good.

He and his definitely gay friend Patrick, had come into the store together. Somehow we all got to talking. I was excited by the conversation and had no idea where it may lead. I just knew that I had been distant from any kind of friendship that felt close and warm. I simply never had it and so I had no idea what I was missing. I had come to LA, and looking back, I had spent most of my energy just trying to survive, and make sense of the disaster that I had just been through. I knew that I was living in a beautiful place with all kinds of strange weird and different people. I knew that somehow, I fit in because I felt more relaxed being myself, but I surely did not know enough about myself to venture out and have a friend. Now, I was chatting with these two fellows and they invited me back to their home. That was exciting since, I don't think I had ever been invited anywhere (except for a shabbos meal or something.............or a bris, but then again, you're not supposed to be invited so does it count?)

As soon as I walked into their house, I had a really good feeling about being there. There where delicious tantalizing smells of oils and incense. The living room was a spacious and cozy area where people just did whatever, no furniture just lying down and relaxing kinds of spaces. Patrick was a masseuse. I didn't even know what that was at that time. I didn't even know that people were paid to massage other people's bodies. I surely didn't know that they were paid to do his kind of massage, which included a very unique event.

My head had been, was (and still is sometimes) in the clouds and then, it would take ropes of iron to bring it down to this planet and teach it some things about the way this world worked and didn't. I noticed that there was a lot of touch going on. As people just sat chatting and watching TV, they would touch each other, just gentle petting and soothing. I was amazed that this was considered normal. It seemed so natural to them. I felt so awkward and yet, I yearned for what they had. Why couldn't I do this too? I yearned to feel that comfortable with my body. It seemed like such a natural and real experience and right to be able and feel comfortable touching another's body. After all, I had hands and legs and I wanted to use them. Somehow, I knew intuitively that there was so much that could be told and shared through simple touch. I wanted to have that too, but somehow I knew that that destiny was not mine. I didn't know why and I wondered how it could be this way, but I knew that my body was not meant to touch and be touched. I had never had that experience and the distance made the possibility and impossibility. I had been so far from the world of touch that my mind, body, did not really know that it existed, but yearned for it with every fiber, somehow knowing that it was lacking something so raw and essential to being human.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

No. No!! Don't!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (2)

I still can't believe that the gut knows so much and how aware it is,of what is good for it, and what it wants. Although, I was suffering deeply inside, I must admit that I was really proud of myself and the action I was taking despite how scare and immature I was. I knew this principal from NY. He had moved to LA and become the Principal of a school. I called him up and asked him if they needed any Rabbeim for the next year. I knew that I was scared to be a Rebbe. It terrified me to be in front of all these kids and be obliged to keep them in order, focused, and learning, but still knew nothing else. I knew that I had a talent for loving kids, and caring for them, so what else could I do? In my mind, this was the absolute highest aspiration I could hope for. I had this idea that, if I would be a Rebbe, and get good at it, all my suffering would go away. At that time I believed the idea that all I needed to do was do all the things that I was afraid of doing and then I would be free. In my reading I had encountered this idea and it spoke true to me. I felt that the source of my suffering was the fact that there were so many things that I had dreamed of doing that I was too afraid to do, and all those moments of hesitation had piled up until they looked at me like angry demons demanding that I love them and care for them , and adhere, to their wishes. This seemed to make sense because the more I listened and the more I did what it had dictated, the better I felt, so hear too, I hoped and believed that since, I had always wanted to be a Rebbe, and was always too afraid to do it (especially after that first year) I figured that if I could conquer this mountain, I will have it made. My awkwardness, and sadness and fear will just disappear because I would have conquered my greatest fear.

The moment my Principal told me that I had the job, I was excited. I had won. I was so proud of myself. I had finally learned how to dress for success and talk with self respect, none of which I had learned as a yeshiva bachur 7 years earlier, but then he said one more thing which cast an ugly shadow over the entire year. "Do you have Semicha?" he asked me. "No" I said. "OK, so I'm giving you semicha" was his reply. That was his way of saying that he wanted me to be called Rabbi, instead of Mr or anything else. I must admit that, at that moment, something hurt so deeply inside. I felt a cry shout out. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" "Tell him, that you refuse to take the job if you will be called Rabbi" I remembered that "Mr" Avi shulman was a Rebbe for 25 years and refused to be called Rabbi. I failed. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I wasn't strong enough to risk giving up a good job for the principle that I held so dearly.

I hated Rabbis. I didn't know why. I just knew that the last thing I wanted was to be one. Then why was I here? I had hoped that I could just be a person, "a Mr" who taught Hebrew, "perhaps" I thought, that would make it more bearable, to view myself as just a person who taught Hebrew" but the truth is that my hatred for anything Jewish was so deep that, there was no self talk that I could possibly perform that would alleviate the adamant stand that I had against any subject Jewish. I had no choice. I simply did not know myself well enough to know how much I didn't belong in that position. That doesn't mean that I did a bad Job. It just means that I felt like I had done something against my true inner voice. I was not living in alignment with who I really was and I felt it every day. I never, for a moment, felt like a Rabbi. I felt like an angry teen-ager, a hurt boy, a lost soul, looking for an answer but pretending he had one, underneath a suit and tie, a beard, and the glasses that separated me from looking into the eyes of the people around me and being honest about who I really am. that would take much more strength and much more time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

No. No! Don't !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

During this period of time, I had been pondering and reading, absorbing any information I could get my hands on that would help me understand what was going on in me, why I was so sad, numb, angry. As soon as I realized what was going on, I was immediately excited to engage it. Knowing that I had a problem, gave me hope that I could solve it. Now I had hope, now I had the hope that I would eventually have life. I wanted to breath the same air that others did. I wanted to know what it was like to live. I wanted to have it so badly. I knew that I could.

I read that one should go for their dreams. I had never heard about dreams before, I only heard about suffering. the word dream made me happy. All I needed to do was to figure out my dream, and then all would be alright. I knew that the only issue I had, the source of my pain was the fact that I had suffocated my dream. All I needed to do was be honest. "what was my dream?" what did I really want. If I could admit this, then all would be OK. I pondered this for months on end. What did I really want. I decided that I really wanted to be a Rebbe. I know you may be surprised to hear this, but that was my best answer. I knew that I cared about kids. I knew that I was good at learning Torah. I could not imagine having a life without Torah, so despite the fact that I had so many unresolved feelings about Judaism. I had my eyes on becoming a Rebbe.

It was deeper than that. From the books I had read, they spoke about conquering ones fears and "going right for it" and after self examination, I came to the conclusion that what i really wanted to do was to be an eighth grade Rebbe. I imagined that within my sphere of aspirations, that was the highest aspiration and the biggest fears. I had been afraid to teach. From my experience, the Rabbeim (especially the awkward, untrained and unseasoned, like the one I would be), were made fun of, and were given a really tough time. I hated the thought of being in that position. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to help kids. I absolutely dreaded the thought of being a Rebbe, but I didn't know what else I could do. Also, good parts of me told me that I would develop into a talented Rebbe. Looking back, I am shocked and scared by the fact that all of my thoughts, and considerations concerning being a Rebbe, were born solely out of the fact, or mostly out of the fact, that I knew nothing else. I wish I would have been in a position to have known, to have chosen to have evaluated many different paths. I knew only one thing to do, and that's what it would have to be.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I can't believe this is happening! (I hate my life)

It's difficult to describe the actions of someone as disoriented, and confused as I was. It was almost succos. I had just landed on this new planet, LA. I had been a Rebbe, and in my mind, I loved to give, and the only way I knew how was to teach Torah. Of course, if I knew to be aware of my true feelings, I would have wished an entirely different life with an entirely different destiny. I was just a shell of a person, with barely any knowledge of who I am and what had happened to me.

That shabbos something very scary and awkward happened. I had told one of the Rabbis that I can help with one of their pirchei groups. I had actually built a special chart to give kids lots of fun in answering questions, and I had brought it from New York because I knew it may come in handy.

This particular group was in a families home. The Rabbi had arranged for me to tell a story and lead the group that Shabbos afternoon. I had recently gotten a small, red kipa seruga that I was using. I felt it was more appropriate, for who I was and my level of practice. The father of the home, must have grasped that there was something incongruous about me, knowing that I had a rich yeshiva education, and that I had just showed up in LA with this little red kipa. In his most diplomatic way possible, he basically asked me to leave because he was afraid that I would have a bad influence on his children. He made that pretty clear.

I was really hurt by that. I had not been away or "off" long enought to know what the ramifications might be. I was still technically observant but I was angry and confused. I had no idea who I really was. As far as I knew, I was a talmid chacham, who had a lot of torah in him, and who loved torah and wanted to help others learn it. I had a lot of anger and confusion but as far as I was conderned, that was just a small blemish on a future leader of the generation. I had a lot of respect for how hard I had worked, and how much I had learned. I felt the glory and prestige that it gave me, just by the very fact of how much I had challenged my mind. I felt proud and maybe even a little arrogant, and now this man had the audacity to ask me to leave his home because I may have a bad influence on his chilren.

Of course, on paper, I couldn't really blame him. I didn't intend on having a bad influence, but perhaps the children may get the wrong message. Still, that was a real blow because I was able to tell that there was no way that I could escape my destiny. Somehow, I would have to decide who I am, get rid of the past, go back to it or become something else. For now, it seemed like it would be an endless labyrinth of suffering until I would, could figure out, who exacty I was, what was there in me. What was real? what was fake? what would stay and what would go? what did I truly believe, and which beliefs had been imposed on me from the outside. I so wished that this process could be over already.

I had always hated to think, and now I dispised it more than ever. You mean that I have to actually analyze what I believe? How should I know? How can I be entrusted to make such a bold and daring decision?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Love God?

I hated the fact that I had been born a Jew. To me it was a web of restrictions and curses which ended up destroying a mans life in this world and the next. I couldn't imagine a worse kind of predicament. I had wished, at times, that I could find out that I was actually a non Jew and didn't need to abide by all these laws. In a way, I wished that I could jump out of my body, into that of a non Jew. I was tired of all the stress and all the pressure, always wondering what would happen, if I was doing something that shamed God for which he would punish me. I just wanted to live and breath and laugh and explore and the Jewish God seemed to have put me here to suffer, and die and think about death all the time. I wanted out.

One day I went to the beach. I wanted to talk to a non Jew, perhaps he would give me some perspective. I wanted to see things differently. Was there a way. I found a man sitting on the beach, long dreads, and long beard, which was all knotted together. I had never seen anything like this before. I wanted to talk to this man. He seemed to have joy and he was obviously non Jewish. I wasn't wearing a yarmulka, so that I could start freshly. I didn't want anyone to know I was a Jew. I hoped that I could leave all those evil memories and associations behind me.

He sat on the sand while I stood and spoke. As the conversations wore on, he says " I sense that we are family. Are you Jewish?" At that time, I was not sensitive to the fact that a Jew looks different, and may be recognizable by certain features. I was shocked "how did he know?" I was scared "I thought I disguised myself pretty well?" I was angry, " why can't I get away from all this?" I hate being a Jew. I had this idea that if I could be recognized, I could be found. I remember reading in the Torah that Hashem will find you. No one can hide from God. I could never get away from him, if I sinned. I wanted to know that I was safe, that I could indeed get away from God if I needed to. I was scared that he had found me. I had tried to get away and have a conversation where no one would know that I was a jew and here I was found out.

To make matters worse, he said " My name is Refael Yakov (a jewish name) and I'm from New Jersey" I was a little annoyed. I had hoped to meet a non Jew, and here I was stuck with a Jew again. Turns out we spoke about music. He played the guitar. He was a hippy. As we walked away from the beach, he played me a song, that I had never heard before, but which cracked open my brain making me wonder so much about all of who I had become and all of what had happened to me. It demanded forth a storm of questions without answers in sight.

He sang Debbie Friedmans " and you shall love the lord your god with all your heart" It as so beautiful, and as he sang, it sounded, felt that he actually had a loving relationship with God. I had no choice but to wonder, what was wrong here? How could he sing about loving God when I hate god? Is it possible to love God? Please tell me it's possible!! But how can it be. God said, I shall pursue, you and catch you and torture you and beat you"? Can it be that he loves us. I wanted love. I liked that word. I wanted to feel love. I wanted to feel safe and at peace. Was that possible? He sang about love. He seemed to love God. Oh, how I wished that I could turn back the clock, and undo the pain of the last 15 years. I wished that I could forget all that I had seen and heard. I really wanted to be a jew, I wanted to be a happy Jew. what happened to me? How did this all happen?

Based on what I was taught, it seemed that my reaction was sound and normal "praised is the man who is always in fear" said king david. That was me. Would I not then be considered among the righteous for being so scared all the time? Didn't god tell us in parshat nitzavim that we would be chased and running and scared all the time. Was that not me? Was I not living his precise predictions. How could I possibly dare think that I would escape Gods sound predictions?

Still. I still hoped that perhaps it would be possible to have peace, to have love, after all, there were some it seemed that had a love for God. I did not know how that was possible, but I assumed that it was because they lived in a world of naivety where they did not know the law, they did not know what awaited them for every single moment of bitul torah (time wasted, doing other pursuits other than Torah). They were blind, but soon their destiny would catch up to them. There was no escaping the fury of God. Who do you think you are messing with?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The beach!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I loved the beach. the sand seemed to soothe every part of my being. I'd walk in the sand barefoot and watch the long swaths of sun, rays and color shoot across the sky every time, it came that time of the day for the sun to go down. It seemed to be smiling and dancing all the way down. There was no darkness in LA, only a transition from the overwhelmingly soothing heat of the bright sun, to the more mild knowing that it has gone for a moment and will soon be back tomorrow. There is only sun in LA. That's all there was for me. I must be fully honest, there was something about the sun that made me exceedingly happy and calmed, soothed some of the hardened edges and bitter confusions that lay just beneath the surface. I would just look at it for a long time, almost as if, I knew that the longer I looked at the sun, the more likely it was that I would feel good. I looked, and I spoke to people, to total strangers. Yes, of course, I was starving for new information. I was so hungry for something fresh something different that I spoke to anyone. I was in so much pain, agony and confusion, that it almost seemed that anyone, who had a little bit of sanity, had so much more than me. I wanted that. I found that many mundane people who I would have never spoken to, had a wealth of information that could help me. Anyone who had lived, who had actually made some decisions, knew more than me, because I still didn't learn how to make a decision.

The beach was full of Colorful people. There were many who had come out to LA to be actors and actresses, many had come out to lose themselves or to find the sun. The beach was always packed with tourists, and travelers and revelers. There was always fun. There were many smiles, and much laughter. There was always many beautiful women and many men who wanted them. There was always that movement, excitement and dance. There were many bright colors, people carrying their surfboards, and the smell of sun tan lotion.( Love that smell). There were hundreds of people who had come to sell their wares, arts and crafts, paintings, trinkets, and some wanderers who just sat there with a pile of random possessions that they had collected on their way.

I took all this information into my mind. There was so much here. It meant so much to me. I had never met so many people devoted to the work of their heart. I had known that Torah was the only pursuit in life that was acceptable. I had known that without a doubt. How could anything be different? I also knew that Torah was the source of joy and that that was the only way to achieve real joy in this world and the next. Now I saw some people who seemed very happy and content. On the beach things seemed pretty festive. I had a lot to think about. I had studied Torah, pretty seriously, and now I was in miserable shape, and these people had not studied Torah and they seemed pretty happy. " I'll bet they'll have it good in this world, because they are using up their world to come" (where the f*ck did that come from?) That is the reason why they could be so happy. I knew that life is really meant to be miserable.

Still, inside, I wanted some joy. "I wonder how I can get some" I thought to myself. I wonder IF I would get some. you see...I saw other people happy, and I never remembered experiencing that so I had reason to believe that it may not be possible for me. How would I know?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My first Shabbos (cont.) Who am I?

This lack of clarity was deeply disturbing. I was so embarrassed and confused. I didn't want to walk into the shul. How could I possibly present myself if I don't know who I am presenting to them? I knew that it was normal for people to expect consistency. Here I was, the epitome of inconsistency.I had not the faintest idea who I was. I know nothing about me. How could I introduce myself to you if I know nothing about me? Who am I showing to you? I realized then, in the most disturbing of ways, that there is a natural check list that happens at every introduction. The only reason why I feel comfortable introducing myself to you because I have an idea of who I am, and I know, what I stand for, I know what is important to you and I know what you stand for and therefore I feel comfortable, putting out my hand to you.

At this juncture, there was nothing that I knew about myself. There was nothing that I could tell you for sure that was me. There was nothing about me that I knew. I was an empty and confused person. All of what I could have sworn was part of me, had just been ripped out of my consciousness against my will. I had known exactly who I was until then. I was an eved hashem (sevant of god) that was all of who I was. I knew what my days would look like. I knew what my values were. I knew what I stood for. I knew what my life would be like. I knew what was important. I knew hat I had to do to succeed. I had it all figured out. There was no doubt as to who I was, what was important to me and what I'd be doing for the rest of my life.

Now, I was shattered. I knew enough to know that, at my age, it was expected that a man would have a little bit of sense of who he was. How could I possibly look at any human in the face. I was just a huge pile of indecision, confusion and disorientation. There was no me, in me. I had never pondered who I was. I had never faced or thought about the part of me that has an opinion that likes to think about things. I had never gotten to know the chooser in me. There was no personality. I was entirely cut off from anything that represented a human being who has any sort of relationship with who he is. This all gave me a lot of shame. The shame, of course, was compounded by the confusion that, (at that time) I couldn't even put words to my anger and disappointment.

All of these words that I speak today were trapped in knots of anger and confusion. I was simply in a daze. Lost beyond lost. Ashamed of all that had happened. Scared by the confusion of not knowing. Had this ever happened to anyone else? What will be with me? Will things ever be OK? Can they?

The suffering of this period can only be imagined by those who have been there. If you have, you know exactly what I am talking about.

So yes, for now, I still waited away from the door of the shul, trying to figure out, how I wanted to present myself, knowing that this first meeting would send a message to the congregation of this new community as to what I was about. This first meeting could decide everything. I had to do this right, so, as I had done when encountering any decision, during the 20 years that had passed, I waited.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My first shabbos (who am I? I have no idea who I am)

Now it was time to do what I had been pushing off all along. I needed to see Gavi. He was the reason why I was here. I needed a friend. I needed to know that I wasn't alone. I needed to know that I wasn't crazy. I needed to know that I was human. How could I be so far from anything real? He had become an assistant Rabbi of shul, and I hadn't seen him since I came to town. Although I knew that he was kind and caring and would help me start again, my helpless state had me think of only the worst thoughts about how anyone could possibly perceive me. How could anyone like me? I hated me, so I couldn't possibly imagine anyone seeing anything redeemable in me. I hadn't seen Gavi for a couple of years now. What would he think? Worst of all, deep inside I knew what I wanted. I wanted someone to take away my pain. "Heal me" That's what I really wanted, but I also knew that that was impossible that is simply not the way things worked. Somehow, I would need to be the one to experience the pain and heal me, no one else could do that and I hated that. That meant to say that all of my pain, regardless of how much I thought, believed that they were caused by others, could not, simply be given back to others. They were mine now, a permanent gift. There was nothing I could do but sort through what had been given to me and see how I could get rid of it little by little. It seems, like I had somehow chosen to believe all the destinies and beliefs that were shoved into me, and now the only way to undo the this disorientation was to examine, each belief, each experience and cough up its particular poison one drop at a time.

I knew where Gavi's shul was. As I stood outside, I had one of the most excruciating crisis that I had ever had and ever would have. I needed to face, at that moment, all of what was in me and the degree to which I had no idea what was in me. You see, I had come to California, wanting sex. I had this idea that as soon as I would arrive all the lady's would come running towards me happy to give me my first sexual experience. I also had this idea in my mind from when I was very young that girls and boys who grew up "modern orthodox" had more sex. I was about to walk into a shul that would be considered modern orthodox. I imagined that these young men and women were more comfortable having sex and thus, in my mind, it was likely that, I would probably meet girls here with whom I could have sex. The funny thing was that all these memories of what modern orthodox meant and the hopes of what that may bring me, were so old and antiquated, that, looking back it's a little scary to think that it was those kinds of thoughts and beliefs that were components in this very minor decision that I was about to make, considering the fact that my impression of MO, came from when I was 12 and I was now 26.

As my mind continued to think about the moment when I would make my first appearance in Gavi's shul, I thought about the fathers of these young women. What would they think of me? What would they think of me having sex with their daughters? My mind had been on such a distant planet for so long, that it did not actually calculate that these young women had fathers who may mind if I had sex with their daughters. The entire world of sex was so distant to me. I had, at this point, barely ever watched a movie or TV show, I really had no idea how sex was had in the world. I didn't know who had it? where they had it? why they had it? or how they had it? I just knew that I had been thinking about it, and obsessing about it a lot for about 14 years, and now I was going to do anything I could to try to get me some. I just needed to know how. Looking back, my mind was so unsure about the whole subject and so underexposed that, all these thoughts that I say now are more like the sediment, the left overs, vague impressions of an immature and anti-social child, that picked up scraps of information from various clandestine and haphazard, sources, and never from any source that was straight forward, mature, or healthy.

So, as I stood there outside of the shul, I wondered, how should I walk in. How should I present myself? Should I wear a yarmulka? Should I wear this cap I had brought with me? If I wear a yarmulka, they may think I am frum. I don't want them to think I am too frum because, then it will be a chilul hashem if I have sex with their daughter. They will be disappointed with me. I was concerned about this at every level. My brain was filled with gemara and that's all it had in it. Sooner or later they would find out that I was a talmid chacham and that I was now not taking my learning or practice so seriously. I had a lot of shame about that. How could I possibly explain this too them? How would they understand? Even I didn't understand what was happening. How would I possibly make sense for myself or for another out of the fact that here I was a talmid chacham and now I didn't care about my learning? Now I wanted sex. Looking back, the pain and confusion was so fresh that my identity had no idea who it was or what could possibly expect to happen now. I stood there outside the shul, trying to think of how I wanted to show myself. " If I walked in now with a yarmulka" I thought " then I have to keep it on, for as long as I live in this city" What would they think if they see me now with a yarmulka ,and then in a couple of weeks they would see me without one?

Inside, I was struggling with an even more painful reality. I knew that I had come to the ocean with the intention of being free from the constant evaluation and judgement of my community. I wanted to change and experiment freely. Now, here I was so many miles away from "home" and still doing the same thing, still evaluating my every move, based on what this new community may think. How would I ever become free of this?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why can't I get away from these Rabbis?

A Rabbi in Palo Alto connected me with a Rabbi in LA. They told me that I could stay there for a night while I settled in. I detested the fact that I had to come onto the compassion of a Rabbi to have a place to stay. I knew all too well, what that meant. They would want something in exchange for my soul, in exchange for my ability to follow my own dream. I needed freedom not slavery. I needed to the total freedom to follow every whim and wish. How do I get myself out of this.

As I drove down the 10. I saw a sign for Santa Monica College. I was so excited. I thought about College girls and parties and freedom. I just wanted to have freedom now. I had enough of bondage. To me College symbolized, everything fun, evil, decadent and outrageous, and I was ready for all of it. They had always told me how bad it was, and now I wanted to know and experience first hand the worst of its bad.

I pulled into the Rabbis driveway at 12:00 at night. I had told them I would be late. Was anyone up, or would it be another night in the car. I really wanted a bed. I had spent many hours winding down the dizzying cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway and being baked by California's hottest. I needed a bed.

I knocked on the door, there was no answer. Knocked again, still no answer. I walked around the back and there was a light on. The Rabbi was talking to his wife in the dining room. (NO, no smooching). I was shocked at what I heard. He was actually demeaning his wife. He was talking in such a hurtful way. I cursed my destiny. I had come so far, and traveled so long to get away from this kind of behavior. I wished that I could find a better place to say. I was tired of yellers, shouters, and all those kinds of agressors. I needed a break. When? How would I get it?

Eventually someone answered the door. I was shocked that in Los Angeles there would be a Rabbis home that looked just as orthodox as the Rabbis homes in my home town. I had wanted so badly to get away from anything that reminded me of that world. Why was this happening to me? How can I possibly shake this off? This is like some evil bad dream that is latched on to my neck. It won't stop until it has robbed me of my personality, stolen my free will and taken ownership of my heart, my soul, anything I held, hold dear.

That morning, I was woken up at 6:00 AM. The Rabbi needed a minyan. I was livid. this is exactly the kind of treatment I was used to. Not only did I utterly despise davening, I was dead tired and I needed my sleep. Wasn't that common sense. "The guy just drove 10 to12 hours yesterday maybe he needs some rest" Not even an issue. We need a minyan, here's a body, get the f*cker up. That's it.

I arrived at the minyan.What could I do, he was my host after all. I must admit, that at the minyan I did meet some really cool and interesting characters. One was this tall surfer dude, with long curly hair. I couldn't understand how he got there but he and the Rabbi would go out to the water and their boards or boats. There were other odd, and peculiar people. why they came to shul I didn't know, but I did get the idea that although the Rabbi was black hat, he still had many more colorful sides to him than the ordinary black hat man, but I must still admit, he was still hard core, and my skin crawled when I was around him.

My relationship with him changed through the years. On the one hand, he was kind, and had a good heart, on the other hand he had the same rotten, stubborn attitude about ritual that I had always hated and had the worst associations to. He refused to imagine that another's destiny may fly beyond the limited confines of halacha. It also took him many years to realize that regardless of whether the Torah had any truth to it or not, my mental associations with it were so painful that I could not do it regardless. As I had found consistently with orthodox clergy, and "counselors" They rarely were able to fathom a life outside of the confines of halacha, they couldn't see that I needed to move away from it. That tendency of their being consistently poised on moving me closer to it, was like a sharp knife that consistently sliced away at any kind of trust that could have possibly been built with even the kindest and best intentioned Rabbis any frum people.

On the other hand, I must admit that this same Rabbi, as the years went on, went from being a hardened, bitter and judgemental Rabbi, to a man undergoing many levels of self reflection, relaxation, and acceptance. After he began acknowledging some of his own imperfections, he became humble enough to accept the imperfections of others. As I learned more and more about his family dynamic, I realized how much stress he must have been under at that dark moment on that dark night when I strolled into his driveway. I still keep in touch with this Rabbi from time to time. He has become a much more pleasant person to be around. He had a huge heart, a lot of compassion and many great traits which I learn from. As the years moved on, and and I would occasionally hear his talks, even those once mundane shabbos talks took on deeper and richer proportions. As he began doing his own healing, his speeches spoke way more about the human experience today than the experience of those that bore our name in the very distant past.

Meeting him, taught me some things about how anyone can heal. That inside every nasty bigot, there is a man or woman that can heal, that can learn to admit that they are human, and that humans change.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

(Palo Alto) What do you mean what do I think about it?

I had been speaking to Dina for a couple of months now ever since I had decided to move to California. She had been a good friend of my father. I had never met her but she seemed really kind and I needed some really kind people. She was my goal. I was looking forward to meeting her. she was one of the only people I knew in California and I had been looking forward to meeting her. I had come in to Palo Alto, too late last night in order to call her. I slept in my car and when I got up the next morning I was looking forward to meeting her. This would be my first meeting with someone who I knew I liked. She knew my family, she had known my father. she had known how I had grown up. I didn't want to have to explain my pain each time. I just wanted to be someplace that resembled home. Looking back, I yearned for a home. I had never really known home. I had never known the feeling of walking into a place where I felt welcomed, and even thought it would take many years until I got some of that trust back, in Dina's home, I did feel some sense of relaxation, some sense of being ok with who I am and that there was room to explore and experiment, perhaps just to wonder about the nature of things, without alarms going off, or land mines going off.

Her family was nice, it was surprising. Not a lot of drama, not everything was an issue, they actually talked to each other and listened. What a phenomenon!!!!!! Her husband was the softest, most gentle and relaxed person that I have ever met. If I would have heard of pot, I would have suspected that he had a hidden marajuana IV. I just felt so out of place not being threatened by something all the time. What was so wrong with a little bit of sanity. Dina told me I could watch some TV if I wanted, the first feeling was "you won't mind, you wont think I'm wasting my time if I just sit and watch something?".

The most memorable thing she said was "What do you think about it?". We must have been discussing some kind of issue, and I must have been asking many questions about it, so that I could understand and she responded by saying "What do you think about it?" I was surprise, What do you mean, what do I think about it. I had never been asked that before, you mean to say that is an acceptable way to respond to an inquiry? It was something so small, but it was so refreshing to be asked by an adult, for me to tell them my thoughts on an issue. I was so happy to hear that there were people like this who actually valued what I thought about a given issue. This was the beginning of my caring what was going on inside me, and also to care what was going on inside of others.

Looking back, it's amazing to me, that I was still so nailed to the frumkeit night mare that I would not stay with them for shabbos, even thought they did something. I had to look up an OJ Rabbi in Palo Alto and stay with him, chas vi shalom to be around people who weren't frum for shabbos. I did go to shul with them on some kind of holiday or something and I remember seeing woman with Tefilin, and Talis and this definitely was different. "Why don't they just forget about the whole thing?" I thought, if you don't want to be frum, why don't you women just forget about Tefilin?!!!!!!! I couldn't understand why someone would want to forge a new path that gave them more problems and gave them more things to do!! At this point, I was looking at Jewish practice as something that one tried to get away from and tried to do as little as possible of, and not something that one tried to bring on ones self. Why in heavens name, would these women try to add obligations onto themselves? Be happy that you don't have it in the first place, and don't make things more complicated for yourselves. Of course, I also thought that they were wrong and that their conclusions were krum (twisted) and that their way of observing Judasim was wrong.

My ride down the coast to Southern California was majestic. It was the first time I had been exposed to the long endless expanse of the sunny Pacific. The waters seem to shine and glitter as much as the sun, and my mind and eyes were spending a dangerously large amount of time taking in these large open spaces and bright lights, while I should have been keeping my eyes on the winding twirling curves of the Pacific coast highway. Yes, now I was beginning to feel some soothing and warm feelings inside. I was excited to see what would happen next, keenly aware that there was really no chance that I had left my irritable anxiety-riddled self back in NY.

Of course, I could feel it with me. I knew that I was with me all along. I had known for the longest time that there was no way that I could ever run away from what was in my body. I knew that part of who I was, would always be with me. How could I live? I of course, enjoyed to hope, play with the idea that a change of location would leave some of those very unpleasant feelings, and parts of me behind. Didn't that make sense? I if I have traveled 3000 miles, something has got to change, no? This couldn't be for nothing. Part of me tried to drown out these thoughts, part of me just welcomed the warm, healing California sun. "Come sun, come into me and clean, and warm, and add light to all those places that have hurt me for so long"

I knew that a little bit of sunshine, could only make things better, maybe just a little better, but I didn't care, as long as I was beginning to feel better.

I still loooooooooooooove the California sun.

and the winding twirls of the Pacific coast Highway almost tossed

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Open Road (3)

When I awoke, all was black. I had no idea what time it was. I was late. I told Dr. Norton that I'd be there for the meal. I walked in, in the middle of the meal. All was good. I was still a little tired.

He was a real character and his habits, and experience and words, hammered away at my hardened image of what Jew was and what a Jew needed to be. He really confused me, and made me think. I don't know if I ever figured him out. He was a convert, and he grew up Lutheran. Why in hell would anyone want to convert to Judaism!!? I could not, and perhaps still don't see how a person could bring that kind of curse on himself. To me, Judaism was just an unmanageable amount of responsibilities and laws that are unpleasant which have detrimental consequences whether you do them or whether you don't. What exactly was I missing? My mind told me that either I was crazy or he was. The funny thing was, that he looked more sane, and I was in pain, so that thought had me believe that perhaps his way may be better, but then again, I knew the Torah far better than he did, and that had me think that "If you knew what I knew, you wouldn't be so jolly, you are about to burn (in hell) big time"

For me, Hell was a very real thing, like making toast of coffee, I knew its roads, the alleys and valleys. I knew which aveiros (transgressions) gave you more hell and which gave you less, which ones would cook you for longer and which for shorter, Which ones you did your time and then left, and which left you to dry and rot, for a long long time. To me, it was really important because, I knew that I had been through so much pain growing up, that once I left this world, I wanted it all to be over. I simply couldn't afford to have any more sins that need to be taken care of "upstairs". I also, secretly hoped to have some pleasure in this world too, "don't tell anybody" but I knew that that would not be a good idea, since any pleasure you had here, would take away from the pleasure you had "upstairs". Don't tell anyone, I still wanted some pleasure. Deep inside I yearned for things to be alright. I wondered if there was any arrangement that I could make with God. "If I do this right, would you let me have a little bit of fun here?" I would say in my mind. "Is there any way we could work out some kind of deal?" I really want to have some fun. It seems to me that other people seem to be happy too. I also want to be happy.

Now, here was Dr. Norton, he had invented his own code of ethics and halacha. He was carrying a huge pliers around his neck on shabbos so that he could do some plumbing on one of his houses. I think it was his own adaptation or use of the "shinui" concept. To me, it was like "I don't know what you think you are doing, but if you are happy that is admirable", at the same time I had a very strong and unrelenting feeling inside. "If you knew what Judaism really was, you would wipe that smile off your face". I had also been afraid of being persecuted as a Jew. I would have loved to have been born a non Jew, as a Jew, I felt always looked at and scrutinized, and everything, seemed to evolve around us. I was tired of getting so much attention. (loi mi duv shach, ve loi, me uktzach"). I was told, to be proud that I was part of the chosen people and all the songs we sang were like mantras that reinforced how happy we were supposed to be because we were Jewish. I had begun to wonder if I was truly happy that I was a Jew. To me, it meant being scrutinized by non Jews and by God, it meant keeping to a thousand laws that didn't particularly mean much to me. It meant that we needed to be very careful with every law because if we did something wrong, he would get pissed and bring another Holocaust.

Also, since I didn't know what exactly got God pissed, I was in a real problem, because every commandment had to be weighted through those lenses of "Will this get him pissed or not?". I also knew, that even if I did everything right, which was obviously impossible, there was the problem, the potential threat of my fellow Jew pissing him off. There was no conceivable way that I could control all of these factors. How could I possibly keep all of the Jewish people from sinning? I had an idea. I had heard that if one man, one Tzadik, raises his level of holiness to a very high level that automatically raised the holiness of the whole congregation, all of the Jewish people. That had been one of the many illogical motivations of my attempting to raise my level of Talmud study involvement and level of focus. I needed to keep God happy. I had this idea, however illogical it may seem now, that somehow my learning, the degree of my devotion had something to do with how happy he would be with the Jewish people as a whole. I simply didn't want to go into those ovens again, and at that time, this was the only way I knew. The power of the Torah, that had saved us in the past and that is our only hope for the future. (Look, a couple of machine guns can also go a long way, when it really get tough)

In my mind, I wondered about Dr. Norton, "why would you want to put yourself in a position where now, more people would be out to get you?" I had no answers and neither was I ready to ask the questions. All, I knew is that he was a nice guy, an understanding guy. During that shabbos, he mentioned something about meeting a guy from the Mir Yeshiva. My ears almost fell off. I was hoping that I was far away from everything to never hear these names and words again. I regretted that the only people I knew were Jews and that there was no where to go where I'd be free of all these repulsing memories. I need a break, I need to go. I hate this. How will I ever stop this mess? How do I get out of these sick memories?

He was the first man I had ever met, who I believe understood me. Although my mind would take at least ten more years, to relax from all of it's associations to the frum world, he was the first kind heart that said words that helped me understand, just a little bit of what had happened to me. He had his Doctorate in Sociology, and he knew a thing or two about community dynamics. He said something about the pressures of growing up in an environment where everyone was expected to be a certain way. He didn't say much, but in his small and innocent comment, he put a gentle bandage on my bleeding heart and its ceaseless questions. "what happened to me?" "How had this happened?" "Hadn't I done everything right?" "How could this ever happen to a person?" I had done everything that God wanted me to do. How could he do this to me? Wasn't there some degree of fairness here. I felt like I had been kicked away from being part of the elite segment of frum society.

Now, I began to understand that there was a lot of pressure in the kind of community that I came from. I hadn't seen it as pressure. I just saw it as the way things were. There was no other way.

Now I became gently aware that there are outside forces that can make a person uncomfortable and wanting to do things that may not be so good for him. Still an unbearable burden lay on me. I knew, obviously, that i needed to find my way back to hashem, but I also knew that I was in pain and I may need a little break from him. I also knew that in heaven, there was no such thing as "taking a small break" from hashem because every single act was written in a book. I also knew that my body was hurting and that my body was asking me to not pay attention to God right now because that was source of pain. I also knew that I can't do that since God was the source of everything and that it was impossible to run away from God, for now, I was stuck. I knew that there was really no way in the world for me to have a good life. I knew that all of what I was doing now was wrong, and that I would be punished for it. I also knew that I just had to do this.

I knew that if I didn't push on, something really nasty would happen, and so I pushed on. For this moment, Dr. Norton's words allowed a small sliver of a breath, to seep its way through in between this burden of pain and my heart which was hoping that there may somehow be a way to see things in a happier, and more pleasant light.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Open Road (2)

Twisted up the highway towards Chicago. I was shocked at the monstrous size of the turquoise, blue waters of Lake Michigan, the July sun was baking hot and it made those waters even brighter. I bought a frisbee and hit the beach. I was so happy to be there I had never been at a beach in my whole life (except when I was a little kid) I was delighted. Something inside me came alive. To see the great waters coming in and out and the sun baking down on me and all the beautiful women. I saw so many good things all at the same time and I also wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be in it not just watching it. I wanted that life to be mine.

I found some girls on the beach and we played frisbee together. I was happy,they were hot, and my mind was in outer space.I knew that it was fun to be around attractive woman and that technically something really fun could develop, but my mind was so distant to being socially aware that I would have had, not the faintest idea of what to do. I was an adult in body, but more like a two year old in spirit. I had a lot of growing up to do, before I could ever even guess, how to become friends with a girl, guess what they might like or not, and at least having a shot at being fair and respectful. For now, that experience just tickled my fancy as to the vague possibilities of the changes that may be on their way. For now, I was a "normal" frum guy who was severely messed up, but just didn't want to admit it, so he was going about ignoring the degree of the pain to the best of his abilities.

I met some cousins in Chicago. I barely have any Jewish cousins, and these were my only frum Jewish cousins. I hadn't seen them in a while. I guess, I felt that, hey I"m running so far away from family, may as well say hello. How could I go by Chicago and not stop by. Their mother was not very happy with some of the changes she was seeing in me. She was, (perhaps not so unlike my mother )A baalas teshuva, who bought the whole deal plus 1000.We hadn't seen each other for five or ten years.The first thing she said to me was "no tzitzis?" Mind you, it was boiling beyond hell outside, and I don't even know if I brought them with me or not, but I hate those people who ignore any of your emotions because they know that what scripture says, is the ultimate truth, not how you feel. I knew for sure at that moment, that she and I would not ever know each other very well.

I went out with her sons for a walk. I have no idea what she thought I was doing, or what I would be saying, but she ended up looking for us with her car at night, and when she found us, she chased us, with her van, down the side walk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had never seen anything like this. I just got out of there, no goodbye, no nothing. Time to move right along.

Fire flies and open fields of Corn as I sped through Iowa. I stayed at a Chabad house. He was nice. A little too Jewish but I saw some new things about Judaism that I hadn't seen before. Endless cows as I went through Nebraska. Stayed at my fathers friend for a night. I had heard good things about him. He was not orthodox, but the funny thing, was that all he had to do was make one comment and I knew it was time for me to leave. I saw that he was made out of the same material as my father,"the be careful attitude" "Don't do anything that might get you killed" or better, don't do anything. I knew now, that this was my chance to live and all that had been taught to me, had just hurt, and now it was my turn to find what worked instead of what didn't. I had to try to figure out for myself what would make this man, this boy, this spirit happy. I would either succeed or I would have to die trying but there was no going back.

The gas peddle did not stop until I was so tired that I couldn't move. I had to keep moving. I felt the freedom coursing through my blood. I knew that I was doing the right thing and that I was on the way to something good. The rains came down IN buckets through Wyoming it was 1:00 I

I had called a Chabad house in Salt Lake, it was now thursday mo

I left Nebraska early, it was now Thursday morning. I had to get to Salt Lake by Shabbos, that meant I had to push on as fast as I could. As the I 80 took a twist into Wyoming, I was introduced to another part of me that had never been awake. My eyes gulped down the glorious shapes and curvatures of the colorful red rock and the clean giant cliffs jutting out of the ground, the new and peculiar desert vegetation made me feel all kinds of newness and exploration that I had never felt before. My bones began to sing, and something in me was beginning to remember how much it liked the earth and it's colors, the sky and its shapes. I was beginning to feel again, I was even beginning to sing again, inside, yes just a little bit, but I was beginning to know something that had once been so natural, the desire to look, to gaze, to notice, to take in what is being seen. Shouldn't that be so natural? What am I missing? How did this happen? How did I forget my natural instincts? Can my desire ever awaken? Is there still a human in me? Is there? I am here, I am ready to hear you, now.

That night the rains came down like hell, I pushed on. At 1:00AM, I realized, I literally could not see anything. I pulled into a Sheraton Parking lot, put my seat back and hit the sack for a a couple of hours.

Traveling through the desert was hot like hell. I had never experienced heat that wicked and intense. I had no air conditioner. I would buy ice and put it on my heat just so that I wouldn't fall asleep, pounding Hershey's Chocolate and Resees peanut butter cups, enough to make up for 26 years of not having them. (not cholov yisroel)
For five years, after that desert ride, my left arm would have a sun burn scar because it was in the hot sun for so long.

As I came over the mountains into Salt Lake City, I beheld something so majestic that my heart sank and leaped and sang again. These snow capped palaces that rose high into the sky, made me feel so small and comforted. Somehow in their height, the burden of my heart didn't seem as painful.

When I arrived at the Chabad house in Salt Lake, I couldn't move. I just collapsed onto the bed. I was out. When I awoke, all was dark. I knew it was late. I knew I was unconscious, but I had no idea how long I had slept for. I needed that sleep. Who knows? That may have been the first peaceful sleep that I had ever had. It was a great bed, that is for sure. I still remember it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The open road

I loved the open road. Yes, the great wide spaces, the freedom sun which tossed its rays for miles and lands around as my eyes took in the great expanses of continuous forest and rock that spread forth between Pennsylvania and Cleveland. I had spoken to some friends who I had to tell them I was coming through. I wanted to break up the trip. something told me that occasionally when people take this kind of road trip, they have fun, they see friends. Wasn't seeing friends supposed to be exciting? Didn't people like seeing friends? For me it wasn't fun. None of this was fun. It was an emergency. It was a life gone wrong. It was like needing to fit in 15 years of therapy, in two weeks. My nerves were on fire, my mind had expired, my soul was really tired, and I wasn't sure about anything other than wanting things to begin making sense, it that was at all possible.

In Stevenson, Ohio, I met an old friend. Mordy had been like an older brother as a kid. He had gone away at one point. There were rumors about what had happened to him. They had said all kinds of stories about how and why he had gone off. Either way, now he was back on and he had a wife and kid. He seemed more settled and happy. It was nice to see him. I hadn't seen him since I was about fourteen. Much had changed. He had brought so much joy into the lonely scary life of my childhood. Something in me expected, or wondered, wanted him, the seeing him to bring back some of that joy. I knew it was impossible. Perhaps by telling him what had happened I could reach back to the innocence of what I had been, or at least I thought I had. I wish I didn't have to be living this very bad dream. It was just like a thick black cloud of dust and dirt that had infiltrated every part of my being who's presence stopped me from seeing any possibility of living and breathing the air that other humans had access to. I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted all of this sh*t to go away. What happened to me? how did I become this way? I never asked for it! I never even noticed it!! How could something be so much a part of me, so destructive and not even ask me if it could come into my life. Still I knew, some how that there was nothing that I could tell Mordy that would make this burden lighter. It was almost as if there is a stage in hurt where words don't help, or there is no way to put words to the degree of the pain. I was shocked to know that it was there. I was still in a state of shock that I had a new part of me that was so part of me that it had not given me a choice whether or not I wanted to have it part of my life. It had just come, it was staying and I had only one choice. I had to get to know it. I would have to create a dialogue with it, because it seemed to tell me that the only way it would consider going, is if I would get to know it better. It needed to be known. It needed to be heard, and it had no intention of going until it had become a very good friend of mine. It was as if the evil of it was only in its secrecy. Once I would get to know it, it might even consider becoming my friend.

For this moment, there was no way that I was becoming friends with this evil unwelcomed, beast, for now, I was just trying to get my head around the idea that I had become something that I never wished to become. I was having an experience that I didn't want and that I hadn't chosen, and that I was in so much pain, disbelief and shock that I simply didn't have the words to share about it with anyone. Mordy, whatever his experience had been, was really kind and friendly. He didn't pry. He seemed to understand the things that would take me 10-15 years to put words to. He seem to understand that i was having a very difficult time. "If you want you could bench" is all I remember him saying. He seemed to understand so much of the pain between the lines. I had never been told that. Somehow he understood that there were issues in life that were of far greater importance than whether a person benched (said grace) or not.

A man of his kind of kindness would have been a blessing 8 years earlier, but now it was a little late. kindness and warmth were welcomed, and pleasant but I would need many years, of being kind to myself before I could be happy enough to be delighted and nurtured by the kindness of another.

For now, I hated everyone, myself and of course God. I knew that I was f*cked and that I had absolutely no hope. I had only one thing to do, get on the road to somewhere unknown, just in the hope that perhaps I could get rid of some of the pain.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"she cried, I cried"

I had been waiting for this day for so long. I only knew about it for a couple months, but in my heart, I needed it, wanted, it prayed for it, even though I had no idea that it could ever happen. Ever since my friend Dovi told me that I could come join him in LA, I had been preparing. I didn't tell a soul. something told me that all the forces around me would do anything they could to stop me from leaving. Looking back, I knew this because they had stopped me from doing my true desires for so long, that I had for gotten who I was. Now I was trying to find out, and couldn't afford to lose this chance. If I didn't find out now, I wasn't sure that I'd ever get another chance.

For months, as summer approached, I had been looking at the map, I had never left new york, and now I was staring at the long red line, the I80 that stretched across the whole country. How could I possibly think that I could do that ? what did I know about roads? The only thing I knew was that I could not mess this up. I had started thinking about all the possible places that I could or would stop along the way. I thought about money I thought about gas. I thought about how much money I needed to make it across. If I made it across I was safe. I had given some thought to some other places along this route that I might move to, but the same thought kept arising. If I stopped anywhere short of California, I would be too tempted to go back. It was too hard to go forward and way to easy to go back. I needed to know that there was nothing short of 3000 miles between me and the way back. That way, perhaps, I'd have the strength and the courage to stay at the tough work that lay ahead, to discover why I was so furious and how I could possibly gain some sanity.

As I turned onto the highway, I remember thinking how beautiful and open the spaces were, the sun was shining and life was good, at least it seemed like it should be. shouldn't this be a moment that would make person happy? I had bought a car (from a nun) a couple months back. I had tried out the car. As soon as I put my foot on the accelerator, I was elated, yes a quiet elation that I shall never forget. It was an old Toyota Tercel. It still worked like magic. It launched forward with such smoothness and speed. I had the best feeling inside. " This can take me very far" was the thought. I had always been a little slow, but I did realize this much, that if this car, can zoom down this one,street, it can zoom down any street, even a very very very long street, that could take me far far away from where I was right now.

Now that car was packed with all the things that I thought I would need for a time period who's end I did not see or care to think about it. I just knew that I would be gone for a long time, at least until the pain had gone, and until my questions got the time they needed to receive the answers that satisfied them. I packed the car, with food, my favorite books, some covers to sleep with.

I'll never forget the last words I had with my mother. I knew that I would have to wait until the very last moment to say goodbye to her. I knew that she would have a very hard time seeing me go. I also knew that I would have a hard time saying goodbye to her. The only thing that gave me the strength to do so was because I knew I had to. If I didn't go, my life was simply not worth living anymore.

I drove my car up on the lawn so that I could pile everything in. I may have told my parents of my plans that morning or an hour before. It tells so much about our family to know that there was nothing for us to discuss anymore. There was no need to explain anything. I didn't have to say where I was going or why. There had been so many silent walls, and tall cement walls built between my heart and theirs, so many secrets and fights untold, so many tears withheld, so many questions that could not be asked, so many childhood wishes that had been either, ignored or shot down, that the bitterness had dried into an impregnable wall of anxiety, fear and disappointment. There was no doubt, at least in my mind, that these two people, my father and mother, were two of the worlds largest inconveniences. The worst part of it all was that, I hated them so much and for so long that I didn't know why anymore. I had never thought that one could ever hate a parent. It's sad to think that that is even possible, so I tried not do. It would take years to actually own the fact that, at that time, I truly hated them and that the hate was so real and old, that there was no way for me to even know why.

For months before this move, I hadn't been speaking to my mother. I would just say "don't" if she would start talking to me. I was so shocked at my behavior. "Heavens, she's my mother!" I thought to myself. How could I possibly not want to speak to her. What could she have done? I had always known myself as this "aidele yeshiva bachur" "oh, he's such a baal midois" they would say. Now there was a fire burning in me. I didn't even realize that I had this kind of anger, and assertion in me. Where did this come from? I couldn't stand speaking to her. I was done. I didn't want to hear anything of it. All that I had learned about "kibud av ve aim" would have to find another person to be mi kayem that mitzva because I was not going to be doing that now. I wondered how that was possible? Is it possible that hashem would want me to respect them when I hate them so much? It seemed impossible, at least I surely couldn't do it. This was another moment of serious doubt as to whether the mitzvos were things that I was actually meant to keep, I had no idea how it was feasible in any kind of mind that I should respect, either my father or my mother with the kind of hate, and disgust that I had towards them. It just seemed highly impractical and impossible. Not knowing very much, I seemed to know that my hate and anger was justified. It seemed like the natural thing to feel under the circumstances.

I was my mothers psychologist and lover since I was 7 or 8 (or perhaps earlier). There is no way for me to know how she was a s a girl, as a single woman, but I do know that once she married my father, she realized that I was a better shidduch for her. Obviously she knew nothing about the boundaries that should be had between a son and a mother. She knew nothing about having a relationship with my father, or perhaps any man. It's hard to see now, if there would or could be any man in the world with whom she could have a relationship with, but one thing was for sure, she decided that rather than look elsewhere, she decided, (probably not a very well thought out decision) to have a relationship with me. Something about me made her happy. Something about me made her smile. Looking back, it was probably the fact that I was a man, a boy, I was nice, I wouldn't argue back, I was a child, and perhaps most of all that she had someone to give to, and in that giving, she could, for a moment forget her own heart ache, and in her hope that I reciprocated her love, in that imagination, in that aspiration, she could hide for a moment all the pain she ever felt about not feeling attached to anything as a child and perhaps the pain that she felt now being in a marriage that degraded her, and continued to keep her in that never ending desire to look for sanity, find love and never let it go, so for now, she never let me go.

My mother would put me to sleep ever night. She would tell me stories and massage my back. It was nice, maybe when I was 5 and maybe even when I was seven, but as I started getting older I wasn't as happy with this ritual. Of course I wouldn't say anything "She's my mother" how could I? She would tell me all about the pain she was feeling (I'm the oldest of 9) She would tell me about each child and her concerns. She would tell me about my father and how bad he was, and how he was always yelling, (which wasn't very far from the truth) I was also scared of him, and I also appreciated someone who understood what I was going for, but somehow, at some point, I started getting the idea that these conversations were going nowhere. I started realizing that there was a hidden agenda underneath these conversations. On the surface, it looked like an innocent interaction between mother and son, but underneath, some kind of psychic war was being waged. It was a battle for my life. My mother actually wanted my life. This took many years to figure out, but looking back, in the process of her engaging me, and "giving me " gifts, and doing me favors, she was actually hoping to distract me from being me, from living my life and feeling my feelings and noticing my choices. Something in her told her that were I to feel my feelings and know my desires, and connect with my manhood, and love my independence, that would mean the loss of me to her. My freedom meant her bondage, to her mind and all the pain that lay in it. So for now, she was obliged to keep me as her slave, enslaved to the power, the guilt the obligation of doing what she needed me to do and being who she needed me. After all, what good son, could ever desert his mother, his own mother ? Never. Of course, I knew that I would never do that. I was a good boy. I was obedient. I as caring and no way in hell would I ever cause her harm or pain. She was my favorite person in the whole world ( my lover).

One night, when I was 17, and still sleeping at home, my mother, who was still putting me to bed each nigh, climbed into my bed and lay next to me. My body had weird feeling. I had never been this close to a woman. I was a yeshiva guy. This was my mother and we were pretty close, but this seemed a little too close. I wasn't sure what to do, all of my experience had told me that this sort of thing is at least close to normal. After all, isn't it normal for a mother and son to love each other ? What could possibly be wrong? How wrong could it be. Looking back, there seems to be almost no way for a child to know what is right or wrong, if the behavior he is seeing fits neatly into what, in his home is considered normal. Still, I had a feeling in my gut that was really strange. It was like my body, saw that there is a woman right next to me, and it wanted to hug it, it wanted to celebrate but it also wanted to cry and yell, and scream in disgust that that body , that woman was my mother. I didn't know what to do. i simply was unprepared for it. In the long process of healing that was to come, I occasionally would remind my mother of those days, and what she was like. At first I thought that I should expect an apology and then I realized that since she didn't see the illogical nature of it before, she may not be able to see it any differently now. In reality she does apologize but the reality is that the forgiveness that I have achieved towards her was more product of my tears, than her understanding, although she has had some degree of insight into the years past.

As we both stood on the lawn weeping and in an embrace, we both cried. She was crying because she was about to lose her most cherished friend in the whole wide world, and I was crying because my own mother had robbed me of the best, most vibrant and youthful years of my whole life. I also cried because of the fears that I knew I would need to conquer to get beyond what I had become. I cried because I had waited this long. I cried because the moment had come. I cried because I needed to reject my own mother in order to become me. I cried because I was angry that I had to leave the city I had known, the people I had loved, and the life style that I had always wished that I could keep to. I cried because of the huge amount of questions that wanted answers, experiences that wanted to be felt, drawings that wanted to be drawn, songs that wanted to be sung, ideas that wanted permission to be thought by me, feelings that wanted me as their owner, and the child in me that still wanted to climb to the top of the slide and slide down head first. The child never had gone away. I thought I could shut him up, tie him down, and make him promise to keep all his questions and wild ideas to himself. I cried for all the sacrifice I was making just to be free. Damn it, why do I have to do this? Why must I go? I loved my family. I missed who I had hoped for them to be and wanted them to be. I still wanted all those ideas to be true. I hated leaving all of the love that I wish could embrace me. Wasn't there hope? Isn't there a way? I cried because deep inside I knew that I was on my way to a great life. I knew that it had to be done and that all those good things would start with my first pressing of the gas peddle.

California here I come.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"What?.......Sure!! I'll do it" (no question)

I was shocked to hear that kind of sureness come from inside me. Who was that talking? where did that come from? I had always known myself as this shy kid who always backed away from anything and everything. would you like to play ball? No, I can't. would you like to join us and go to the park? No. I never knew how to do anything because I was afraid of what it would feel like to use my arms. I felt everything so strongly that any kind of attempt to do anything was full of so much worry, that even pondering a decision was a disaster. I was usually most comfortable distant from any decision of thought about one. So for years, I sat and watched the world happen, as many moments, opportunities for experience left, and moved on while my heart begged me, hurt me, demanded of me to make a move. "do something!!!!!!!" it demanded, but I knew better, I knew the dangers of doing anything and that as long as I stayed, as long as I was right where I was, nothing could possibly go wrong.

Now there came a day when my heart would no longer be that way and would demand of me to do something with such assertion that it would have me question all of who I thought I was with regard to capability, bravery and risk taking.

I had been talking to Avi. He had moved to California a year ago, and he was my life line, there was hope in his words and I starved for those moments when we could talk. He knew something that I wanted to know and he was living in a way that I wanted to live and the fact that I had known him in yeshiva, and the fact that he had known and learned all the scary pieces of knowledge that I had learned, and somehow he was still able to live and breath with himself, gave me hope. I wanted that. I wanted to believe that it was possible for me to have hope. I wanted to hear that it was possible for me to have a life that had any semblance of normalcy and pleasure because right now it was inconceivable.

Although I was still frum, I felt myself torn apart from all sides. I wanted to go back to the world of learning but my body wouldn't let me. I wanted sex, but I had no idea how to get it. I also felt the fear and awkwardness that comes with being a man of marriageable age and being so distant from any frame of mind that had anything to do with being an adult. I had no idea how to work, and I surely didn't have a career. I was worried and scared all the time and most of the time I didn't even know why. My heart and mind were sickly loaded with thousands if not millions of questions that had never been asked, and wantings that had never been experienced, seasons of childhood and adolescence that had never been felt. The voices of all these demands would not let me live anymore. They were literally killing me from the insider. They would not let me make another move unless I promised that I would listen. They were serious and so was I . I was positive that I would keep them at bay. I would have them sleep until they went away. Didn't someone once say that? If I ignored them, they would go away? Huh? Not quite. Not these thoughts. Maybe a while ago, maybe ten years ago, but now they were done. Under most circumstances people have a choice. Now, i was not given a choice. I must listen to my inner demands is what I was being told and there was no way out.

The scary thing was that I had no idea what it would ask of me. I had a keen sense that it would be matters and issues that had been worrying me for so long. I had the notion that it may be a whole string of events, and sadness, and missings, and wantings and demands and joys, and adventures that it had been missing all this time. I also knew that I just couldn't let this all develop right here in the frum community. I had no idea what I was about to become or where it would take me. What if I wanted to be a little more modern? How would it ? what would my principal (my ex-boss) think of me. "One year he's a Rebbe, next year he's gone" I didn't want to be viewed as a fraud. I was also concerned about my reputation. I had had a reputation as a serious learner, a masmid, and that took a long time to build. I couldn't just toss that out with a single motion of putting on a nitted yarmulka. what if I wanted to come back and become a ben toirah? Now they all view me as some confused son of a b*tch. That would be really good for shidduchim I'm sure, and lord knows, it all evolved around trying to secure a good shidduch. These were big decisions. Ok do I could go to a "distant place" "dress in black" and do what I want and then come back, but I wasn't sure if my Rabbeim would understand, and keep me at the same level of esteem that they had had for me, before I "dressed in black" (Nice gemara, but doesn't translate into the practical world really well).

I knew, at least on some level that I just had to get out of here. I needed to go far away in order to see what was inside. Once I knew what was inside, I could do whatever I wanted to do. I would at least know what this monster looked like. I knew it wouldn't be fun, but I knew it was the only way, so one night while on one of my complaining phone-sessions with Avi, he said "why don't you come out here to California?" I had never thought about California. The way mind worked, it could only think about very few things, and only about their most elementary ramifications. I had been to Connecticut. I had been to New Jersey, but my mind just didn't think that far, that wide. It simply didn't have the tools to think the distance of New York to California, but somehow, as soon as Avi posed the question, my mind was "Sure, I'm there".

Every answer to every questions, both those that I could put words to, and those that were so distant from my consciousness, all found their solution, their resolution, in one hope, one word, "California".

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I need sex so badly (but I know I can't have it)

Only those who have been there know exactly what I mean. I had never heard of masturbation (yes, I was quite naive). It would take me another 6 years, until I would learn that I could actually relieve myself of my sexual tension. I was going out of my mind. I wanted sex so badly. I wanted to be touched and held. I wanted to touch another person. I am sure that these desires and obsessions where compounded by the amount of stress I was under, and by the fact that I was truly confused, and scared about who I was vis a vis the possibility of ever having sex.

I knew myself as as a social outcast and social misfit. I never knew how to participate with other people. My head was usually in the clouds and I hadn't found a way to get it to land. I had no idea how to talk to a guy, let a lone a girl. I didn't know how to talk about the most mundane of matters, let alone sex. I also had a very hard time reading social cues and I surely had no idea how to read if sex was an appropriate thing to talk about or think about under any given circumstance.

I remember thinking, that I can't imagine any greater torture. I was alone, separate and distant from most of the people I had ever known and there was only one person with whom, I felt comfortable to share my predicament. that was Avi. He seemed to understand. I also knew deep inside that it would be many years until I would get the kind of sex that I really wanted to have. That hurt so much. Somehow my mind, psyche, (neshama?) knew what it needed. It knew its true the true state of its reality. It knew that it was way behind. It knew that there was so many things that it would need to learn in order to be caught up to the subjects, ideas, fulfillment, talent that would make it to be happy to be who it is, and thus be able to connect in a wholesome manner to a woman that was also happy with who she is.

During this time, there was no doubt in my mind that I would continue to be a frum Jew but I was just suffering, so I was looking for someone, anyone who can help me, listen to me, so that I could understand what happened and how I could get some balance in my life. I was more open to hearing new ideas, and reading new things that I had never read before. I started getting in touch with some of the things that I wanted. I actually started feeling again,almost as if all those years of gemara only served to hide me from who I was and as soon as that was gone, there was the raw open wound of wanting to be me again. I started writing in English, and using small doodles in my writing. that symbolize a huge breakthrough for me since, I had been accustomed to only writing Toira, only writing in hebrew, and of course never venturing outside of the most straight forward sentence that communicated a torah thought I was working on.Now I started having a drop more fun.

I also started going away for shabbos. I was beginning to find some people outside of my family that were kind and understanding. I needed other people to talk to, fresh people to talk to. One of these families introduced me to a Rabbi that was to have a profoundly positive effect on me during these next five years.

His name was Yakov and he was very kind. He was a very different kind of Rabbi than any of the others that I had ever met before. He seemed to know a thing or two about suffering and how people change. He was able to accept me, although I was no longer that masmid that I once was. He seemed to have many more loves in life than just Torah. He also seemed to have original thoughts about how Torah could be taught. he was also open to teaching a much broader variety of people. He also really cared and that was really important to me. He had a nice big house and he cared about its' beauty and its design. I liked that. He had a knack for design. He liked original looking furniture and he liked music. I think I'd say that he was the one that got me into the music of Rabbi Shlomo Calebach. In the yeshivas I went to, we really didn't sing Shlomo's music. It was not so accepted then, in the yeshiva world (except for those two niggunim that he composed before he left Lakewood).

This Rabbi, had a big heart and an authentic fascination with music. On Motzai shabbos, he would have a group of really talented musicians come over and jam. I had never seen something like this before. In addition, I was welcomed in his home, and I needed a home. I needed a place where I could feel at home, because although I didn't know it fully at the time, but in my home of birth, I never really felt at home. His home felt like a home. His home was also special to me because I felt like he wasn't one of these Rabbis who considered himself in a league apart from the rest of humanity. He was comfortable talking about his own pain and frustration. He was a real human with a real heart, and whether he was a Rabbi or not, I needed some more real human beings in my life.

For a certain period of time, he would take me to work. I did all kinds of little chores for him, and had the luxury of spending the time with him in the car on the way in and on the way out. I needed someone to talk to and we were both happy.

One day while at his work, I saw a few things that opened my eyes. Rabbi Yaakov, had been working on a project which published pamphlets which had questions on different Jewish topics related to the heart. Topics like "Tolerance" "Forgiveness" "Love". this was one of the first time I ever saw a Rabbi write on these topics. These pamphlets were sent all over the country and communities would use them, by gathering a group of people together and noticing the texts that were quoted. Now after a moment was taken to notice the text, each member of the group would tell the rest of the group what that particular text meant to them.

This way of studying Torah (and for that matter anything) Blew my mind and was so antithetical to the way I had been taught. In our Yeshiva, the goal was just to amass large amounts of information and here this Rabbi, had created a format where each participant in the group got a chance to say their own OPINION!!!!!!!!!! as to what the text meant to them. What a concept. I had never heard of something like this and as soon as I did, I felt a renewed excitement about Torah and the possibility of me finding a way to live and enjoy being a Jew in the Torah world. I would create and lead workshops that allowed people to offer their own opinion, their own interpretation of the teachings of the Rabbis and how it applied to their lives.

I must admit, that all the while, there was something that I had been hoping to ask this Rabbi, that I had not yet developed the courage to ask. To me it was very personal and scary and I had no idea what he would say. As I had mentioned, I was thinking about sex a lot. All I knew from my yeshiva experience, was that we didn't really speak about those things. We didn't either speak about it at home, and I didn't either speak about it with my friends (when I was in yeshiva), but now it felt like a really important topic. Looking back I just wanted to speak about any of it with anyone because I knew nothing about it. Like this big obvious monster living in my pants with whom, I'd like to have a conversation, but find it impossible. Is there a special code? What do I say? what do I do for you? who do I talk to? It was like a secret that everyone seems to know but I didn't. Like a game, where no one is allowed to tell you the next move to make but that stick in your pants demands that you make one.

So, I must admit that on some level, I saw this relationship between I and the Rabbi as one that, when I felt safe enough, I could broach the topic of sex. I had barely discussed this with anyone in my life. I don't know how long it took, but eventually, during one of our drives together, I brought up the subject. My first concern was actually the fact that deep inside, I knew that it was unrealistic that I would be getting married any time soon. Knowing that I wasn't supposed to have sex until marriage, left me in a predicament of dramatic ramifications. I had no idea what to do. Knowing my urges, I didn't see any way that I'd be waiting until marriage. I just couldn't see that happening. It seemed like the only halachic option but I just didn't see how I could possibly hold out that long. (I was finding it hard to hold out for five minutes)

At that time, dressing all deep personal issues under the neat veil of a halachik, inquiry, I told Rabbi Yakov about my obsessions and desires, and asked him if he had any ideas. I told him that I really wanted to touch a woman. I asked if there was any way withing the confines of halacha that I was allowed to do so. I was hoping that since he and I had a rapport, he could find me some kind of heter, or that since he know my predicament and that it was unlikely that I would be getting married, perhaps he would be more with me (as if he is, was god's last word on the matter). To my hurt and disappointment, in response to the question as to whether I could touch a girl, he said "No, that too is a chiyuv krisus".

I was so angry. I knew in me the degree of my desires. I was angry at everyone. I was angry at how unfair life was. I knew the Toira was the way I needed to live my life, and I knew that if I touched a girl, i was f*cked. I knew that it was serious. I knew that it was the study and keeping of the Torah that connected my soul to it's highest place above. I also know that one touching of a girl would sever, slice, forever my connection with God and who knows? Perhaps I'd have to come back to this earth and roll in dog Sh*t to finally merit a spot next to the all mighty god. I was really scared now. It had taken so much courage to ask such a deeply personal question of Rabbi Yakov, and now I regretted doing so. Not only was I now angry at him, for not having more compassion on my pain, I was angry at God for creating such an awkward situation where I'd want sex so badly, see my friends get married and get laid, while I was left behind to suffer.

My anger was ablaze. Inside, I heard my angry heart yelling, sacrilegious insults at the Rabbis and the toriah and hashem. "Now I see the way it is, you really don't give a sh*t about me, and my experience and my feelings, or my suffering. All you really care about is whether that word, that halacha, is kept or not. That's it!! what happened to noting the individual....hello? No one home." All that made a difference was whether it could be found in siman alef or siman beis. My heart, my pain, made no difference.

This predicament was one that began to eat away at what I had perceived until now, as the sane, balanced, perfect world of the Toira. It was around now, that at least on some level, I allowed myself the thought "Is the life of Toirah, truly as perfect as we have been taught? Is it doable?"