I don't know if I will ever achieve total peace about this one decision that I once made although I know now, and knew then that there was no other way to do it. When I moved to California, I was lost and confused and in need of so much help, and so many answers. Most of all was the great desire to succeed, to understand what had happened and to turn my life around. I was yearning and I was starving and I was motivated.
One day I met Manny. He was, one of the most refined and peaceful people, I had ever met. He was a published writer, and a lawyer and he was successful in my eyes. He was also a recovering alcoholic, so he knew about the steps and about healing. He was one of the most charming and successful people I had ever met personally.I knew that one of the keys to success is to get around successful people.He was definitely someone I wanted to be like and so I did all that I could to get to know him
He eventually married a Chines woman and started a little family. I would go to him for shabbos, and remember, at that time, I knew no one who had my back ground. I was alone. I had never really heard of the phenomenon of someone having been frum and then going off. Even if I did know of it, I was still to unsure about what had happened to me to know if this was a short (7 year) vacation, or if I was heading back when the symptoms would go down. I still didn't know what I truly believed and still hadn't pondered what a new future would look like.
Michael was everything. He was my family, my mentor, my uncle, my older brother, my role model, my guide. Most of all, he was the one that was helping me understand some things about Judaism that I had never known, some new ways of looking at Judaism. He had been a baal teshuva for a while and was well versed enough for me to listen to what he had to say as far has new ways to understand Judaism. These new ways were informing my decision of rethinking Judaism and what it could mean to me. He was actually the only one whom, I could speak to openly about my doubts and questions.
Then something happened that brought all that to a sudden end. I had had these feelings all along, but I thought, hoped that they would go away. I hated how they stayed and would not let me be. You see, part of my being around Michael, was about seeing what it's like to be a Jew, who knew Judaism, knew the Torah, and still chose not to practice it. I needed to know how that worked. As far as I was concerned at that point, although I didn't practice, I still thought i was wrong and that i would be punished. I had no experience knowing someone who celebrated jewish holidays but didn't care about turning lights on and off. I needed to understand the intricacies of how that worked. My mind would not accept these new behaviors as valid, safe ways to express Judism unless it understood the mental processes that went into making that decision. I needed to understand everything because so long as I didn't, I could not be sure about what path to take.
So, as with any Jewish related topic, i was curious to understand the details of Manny's decision to marry Anna Lee. What was he thinking? Did she convert properly Did he care? Most of all, I wanted to understand how did he resolve the fact that he himself was not a believer in the Torah from Sinai, but his wife was? How did that work? I knew for sure that his wife had converted for him. there was no doubt in my mind that she had zero interest in Judaism before she met him, and now, because of his wanting to have a "Jewish family" he had her go through Reform, Conservative, and then an Orthodox conversion. I wondered about that. Is that authentic? Is that the right thing to do?
Of course, the real reason why I was curious, was because if this path was for me, then I may as well, be faced with the opportunity to marry a non Jewish woman. I knew in my heart that, it would be a very difficult decision to make were the time to ever come and the only way I could get more comfortable with the idea and the possibility was by understanding what went into Manny's thought process when he made that decision to marry Suzanne.
Another thing I must add which added to the difficulty of the situation was the fact that, all my life we were taught (through silence) to keep silent. These attitudes had caused me much mental pain emotional suffering, because as I began the journey through the teen age years, the questions and the doubts and the fears had gotten to be too much to bear. When I had gotten to be twenty two years old, I went to a seminar which taught about being honest and straight forward. These teachers gave me the strength to begin sharing the piles, year, and multiple strata of lies, and hurts and pains that had been hidden deep down inside for so many years. I was deeply relieved when I realized that the sharing of these lies, and beliefs had brought great relief and it was that joy that made me resolve to do the best I could to share any hurt, fear or anger, immediately before it got to great to handle.
Meanwhile, this one question about Manny and his marriage, simmered inside like a boiling volcano. I felt like it was threatening to devour our whole friendship. On the one hand, I felt like being his friend, and his mentee, and part of his family was a great step toward success, and i felt myself wanting to hold on to that for dear life, and on the other hand, I felt that I could not respect him as a mentor for my purposes unless he was comfortable speaking about his decision to marry a non Jewish woman. First of all, that was the reason I was spending time with him, to understand the way he made peace with the Judaism of his past and the practice of his present, and Secondly, I needed a mentor who was comfortable speaking about every emotion, decision and experience, and if there was something that was too hurtful to speak of, how could he be my mentor?
I must be honest at this point and say, that, at that time, although I wasn't religious, I still felt, like a righteous prophet who stood for ultimate truth. I didn't care who a person was. If there was something they were doing, something about the way they were living that, I felt wasn't truthful or authentic, I felt like it was my mitzva to tell them. I hated lies or hypocrisy.
Finally there came a point one shabbos afternoon when the inner pressure got too great. I felt like I was hiding myself from him. I felt like I was hiding an important issue for the sake of his friendship. This feeling was sickening to me because that was precisely the way I had grown up. I had a feeling that the issue was a sensitive one for Manny but I knew there was no way around it at this point. I either had to bring it up, or leave. I couldn't stand the inner lie. I couldn't understand how a woman brought into Judaism by him, could be more committed to it than he was. I has also heard her make some comments that indicated that it really didn't mean much to her. He seemed to be living this life, where he could do, believe and think whatever he wanted, but at the same time, he needed to know that his family was Jewish, a regular traditional Jewish family.
To me this was hypocrisy. If you don't care about Judaism, and it means nothing to you, then who cares if you children are identified by the frum as Jewish?
I did bring my issue up to him. He was sad angry and hurt. "How do you eat her food?" he told me, as he escorted me out of his house. He didn't want me back there until this issue was resolved in me. I wrote him a long letter. He seemed to understand my point, but I have never had it in me to get to know him again. I felt like he was not being fair by expecting me to understand how he made peace with these issues. I still feel strongly that, although, he is an amazing person, he would need to be more honest with me about how he felt whole and peaceful with these contradictions in order for me to respect him as a role model for honesty.
I still regret deeply that my convictions have put me in a position to cause pain to such a dear man, and dear friend, but I could not and cannot see any other way.
That night, I had a deeply satisfying feeling that I had rarely felt before. I felt like I had done the right thing. I had lost my favorite friend and mentor but I had gain a renewed conviction inside, that being honest was possible, that it works and that all will be OK, if I continue sharing my truth.