How do you keep your faith?

December 17, 2013

Question from a reader : With all that has gone on in your life, how do you keep your faith?

Well actually this was another person who knows me reasonably ok.  Well at least knows of my life situation as we have talked.

How do I keep my faith?  Honestly, I don’t even know if I truly do keep my faith in the way that many people would consider “keeping of faith.”

After all what really is faith?

Faith as defined by Merriam Webster:
(1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :  belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion”

Well according to this really you can have one without the other.  A belief in G-d can occur without believing in the traditional doctrines of the religion in question.  And I know a lot of people who claim to believe much of the doctrine but YET identify as atheist.  I know Hassidic Jews who claim to be atheist!  Don’t ask me how that works out as I don’t know.

That still doesn’t answer how I am dealing with faith and how I keep faith.

As a matter of fact, when I was converting one of the bigger things I admitted having a problem with was faith.  See, I am a scientist by training so it’s difficult for me to put that faith out there.  And on top of that I am not very trusting so people are asking me to trust an invisible force that I cannot prove.  Seriously?

However, something I have learned is that so far everything that I have been promised when I was arguing with HaShem or meditating has come to pass sooner or later with the exception of getting into medical school.  That is the only thing that had it’s time moved.

When it comes down to it, the worst things in my life should be over.  There is not a lot that HaShem can take from me that I won’t survive.  I have survived worse.  I have books that have taught me how to survive when I need to go out and get my own food.  I know how to get water.  I know how to find or make a shelter.  I know how to make candles.  I know basically most of the skills needed in order to just… disappear for a while.  I even know how to make an anti-seizure medication!  All I need is electricity for my laptop and phone and really it is just a matter of time before I learn how to build a generator or I can just bring my computer to restaurants and such and charge there.  Not like I haven’t done that before.  I don’t even need electricity at night most of the time.

I think that knowledge that I can be self sufficient if I need to be is what gives me a little bit of faith.  As Rabbi Avraham Chira said, “The hardest faith is faith in yourself.”  After that, anything is easy even if it is talking about an invisible dude.

What really is the worst that can happen to me?  I don’t get into medical school?  (After all one school stated they didn’t accept Jews.)  Is that really the end of the world?  Probably not.  OK I could save a lot of lives because I would be able to talk to patients and be able to provide culturally competent care.  However, I cannot force them or anyone to accept me into their program.  I just don’t have that type of power.  I can’t force anyone to accept me into rabbinical school either. Everything I have to worry about really is external.  Maybe that is what the trip to Israel really showed… I can survive on my own with very little.

HaShem has to have a plan somehow.  I just don’t know what it is.

I just don’t know.

And that is part of having faith.


Final Boarding Call

December 12, 2013

Nov 9-11

I got up far too early but I did need to get up.  I needed to move my stuff out of my room and into someone else’s as like it or not I had to check out on Shabbat.  Plus no one said when we were going to services.  Then there was the whole matter of the Shabbos key and how I was going to transfer it back without actually violating Shabbat.  (Roommate, who was supposed to help with that latter, stayed in someone else’s room so I didn’t see him until long after we checked out.  I did trick someone to turn in the key though, thanks!)

One of the Orthodox guys and I spoke while waiting and he made some really interesting comments to me that showed he was thinking about me.  He said one of the things he was thinking about since I was going to so many services is how I must feel seeing the mechitza and knowing about the gender divide and how it must be really hard.  I had to admit that it was very hard for me and that was one of the reasons I felt that as observant as I try to be, I have a really hard time sitting in a gender divided room. I know I still have girl-parts, but I know I usually pass as male.  The issue of who I can touch is also very difficult for me.  Do I touch men?  Women?  Who?  The whole negiah thing is hard.

I can’t remember if I told him about a minyan I went to in Atlanta where there was male, mixed, and female and I was told to remove myself from the men’s section to sit either in mixed or female.  At the time I had a beard and was walking with a cane, I could barely stand for kiddush!  Oy!

A set of us went off to shul.  Another Orthodox one, of course, but not a gay one. This was more standard.  Just a section for men and for women.  I was astounded by how many people just would get up, leave for a time and come back.  I felt lost again but then I am not used to such things!
There was another marriage upcoming and people danced around the Torah, I was invited but didn’t know what I was being invited to do so I remained sitting and very confused.

We had the best conversations that I’ve ever had on Shabbat while going from shul.  They were very naughty and a lot of ribbing about a mitzvah that is supposed to occur on Shabbat.  One of them had an “overnight guest” as it were.  The tour guide just could not stop being a tour guide, it was awesome!   There are just times you need a tour guide who gets the culture of the group.  And we got him!

After wandering around we went back to the hotel, picked up the rest of the group and went to HUC in Jerusalem where we had lunch with the dean of the campus and he spoke to us about Reform Judaism there or really progressive Judaism.

We started walking back to the Harmony Hotel where we had closing remarks.  Positives and negatives.  Like I said I was astounded at how awesome the orthodox were which I was always told was never going to happen, but was very disappointed in being treated so poorly by other members of the group who objected to me needing time by myself when I was having a breakdown.  Others were just happy they had the ability to go on the trip.  Some were happy to see people become more observant while they were there.  The group leader even said while this was the youngest group, it was also the most observant group.

After we had Havdallah (over beer!) we did something called a jelly roll which I was at the center of (don’t ask me).  We then filled out our evaluations, and went back to the hotel where I was expecting my cousin to be there.  She wasn’t so I got my stuff and had to call her.  I had Hillel talk to her and gave her directions and he helped me get to the pick up spot.  I got a little bit of a blessing which was nice.

I met the Cousin and met the rest of the family.  She is super nice and lives a little outside of Jerusalem.  Good cook too.  Very smart, undergraduate degree was in some form of biochemical engineering or something, then getting a PhD in some musical subject.  Elder Daughter seemed curious about life in America and how the rabbinate was.

The next morning, was Mom’s birthday so I called her from Israel to wish her a happy birthday.  Due to the time difference it was barely her birthday.  Then we took Cousin’s younger daughter to school.  Then we went to see the kosher McDonalds.  Then we went to visit the Webyeshiva home office.  It was intimidating to see a guy with a HUGE gun where we parked.  We were not far from the President’s house and kinda parked in front of it.

The Webyeshiva people were pretty awesome but I expected it.  Rabbi Saks gave me lots of advice on perhaps moving to Israel, medical school in Israel even, and gave me a gay Orthodox rabbi to talk to (do all rabbis know each other?)

Then I went back to Cousin and we went briefly back to the Arab market.  Saw her haggling skills in action.  Then she had to get to Hebrew University to take a class but we had lunch first on campus.  I connected to the wifi to talk to another classmate which I was never going to be able to meet on this trip.  Had dinner, then had dessert out.

I almost didn’t sleep that night.  I woke up early to get ready.  Cousin already called and arranged for an airport shuttle to come and get me.

I really feared not going to be able to say good-bye to my cousin, but I had to get out and wait for the shuttle.  Luckily I sent an email thanking her just in case.  She was able to come out and wait with me.  Turns out they had the address wrong or something.  But I admit I was crying when I was waiting.  I kept saying in a day I go back to being the freak.  The traditional one in a Reform shul and one of the few transgender Jews.  And being the only Jew in my county.

Going on the shuttle was an adventure.  Almost no room and they said they would give me the change later, but I had to ask when I got at the airport.  I don’t think anyone really spoke English there.   How do Hassidim get on these things as there is no room and you have to sit near the opposite sex!

Getting to the airport was an adventure.  They stopped me for additional security right after I got off the shuttle.  Airport dude tried to steal my travel permit and said I wasn’t here legally.  I pointed out that he had my paperwork right there.  I was not pleased.

So go in for check in, I can’t find Turkish Air so I ask someone.  They turn pale, ask if what I was carrying was it and then put me in heightened security.  They took my passport asked me if I spoke Hebrew and I admitted that I only knew a few words.  Young lady walked away with my passport to get her supervisor who while they were allowing everyone else to go through they grilled me for 45 minutes on why my family didn’t put me in Hebrew school (convert), what was my religion of origin (Roman Catholic), when did I convert (a little over a year ago), did I have friends and family in Israel (yes), where did I stay (I gave him most of the list), how did I learn about Judaism (Miami), what does the process involve (education, mikvah, circumcision), what was the curriculum of the education (gave some of them), tell him about Rosh Hashannah, tell him about Sukkot, what are the four Jewish new years (did three of four missing Elul 1), do I go to synagogue (yes), how often do I go (I end up there three times a week for one reason or another), what are my favourite services (rock shabbat which I missed as I was in Israel), why does my synagogue play music on Shabbat (Reform), he said “Oh I see you are married…” and I jumped in and said “Yes I am married to a man.  He isn’t Jewish” and then I had to talk about his religious history.

And when I told Supervisor I could give him my rabbis numbers, he told apologised and said he thought I had a bomb.  Really people?  Eventually I was deemed not a threat but I had more screenings but none as severe.

So at the gate I emailed my rabbis!

The hop to Istanbul and the hop to Chicago weren’t too bad.  They fed us more.  And on the long haul (we got a cool tin from Turkish Air which I gave to my mother who collects tins), I was talking to a very nice grad student who just came back from a huge amount of fieldwork.  I hope his dissertation goes well.

Getting into Chicago, customs was a breeze, another green light no declarations, but getting onto the next plane was hard.  TSA decided to confiscate a corkscrew I forgot.  I’m sorry I just went through the detainment from hell in the strictest security in the world and you are going to bust me for something that the TSA’s website says is legal for me to possess?  Seriously?

Oh and then our plane was delayed by about two hours adding to a ridiculously long layover.  Ironically I ended up getting so hungry that I had to hit up the McDonalds.  I never got to eat at the kosher one but ate at the trayf one for the first meal back!

I felt so bad for my ride back home as she was picking me up and I was texting her with the delays.  I was supposed to get in before midnight.  I got in around 1:30 am and didn’t get back to my house until about 3 am!

Really the trip itself, with the exception of being told I was a terrorist, it really wasn’t all that bad.  If Ben Gurion airport didn’t treat me so bad, I would say it was almost perfect.  I think really it was an interesting trip.  Maybe international travel isn’t as bad as I was thinking it was.  I would certainly consider going back, but I don’t want that airport no way no how!  Anyone willing to go to Israel by boat?

I think with the exception of going back to Israel (which again I would not object to at all), maybe I should start thinking of another trip.  Australia could be nice.  A cruise to Antarctica would be cool no pun intended.  Plus I really should try to make it to Suriname to continue the genealogical research.  Italy would also be neat.

If anyone wants to give me an international trip, I have no objections!


Ir Ha Kodesh

December 5, 2013

Nov 7-8

Arthur Hotel was very nice, at least better than it’s sister hotel.  Much stronger wifi as well although I am convinced it is on the biggest party street in Jerusalem.  That street never stopped even on Shabbat!

First real day in Jerusalem and we went on the Western Wall Tunnel tour (I get the feeling I missed part of it somewhere) and then went to the wall itself.  I was amazed at all the security, but I guess that just is how it is in Israel.

When we approached the Wall, of course there are people asking if you did tefillin today.  While one of the group members said no and turned away, the Chabad guy turned to me and I said “Before you ask, yes.  I did it this morning.”  Which was absolutely true.   I was very good about my tefillin in Israel.  The guy HIGH-FIVED ME.  I was stunned.  You don’t think of Hassidic Jews high-fiving anyone.  Or maybe I just don’t.

While the Wall was interesting, I really was amazed that I didn’t actually feel anything at the Wall.  I felt more after stepping far away from it.  Basically I posed for photo ops and that was it.  We already prayed on the tunnel tour.

There was a bar mtizvah occurring at the wall so it was getting far too loud and crowded for me.  I went back, Chabad asked the same group member if he was Jewish and did tefillin, he said he did it with me.  I turned to the guy and said “No, he didn’t.  I did it alone in my room.  I did OFFER that if he ever wanted to do it he could.”  Group member ran away, but Chabad kept talking to me.  I told him Group member had been borrowing my kippot and such, I was told I was a “portable mitzvah tank.”  Then Chabad dude asked when I was leaving and if I was planning to come back then told me there were ways of getting me back to study for a month or so.  Don’t you dare tempt me Chabad!  I would do it!   But I don’t know Hebrew so it would have to be Hebrew classes.

Then we walked through the Arab market and saw some other things here and there in the area.

Then went to the Conservative Yeshiva for some text study.  I was not big on that but that is just me.  I am not really big on text study and I was supposed to be partnered with the person I liked the least on the entire trip so I respect myself enough to not engage.

We walked back to the hotel and Hillel took us to another tallit shop which had cheaper tallitot.  I purchased a purple striped tallit (about 500 shekels or something) and then rushed to get back to the hotel where I was supposed to be meeting with one of my classmates who was going to take me to the yeshiva of one of my Webyeshiva rabbis.  Didn’t see my rabbi but saw my classmate so that was cool.

We had to get back to go to dinner… T’mol Shilshom where we heard the owner of the restaurant talk about his new book Who will die last?

Some of us tried to go back to the hotel, but we were lost.  Then we went back to the restaurant, got more people tried to get back, then started head back again to the restaurant but didn’t make it back before we were rescued by Hillel who actually got us back to the hotel.  And that is why it is dangerous to leave the tour guide!

We went to bed.

Next morning, we went to Vad YaShem.  It was of course very sad and several people cried at various points during it.  Everyone had feelings of connectedness even those of us who may not have lost specific members of our families.  While I would like to say what occurred there, I figure out of respect to everyone I will not mention.

We then briefly hit up the Jewish market but some of us had to get back early because of Shabbat (plus I had to get the Shabbos key).

We went to Jerusalem Open House for a Reform service and after all those Orthodox services, it was completely bizarre and foreign.  Of course even compared to my regular congregation, it was weird.  A siddur I had never used before and much more English than I was used to and very feminist.   I have several Reform siddurim and this was none of them!  I had to wonder if it was congregation specific.

After that, we went back to the Kotel.  It was prettier at night than it was during the day.  All of us, men and women and trans, all prayed on the same side, the men’s side and you know?  The Hassidim didn’t give a rat’s behind who they davened with and some of us were very OBVIOUSLY female in body if not in mind.  (On the previous visit, all the trans people save one and all the men save one prayed with the men, one woman was ill and one didn’t pray, and the other two people went to the mixed section)

And there we davened again.  Orthodox siddurim, but I did the service I was used to.  We listened to someone from the gay Orthodox men’s group give a dvar.  Then some of us went out partying and others went back to the hotel.  Being the party pooper I am, I was the latter.

That street never was quiet and I was surprised I was able to wake up in the morning for Shabbat!


The Temporary Kibbutznik

December 4, 2013

Nov 5-6

While I can say that I’ve made a few jokes in my life about picking up everything and moving to a kibbutz, I never really figured I would spend any time on a kibbutz.  After all, this isn’t exactly something that is common in the United States… well I guess we had communes in the 1960s but how many of them are really still around?

I’ve always found the idea of the kibbutz to be interesting.  I have no idea why really but maybe it is because when you have no siblings and no cousins, you yearn for an extended family.  Which I assume you would get on a kibbutz.

Anyway, after our first night on the kibbutz, we had breakfast and went on a tour (this set of videos is what one friend thinks is the best part of my trip).  I loved the fact they have a nurse’s station/infirmary which they hire a doctor/nurse/whatever which may or may not be a member of the kibbutz.  Apparently they generally are not but hey as a hopeful medical student who may actually become a physician one day and who joked about living on a kibbutz, this was awesome!

We went to Mount Ben Tal which was probably the windiest place I have ever been in my entire life.  However it was so pretty… we could see Syria and Lebanon.  What I didn’t like is that I ended up accidentally deleting all the photos of this plus most of the rest of the olive oil thing and the winery.  Whaaa!

When we went back to the kibbutz, I had a bit of a breakdown.   I don’t know why, maybe it is because I was at the half way point of my trip.   Maybe because I was on a kibbutz.  I don’t know, but I do know that at that very moment I did not want to leave… at all.  Even though we could basically see Syria from our cabin.  (Ok not really but you know what I mean).  I wanted to live and die in Israel.  I could feel every one of my ancestors, of course I could feel the Italians at Masadah but I could feel the Jews that were in my family that had been forgotten.  I could feel them with me, standing by me.  As sure as I was standing on a kibbutz, those people, my ancestors were there with me.

Also so much history!  You don’t get that in the United States.   It certainly was not the people I was with, it was the location.

I even called one of my rabbis (who was very confused as to how I was calling from Israel) and told him I wanted to stay.  He said I should apply for political asylum and tell them he was abusing me…  He forgets, I can make aliyah on my own.  🙂

We then went to dinner also on the kibbutz, interesting meal but wasn’t fabulous.  Then were supposed to all watch a movie about ftm Israelis.  I started watching the film, but started crying during it so could not handle it and had to leave.  Roommate offered to sit with me, but I told him I was just going to go back to the room.

There are things that you cannot, cannot show me without me getting upset.  You cannot show me harm to an animal.  You cannot talk about suicide.  You cannot talk about death.  You cannot talk about abuse.  You certainly cannot talk about parental rejection or family rejection or friend rejection.  I get bent out of shape.

So I went back and used the jacuzzi.  The world in Hebrew for jacuzzi is… well… jacuzzi transliterated into Hebrew.  I learned that as the directions were all in English but the switches were in Hebrew and it said to activate it using the labeled switch.  What?  I can now say I was in a jacuzzi.  I don’t understand it, but I used it.

I went to bed early as usual.   It was a long and emotionally exhausting day.

Next morning, up and at ’em!  Although we almost had problems as the bus acted a little funny.

Any way we went to Safed which is not pronounced anything like you would imagine.  It’s Tzfat which where they get these letters I don’t know or that pronunciation.  It’s like the Hebrew alphabet is messing with you.  This is the Kabbalist’s dream town.  This is also where you are supposed to sing “Lecha Dodi” and such.  Very interesting place although I have never seen so many stairs in a town in my life.

We went to a talk at Tzfat Gallery of Mystical Art which I felt like one of my rabbis was there with me as these two could have been reading each other’s minds.  I blame Kabbalah as that is what both of them were quoting and they are the only two Kabbalists that quote such things and I know several other Kabbalists that do not say the same things they do and use it the same way they do.

Other than that I was suprisingly not overly impressed with the city.  I felt surely that I would connect to it as a Kabbalist, but I didn’t.  We saw two shuls, learned the difference between how Sephardi and Ashkenazi shuls were set up.   Ashkenazi set up more like a church, Sephardi more like a mosque.  (Although I find that odd since I know people who claim they are Sephardi and go to Sephardi shuls but the shuls are set up like Ashkenazi!  I am so confused.)

When in Safed, I was told some very hurtful things about what a horrible person I was because I left the Israeli ftm movie in tears and that I should have stayed and suffered.  This is why I try to never go to anything ftm related at least not as an open ftm.  Because you know as an ftm, my sole purpose is to put my life through hell in order to make other people happy.  Being a real man is not being forced to suffer, being a real man will allow you to show emotions which will include leaving if one is getting too close to having another breakdown.

We had time for shopping in Safed, but who can really afford the prices?  I do not understand why everything in Safed is so expensive.  There was a really pretty bargain-basement priced tallit for 800 shekels that I loved.  800 shekels is about $230 USD.  I can find the exact same tallit on amazon for $157.  I saw my favourite tallit that I purchased for less than $80 USD for 1200+ shekels ($350 USD) in a shop in Safed.  Hahaha… no.

So we went off to Jerusalem.  We stopped near Hebrew University and  saw the city at night.  Hillel said “Welcome Home” But suddenly I didn’t feel like it was home.  This was yet another foreign country and a city I was supposed to feel connected to.  It felt more like home on the kibbutz.

We went to dinner with Women of the Wall.  Honestly the most interesting thing about the dinner was that they are helping transgendered people make aliyah.

Accommodations : Arthur Hotel.