Confession: I’ve been in my first “crisis of faith” since I began living a Jewish life almost five years ago.
I blame a lot of things for this experience, but largely, it’s the fault of COVID-19. I haven’t stepped foot inside my shul since the end of January. As western Washington was one of the first hotspots in the early disease outbreak, we shifted inward pretty quickly and stopped going to most places in public by early February.
While Judaism is very much something practiced in the home, a lot of Judaism occurs in our communities. It’s the gathering on erev Shabbos to chant and worship together, welcoming in the peace of Shabbat. Our community quickly moved to the online format, and for months I appreciated that, and I was dedicated to my Friday night attendance. But then my virtual attendance started to wane. And then our rabbi retired, and our community, which is a medium-sized congregation, has chosen not to immediately replace him and elevate our Cantor to a senior clergy position while they try to determine what they want for the future of the community. So our online services changed, and I felt myself becoming even more disengaged. So, for all of August and September, I skipped out on Shabbos service, and I didn’t even light the candles each Friday night.
The High Holy Days, which are normally my absolute favorite holidays, felt dry, uninspired, and rote this year. I watched from the comfort of my dining room, where I was distracted and bored through the services. It left me feeling frustrated and brokenhearted, so I began to withdraw anymore until I felt almost nothing The only bright spot in the entire holiday period was when I chose to watch the Kol Nidre service from Central Synagogue in New York City. It was so beautiful that I was brought to tears, and for those brief moments, I was contented and okay.
But being disconnected from my faith in Hashem (G-d for the non-Jew) is a terrible feeling. Through my entire religious journey that has taken me through 20+ years, the ONE thing I never gave up on was the belief in G-d, the monotheistic deity to which I have always prayed. But these past few months, Hashem has never felt farther away. I confessed to a couple of my closest friends – one Christian and one Jew – that I just wasn’t engaged, and I didn’t know how to recommit. I found out that they, too, were feeling similarly, but it did little to help me find my own way, although I took comfort in the collective feeling of loss COVID has forced upon us.
It all culminated in the last month when I started questioning my choices. I will honesty admit that I wondered if converting to Judaism had been a mistake. I felt like a fraud and wondered that maybe I didn’t belong in this world in which I’ve lived these last five-ish years. I then began to panic because my husband only recently finished his conversion to Judaism, and I was hit with intense guilt as my doubts became the loudest voice in my head. With that feeling heavy on my soul, I started exploring and asking – am I feeling what I’m feeling because I made the wrong choice? Do I feel this way because I wrongly chose Judaim. Answering those questions weren’t easy, but I did what I always did – research. I reacquainted myself with Christianity, reading and listening and exploring. And what did I discover?
That I am 100% exactly where I was meant to be. I was quickly reminded of all the reasons I walked away from Christianity, and the religion itself makes less sense to me now than it ever did before. It was easy to remind myself that I don’t believe what they believe, and the things they believe are non-starters for me. I can’t go back to that world. I can’t suddenly start to believe the Jesus story again when I, at my core, know it to be false. It was then that I realized that no matter how I’m feeling in this world, that one I was in before is now foreign to me, and something I do not want for myself ever again. And the most important thing I remembered was why I chose Judaism in the first place. All those reasons came back to me, and I found that I still believe them just as much now, if not more, than I did when I first started on this journey at the end of 2015.
Being Jewish isn’t easy, but that’s not to blame for my feeling. I’ve felt this way – this disconnection and sadness – not because Hashem is far away but because of my own laziness and lack of commitment to my spiritual health and my relationship with Him. I am to blame for my misery, and only I can fix it.
Now comes the work of actually fixing it. I got a little boost this weekend by attending a Jewish women’s conference. It was virtual, of course, but it was beautiful, and it reminded me again of why I made the choice to join this religious community and practice this religion all those years ago. I also started taking St. John’s Wort again, which is critical for my mental health. I’m allergic/reactive to prescription anti-depressants as a whole, but SJW works for me. I ran out, irresponsibly didn’t order more, and I believe this helped usher in the dark feelings that have plagued me. No more!
I have a plan in place that consists of Torah study, making time for prayer, reading Jewish texts, and maybe trying not to be so hard on myself. While I don’t enjoy the online services from my shul, I absolutely love the online services from Central Synagogue, and I can easily watch those on YouTube on Friday nights. I did so last Friday and immediately felt better and more “dialed in” to my spiritual side. I even lit Shabbos candles for the first time in weeks.
It now feels like I’m coming through to the other side this crisis… I have resolve and determination. I’ve done my soul searching and received the answer I needed. I’m right where I need to be, but I can’t expect it to always be easy; I have to put in the effort. The heavy weight on my soul feels a bit less; my shoulders are a little taller.
I have a plan, and I have something else I’ve been missing – hope.