The Ebb and Flow of Our Unaffiliated Judaism

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Ryan and I never expected a second stint as unaffiliated Jews, synagogue-less in Chicago. But now that it’s been a year since we started shifting into being unaffiliated again–and six months since we cut the cord completely with our second Chicago shul–I’ve been taking stock of where we are Jewishly.

We still follow the holidays at home. (Where they’re meant mostly to be followed in Judaism, so that’s no big change.) We still light candles and make kiddish for Shabbat every Friday night. We still say blessings over food and drink. We still make our life decisions based on Jewish principles and Jewish understandings. (In fact, that’s how we decided to leave our second shul in the first place.)

Ryan sometimes misses the somber-pomp vibe of Friday night services, but not enough for us to rejoin a local shul before we finally leave Chicago, whenever that finally turns out to be. I miss services less. I pray occasionally.

We both had already pulled away from walking in lock-step with traditional takes on Passover’s grain fast and Yom Kippur’s total fast. (The idea of afflicting yourself physically to make yourself pay attention spiritually does not resonate well for Ryan, or at all for me.)

We both had also come to question the enormous peer pressure in liberal Judaism to speak with one voice on Israel and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We’re definitely not AIPAC Jews, nor will we ever be.

I’ve stopped wearing my kippah full-time. For me, on the one hand that’s a capitulation to the radical far left in Chicago that has started to equate symbols of Judaism with symbols of Israeli oppression. An antisemitic sentiment to be sure, but one I would rather avoid publicly, even though I support BDS. On the other, it’s an expression of my disgust with Orthodox Jewry–the Jewish community most associated with wearing kippot–supporting what has become a political and cultural break between Israel as an Orthodox-driven country and liberal Jews across the globe.

I’ve never questioned my conversion to Judaism over the past year. But I have enjoyed being far less militant about my Judaism than during the first six years of my membership in the Tribe. We aren’t cultural Jews, but we are very comfortable in our own personal Jewishness to have no qualms about saying “no” to living unexamined Jewish congregational lives.

When we finally get to NYC, which is probably the city we’ll end up in, we’ll join a local Reform temple most likely in Queens (Forest Hills), and put ourselves on the waiting list for Central Synagogue. The big question for us is whether the Reform Jewish community in NYC is as locked down in terms of input from regular congregants as is the Reform Jewish community in Chicago. To me, that keeping of a top-down lid on things by those in power is a classic, nearly universal Chicago modus operandi, so I honestly do expect something different from the Jewish community of my hometown. We’ll see.

Finally, over the past 18 months–since before the beginning of this second stint of unaffiliatedness–I’ve delved deeper than I ever have before into a philosophical school of thought that has been before me since I was a teenager. I bounced in and out of it for many years before applying myself within it, but for the past 18 months, I’ve stuck with it, with results that have had great personal, emotional, and psychic meaning to me. That school of thought is YCYOR (You Create Your Own Reality), the concept best popularized by the Jane Roberts/Seth material centered–in Jewish terms–around taking radical responsibility for being co-creators with God.

This orientation informs my prayer and my personal experience of Judaism, which have both come to emphasize celebration, appreciation, compassion, joy, radical personal responsibility for the reality I experience, and oneness, at the expense of one-sided praise and pleading of a Deity from which I no longer feel fundamentally apart, but rather fundamentally part of. It also fits in neatly with the widespread tradition of modern Jews informing their Judaism with alternative approaches to All That Is. (“JewBus,” or Jewish Buddhists, for example.)

Most of all, it means I look forward to our next synagogue wherever it may be. It will be interesting to experience synagogue membership for once from the perspective of refusing to blame others for a personal reality for which I take full responsibility.

Then again, we may just become those Jews who buy High Holy Day tickets once a year and otherwise do our own thing. If you’re really going to take responsibility for your own Jewish experience, then that’s an okay future, too.

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