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Secular vs.

Next week is going to be a tender week for me, what with the whole I’m about to be a full-fledged Jew thing and all. But there are some observations I want to download onto the blog first. Five days and change before my official conversion date, it’s interesting to note how different my circle of friends is now versus six months ago, when my journey to join the Jewish people began.

As you might imagine, being a regular worshipper and new member at my synagogue, I have made many new friends and acquaintances from there. Some I see every week, others I will soon begin to study Hebrew with. One will accompany me on mikveh day next week.

Pre-existing friends have been more scarce. Giving credit where credit is due, the stress of my almost homelessness, job search, and move back to Marina City–along with the business of finding and moving in with a new boyfriend–made it difficult for me for several months to reach out as readily as I would have liked. Emily Tastycakes I’ve seen twice all year. Pastry Chef Chris (who, himself, recently put out an All Points Bulletin for his friends on Facebook) I haven’t seen since Christmas. I miss them.

Some others, though, have left my life, either by their decision or, frankly, mine. It’s amazing how much stress society places upon us to have shallow spiritual lives. Anything that gets in between Western civilization’s nonstop quest for material happiness and simultaneous low moan about not achieving it is derided as a weak-minded pastime. It’s also amazing how persistent many people can be in false assumptions about Judaism.

When I first blogged about finding my Jewish spark, one longtime friend let me know in no uncertain terms how disappointed he was that my otherwise intelligent and formerly secular self would be so juvenile as to find any usefulness in religion or (ahem, God-forbid) God. I’ve never met a happy, non-confrontational atheist and nothing in our exchange changed that for me. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

A few months ago, another friend told me he didn’t mind talking to me about any other subject, but that if I wanted to remain friends with him, any mention of Judaism was off limits. I could talk, as long as I pretended that Jews didn’t exist. Ever try telling a black person to ignore the existence of other black people? Gay people of other gay people? Women of other women? Exactly. I told him, specifically, to “get lost,” unfriended him on Facebook, and went on with my life.

In December, another friend chose an hour before temple on the evening of my mother’s yahrtzeit (death anniversary) to totally disrespect my observance of Shabbat, then ask me for the umpteenth time, “You don’t really believe in all this Judaism stuff, do you? You really don’t believe that Jesus is your savior?” Um, no. I was so taken aback I ended the evening early and stopped returning his calls. He moved away without knowing why I was angry with him. But, honestly, there’s a limit.

The very first book I read during my conversion studies–Why Be Jewish? by David J. Wolpe–suggested an answer to societal demands that we take our spiritual lives lightly: why? Of all things ever to take seriously, why not take seriously questions like why are we here? How are we here? What else may exist in All That Is? Why not give extra weight to things like love, compassion, joy, justice? Going against the grain like that requires bravey, but in the end, we’re responsible for our own lives and our own hearts.

And most importantly of all, Wolpe noted that you can’t have a spiritual journey inside of someone else’s head.

I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t choose to be Jewish. The point of my conversion journey is that I realized Jewish is what I always was. Even if that wasn’t how I felt, knowing what I know now I would still choose to be Jewish. I’m that much in love and it that aptly describes who I am. And I’m an observant Jew, which means I don’t lead a secular lifestyle. Boy, that can throw some people out of their comfort zone.

That’s their problem. At this point, I’m very comfy in my mine.

Categories: COMMUNITY Ignorance JEWISH CONVERSION

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion

Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

3 replies

  1. I feel privleged to be one of the new friends you’ve made at Emanuel. We have some similarities – in that I had zero interest in organized religion for almost all of my adult life. I had a modest Bar Mitzvah in the midst of my parents divorce. My father’s tragic death a few years later exposed much hypocracy and judgementalism that I was turned off for a long time. I floated between Atheism and Agnosticism and disinterest while always considering myself “Jewish” in many ways (ethnically and otherwise).

    Turning forty was a crossroads in my life as well. I knew I needed major changes in my life and worked hard to achieve it. I met my wife shortly after I turned 41; she’s “Half-Jewish” by ancestry and had a varied spiritual journey of her own. We decided we wanted Judaism in our lives and attended a Seder at Emanuel to check it out (my sister and her family are members) ostensibly as the first Synagogue of several to try out. We never tried a second.

    Many of my friends likely “raise an eyebrow” to find I’m practicing Judaism – but I’m fortunate that it hasn’t really been an issue. A bigger issue likely is becoming a parent which is probably a bigger change in dynamic anyway.

    Well in closing – I’m glad to know you and very happy to welcome you as a M.O.T.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and for your kind words, Dan. I can relate to the feeling of visiting Emanuel as your first shul-shopping stop and then stopping there. There’s definitely something special about the congregation. I’m honored to be a part of it, and glad to know you, too!

  2. Congratulations. Been following you for a while, as you wind through your journey. How amazing, and beautiful, to be able to look back and say, “wow. I’ve changed. And I’m more ‘Me’ now.” How fulfilling and empowering to create your own life, to make your vision of who you want to be a reality. A preemptive Mazal Tov!

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