Posted on March 13, 2012 by David Bogomolny
I spent last Shabbat at Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s moshav near the city of Modi’in, where my grandparents and other close family members live. This Shabbaton was particularly convenient for me because it allowed me to visit my family without worrying about rushing back to J’lem for Shabbat (especially during the winter). It was also quite an experience for me for several reasons.
On Friday, before Shabbat, I’d had a very meaningful visit with my grandparents. I can no longer eat any of the food that any of my extended family prepares in their kitchens, which is emotionally challenging for me, but my family has been very accepting of my choices, and this makes my decision easier. This subject was among those that arose during my visit with my grandparents, and the conversation had been incredibly affirming for me – I can stay true to my beliefs and not be at odds with my loved ones.
There were two students at the Shabbaton from the Conservative Yeshiva, one Israeli student from a hesder yeshiva, and a few other motley attendees, but the majority of Shabbaton participants were yeshiva and seminary students, studying at haredi institutions. The haredi students were all friendly, but their cultural norms made me feel uncomfortable. Most of the women at the Shabbaton did not interact with the men, and vice-versa. The male haredim refused to attend a pre-mincha drash given by a woman at the moshav.
I was struck by how different I was from the majority of Shabbaton participants in worldview, upbringing and behavior. I’m a halakhically observant Jew, technically Orthodox by today’s social standards, but the story of my life was drastically different than the rest of the observant Jews at the Shabbaton. I was older than all of the other students, somewhat less familiar with Jewish textual study, and much more individualistic and spontaneous. Their behaviors reinforced one another’s – they all knew the same Shabbat songs and the same cultural references. They were friendly, but I felt mostly alone.
Uprooting my life to come to Pardes was a great challenge for me, and I have struggled a lot with whether I made the right decision. I may very well be starting my professional life over from scratch at the age of ~30 years, and my loved ones’ concern for me comes across as doubt and worse. I can’t turn to the people I love most for support.
On Saturday morning, I woke up early because some of the yeshiva students were talking in the kitchen. I made myself a cup of coffee, ate a pastry, and found a siddur to daven from. I never get through all of morning davening in shul or with a minyan so I decided to start Psukei D’Zimra early. The hesder bochur woke up, and mentioned that he was going to shul to learn some Torah before services; I decided to join him. That morning, I got through all of Shabbat shacharit, and studied some chassidut with the hesder bochur. I felt good about myself.
At some point during the davening, towards the end of Psukei D’Zimra, I happened to be thinking about the haredi Shabbaton attendees, and I began to consider how different an experience davening was for me than it was for them, having been raised with it, and knowing it all by heart. They wouldn’t have been proud of themselves for getting through Psukei D’Zimra or for studying Chassidut in the morning.
I’m not sure why my thoughts drifted, but I found myself contemplating my latest spiritual practice from my Self, Soul, and Text class at Pardes. The practice is called ‘radical acceptance’ – an internalization of negative and stray thoughts – a transformation of negative energy into positive empowerment. Suddenly, I found myself with tears in my eyes, breathing deeply, and realizing: “My Weakness is My Strength.” In an unforeseen moment, I felt energized – my story, my doubts, my challenges… made me- me! I hadn’t been raised with traditional Judaism, but I was conquering it, and every obstacle before me (and behind me) would serve me to better relate to other Jews with similar struggles. I wasn’t like the haredi bochurim – but I didn’t have to be… because being me was a special thing – pushing forward despite my many particular doubts gained me ownership of them. Even my loved ones’ doubts somehow seemed… natural… painfully loving… energizing.
The gabbai at the shul gave every person who took an aliyah a very special brachah. I watched him, thinking that I would like an aliyah, thinking that I would like to extend blessings to my family. I counted the aliyot, one… two… seven, in the back of my mind, and suddenly I saw the gabbai pointing at me. Confused, I thought that I had miscounted – perhaps they hadn’t done the seventh aliyah yet… so I went up to the Torah, and looked at the gabbai for direction.
What? I gave the gabbai a stunned look; I’d never lifted the Torah before. And then… my voice rang in my mind: “My Weakness is My Strength. My Weakness is My Strength. My Weakness is My Strength.” Dropping the Torah would have serious consequences, but I wasn’t going to drop it. This was my moment of actualization – my moment of celebration – my moment of growth and sealing. I lifted the Torah in the air, held it open for all to see, turned it around in a circle, and sat myself down in a chair for somebody else to roll the scroll up. “My Weakness is My Strength.”
My Weakness is My Strength.