Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rebbetzin S. (Yesh.)

I was visiting monsey. Yehuda S. had told me that his mother would love to see me. How do I say no, she's 90 years old. How do I say no, I knew her husband, the mashgiach so well. How do I say no. I love him so much and regretted so much not getting to no him more. In a way, she was the closest I could get to knowing him. Whatever reason, I went to see her. I probably wore a cap because a yarmulka would really be a lie. She is a very special woman and I was glad to see her. She told me that she davens for me. She told me that she wants me to go back to being a yeshiva bachur. How do I explain anything to her. No, I had attempted with some people but I had not intentions of trying to explain anything to her. I was way beyond that. I just realized that in her way of looking at things, her picture of me would not be complete until she saw me in a hat and jacket once again and I had not intentions of that happening. Also, even if I had wanted that, I was not even more repulsed by the superficiality of it. She didn't even think of ask about how I was feeling. Not that she didn't care, but she only saw the need to have her physical image of me fulfilled and complete. It almost seemed as if she had no conception that wearing a hat and jacket didn't mean anything about religious devotion let alone mental health and stability. None of those things were even worth bringing up. No explanation necessary, just a cordial goodbye and thank you. Nice to have that door close behind me. It was a little painful, but I Knew there was no other way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Avi's gone. (Wash)

The owners were trying to evict everyone. I didn't know what I would do. I was relying on Avi.
I wasn't used to finding my own place to stay. I didn't have a steady and significant income. I decided to do what I always did. I just didn't do anything. If I had to live in my car I was fine with that. For a while, I just lived in our old apartment as they began demolishing it. As I could tell, from the toilet, I wasn't the only one using our old apartment. The door was locked so I climbed in the window, when they took out the walls, I went upstairs. I was angry. Not doing anything to help myself was my form of rebellion. If you don't care for me, then I won't care for me until you feel bad that you didn't care. It went something like that. Either way, I didn't care enough to make things better. At the end Alan found out that I was living in my car and offered to help. By that time I had begun looking. I found out that Bill from the beach had spots in houses that he would rent out. He seemed nice and Alan would help me pay for it. I moved in. I was so happy. It was the first really nice shower I had had in a while. The bathroom, was clean and bright and the shower was warm and I just savored those moments of warmth and feeling like I had a home.

The people were nice and they were interesting. The experience felt a little more authentic because now I was getting to know the world. Until then, I had been in the Jewish community, now I was a man of the world. William was Chinese and then there was Pamela, who was Bill's girl friend who I later heard overdosed on drugs. Bian found himself in Jail somehow and Steve, an ex navy seal, scammed a group of people out of their savings and I was actually conned into driving them somewhere unknown. David, was also pretty interesting. His father was Jewish so we had something in common although he didn't have much of a connection with him. He was working two Jobs to pay for child support for his child who was up in Tahoe. Ishmael was an aspiring actor. He had talent, it actually seemed like he would make it. I don't know if he ever did. David was my closest friend. He was a musician and he helped me put out my first CD. I was lost, wandering and confused. I was trying to run as far as I could from anything Jewish. I was trying to fit in. I hoped that somehow, things would work out in a way where I would be able to drown out all the memories of my upbringing and my being a Jew. I hoped that somehow by associating with enough non Jews and different people of different cultures, I'd feel more comfortable, with myself amongst the people of the world.

Frank, officially slept in my room but he had built himself a fortress of sheets around his bed so he had privacy. He's just watch TV a lot of the day. He had a black Mercedes which he kept looking very nice. He was in AA, and we talked from time to time but nothing too friendly. I came home one day to find him drunk and ready to beat me up. He said, that he had heard me say that I thought that Jews were better than everyone else or something like that. I don't know what he meant but either way, it was a scary surprise and I just turned around and ran as fast as I could. Of course I didn't feel that great about myself for running but considering the amount of time he put into weight lifting, and considering how drunk he was, it was probably a good idea. I had to come back because I had no where to sleep. I crept toward the house slowly. I kept my eyes open. I don't know if anyone found out exactly what happened between us but when I walked in, David and two other people were trying to hold him back from beating me up. I can't say I felt very safe sleeping in the same room as him. I imagined him beating me up while I was sleeping. Shortly after that, I started thinking of moving back with the Jews. I needed a safe place to live. I can't say I felt great about it but I was ready.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

oops!! ( driving, while teaching)

It was friday afternoon, I had just finished a long week of teaching and faking and I was looking forward to a nice long weekend of vegging and just being. I'd always take off my suit right away, get into my pajamas, stack up a huge pile of books and get some good food, get into bed, and try to figure out what the hell was wrong with my life and how I might be able to make it better? My mind was spending time with my hopes, thoughts and worries and suddenly traffic came to a hault faster than I could respond. I tried to get into the right lane to avoid hitting the car in front of me. I saw a truck coming fast in that lane so I quickly went back into the first lane. I hit the car in front of me as the truck plowed straight into the side of my precious Toyota Tercel. It's quality steel just gave way to the force of the truck. Glass and grapejuice went flying over my head. I knew something had gone terribly wrong, but I got comfort from the fact that my mind was being called back into the present. I had to think. How do I clean up this mess? I jumped out of the car. I was shocked. I was fine. My body, was intact, it was absolutely fine. It was nice to know that. I just stood staring at my car, I couldn't believe what a mess, it was and how I could possibly be OK.

Food, my comfort and companion (shabbat)

For a long time now, food had been my best friend. It had comforted me when things had gone so wrong. I had a constant need for more food. Now, having a little money, I was able to have even more food. I discovered the fascinating world of sweet. These sweets were such beloved friends. I would just sit in the parking lot of the Super Market and eat until I couldn't move, then I"d go to sleep, for a little bit, I couldn't think, that was good. Then, when I had more energy, I'd get up and eat what I had left over.The food helped me not to think of the many questions that I had and decisions I had to make. I loved them so much. I hated me so much. I hated all the things I didn't know. I hated all the questions I was scared to ask. I hated my life. I hated what had happened. Most of all, I didn't want to truly look at all that had happened. Where did I go wrong? What can I make of this life? I have nowhere to go. I just knew that I couldn't have a career. I knew that I couldn't devote myself to something else. I knew that Torah was really the only way to go, although I began to doubt this just a bit, I could not let go of the image of the Rabbi and leader I had aspired to for so long. What should I do with that image, all that longing? Is it over? Is that really possible that it's over? I need an explanation. You just can't leave me stranded like this. Tell me what happened to me!! Why am I like this? Why can't I go back? What happened? Why should I invest my time in anything else? If I don't know why it happened, why should I think that it won't happen again? Ice cream was great. Cake and chocolate always had answers. No exceptions. When I ate, I didn't have to think. Of course I hated this process. I knew I was avoiding so much but I knew I had no choice. I just knew that there was no way to face these questions. Facing them was just out of the question. I was just angry and confused. I felt sure that I was wrong for doing what I was doing. I was definitely going to hell and all I did was try to not think about the hell that I was building for myself. What was there to think about? What was there to face? It was simple, I was going to hell. I was seriously screwed. I also knew that I just had to have sex. I knew that I had to not study torah. I knew that each day, I was moving farther and farther away from the living spring of God and his mitzvos. I also knew that there was no way in hell that I would do them or study any Torah. I had to conclude that things were just not going to be that good for me.

One Shabbat, I was fed up. My ritual life had stopped existing, it didn't mean anything anymore. Until then, I had kept shabbat, I didn't do anything. I didn't show my face in Shul but I didn't desecrate the Shabbat, I just stayed home and read. I had started to go to 12 step meetings for my eating and the Shabbat came when I didn't know why I was keeping it. I had to go to a meeting, why should I keep shabbat? The meetings were giving me hope that I'd have some of my peace of mind back, how could it be bad? The shabbat was dry and dead and the meetings promised the possibility of god, hope and life. What would I choose? It was a tough decision, I knew God would kill me, I would definitely get into an accident. I felt like I was making a decision. It was a bad decision but at least it was a decision. I got into my car. It felt strange. It was different. Of course I never imagined in my wildest dreams that this day would come. I felt good. It felt strange, different, but it felt more natural. I needed to be me and this was a good way to start.

awkward encounters. restaurant

As my luck would have it, I was working a few blocks from the school that I used to teach in. It was really strange. I had changed my life a bit and because it was a kosher restaurant, I would now need to face all those parents and Rabbi's that I spent so much time with last year. I was so scared. I was so embarrassed. I wondered what they thought. Some of them had respect for me. Now it was probably different. The comforting thing was that I felt so much better about myself. I felt like I was doing the right thing. I was no longer a hypocrite. I didn't have to worry about saying one thing to my students and not living it. Now, I was feeling more whole. My outside life reflected more of what I felt and believed on the inside. This was extraordinary. I had never felt this feeling before. This was the first time that I realized how good it could feel to do the right thing and that it can actually give me strength I didn't think I had. Until then I had thought that I just wouldn't have the strength to look at those same parents and teachers in front of whom, I used to dress so well and now I was cleaning up their leftovers at the restaurant. I had a really good feeling about being me. I Knew that I was doing the right thing and that is what made a difference.

downgrade? More authenticity?

The summer drew on and I started thinking of what I would do. I don't know how I had the courage but I walked into a kosher restaurant and asked if they needed anyone. "When do you want to start he asked?" "Tomorrow I said". I had been so bored, I needed something to do. I think I figured that getting a job was the next mature thing to do. It was quite awkward. I just find it hard to get keep my arms in order and get them to do what they needed to do. It was so hard to get comfortable with the Register. I had to write it out over and over again. I went home and tried to memorize where the different buttons were. I felt bad. For my coworkers who were 16 and 18 it was no problem, but I had to sweat it. What was wrong with me? Why does everything have to be so hard? In a way, I took pride in my struggle and rejoiced in my accomplishment. I taught myself to take pride that I was working and I kept at it. I must admit, I liked the physical labor much more, it gave my mind the time to think about all the things that it wondered and worried about. Yes, of course, in those first years of working at the restaurant I cursed my life. How could a talmid chacham end up picking up french fries off the floor. I knew that I was intelligent. I knew that I could use my brain for something. I had spend so many years using it. My mind was wanting to be used. I took so much pride in the mental and intellectual accomplishments that I experienced in yeshiva that my mind wanted to be stimulated. I felt like this kind of work was beneath my capability. I didn't understand why I was doing it. I didn't have the time to think. I couldn't afford to think. All I knew was that I needed to work and that staying busy was really good for me. It was just too hard to spend the time with myself. I knew that things had to change, I could feel the pain, I didn't know what was wrong and how to make it better, all I knew was that, I needed to push on and keep doing the next right thing and that somewhere down this road, things would have to get better. Truth is that I didn't want to think much about what exactly was wrong, I just hoped that if I did some good things, things would get better.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Get a raise?

How awkward can life get. The school year was comming to an end. I must admit that I tried to do as little as possible. I tried to be there as little as possible although when I was working I gave it my all. At the end of the year, when the principal called me in to his office, I had been rehearsing to ask him for a 5,000 dollar raise. The truth is, that I had done some incredible work with those kids but perhaps I was over estimating the dollar value of what I put in. Either way, he told me that he didn't have a job for me the next year. I was shocked. I felt rejected. Why didn't he warn me. In retrospect I am so surprised at my own surprize. How could I possibly be disheartened by losing this kind of job, like losing a migrane. I don't even know how I could have considered the possibility of staying at a job that was so antithetical to where I had hoped to be going with my life. In retrospect, I feel like I must have been so distant from what I truly needed and wanted that so many of my choices were imbued with confusion and lack of self acknowledgment. When the principal told me the good news, he also added 'but we'd love to keep you on call to do some substituting when we need it'. I find it strange that when he said this all my true feelings and directions came to the surface. Now I was rejected, I was angry and I was free. I realized that I needed to cut my ties and associations with the school. I had to live me, now. I hinted to him, at that point, that I was starting to have my own personal doubts about orthodox Judaism and that I don't think I would be the right person to do substituting. Maybe that was too much information to give to a man who was once my employer, but we had had a good rapport and I felt like I needed to tell him what I was up to. I didn't want him to call me and I didn't want him to be surprised if he saw me without a yarmulka or in a place that he would not expect one of his Rabbeim (or anyone else he knew) to be at. I didn't need any more surprizes, and I was trying to live in a world where everyone knew what I was up to. He told me that he would be glad to talk to me on issues of Emunah if I wanted. I was glad he understood what I meant and with that we parted. I was free. I was so happy. I could now put this bad dream behind me. I felt a new era of sweetness, freedom and honesty about to arrive. Although I worried and didn't know quiet what would be, but I felt it had to be better than the lying life of the past year. I did feel like I was taking a step downward from a position of respect and prestige to a life of anonymity and humility, but that's what I wanted. I wanted to be a nobody. I wanted to be in the dark . I wanted to be just a normal person with no attention and no eyes looking at me. I wanted to be able to be a boy, to be a kid, to have fun, to party to have a girl friend. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be me. Is that possible? Where do I start? Who am I?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Me a Rabbi? Awkward, good moments.

Of course there were plenty of awkward moments and there were some pleasurable moments, moments that allow me to look back and feel like I had accomplished something.There was some kind of purpose to it all. I must admit, I was motivated. I liked kids and I had remembered how difficult it had been to study and I did want to make it easier for them. I read any books I could get my hands on. I created a goal system where the kids set their own goals and congratulated themselves when they had accomplished their goal. This felt like a lot of fun. They seemed to like it and of course it made me happy to see them happy. I must admit that Avi was a great support at motivating me to teach. Sometimes I was so depressed and scared. I had failed to miserably the week before that I just didn't want to go in there the next week. I couldn't believe that I would actually have to. At the same time there were some memorably pleasant moments. Ariel, who I had been warned about, was a difficult student to get through to. I was told to never give him any kind of negative note home because he would be beaten. He never if rarely looked at me and it was difficult to know if and when he heard what I was saying. I had decided that I would begin implementing the self-goal program. Until then, I would tell them which piece of Talmud we would be studying that day and we would. Today, was different. I told them to choose their own goal of what and how many lines they should study and then we would go ahead and study them. "What" they all seemed to say incredulously, "what do you mean, we decide?" they asked. "We don't want to study anything!". Yes, yes, I told them, I understand. It took a while to explain to them that although I was intent on studying something. I was giving them a choice as to how much they would study or how they wanted to master it. ( Meaning what kind of method did they want to use to master it? How many times did they want to repete these lines of Talmud? What kind of goal did they want to make for themselves?). Ariel was a student who had been particularly difficult to reign in. Besides, his lack of attention, and his lack of being able to look at me, he just seemed pretty uninterested. Faced with the prospect of making his own decisions about what he would learn and how, he seemed a little uncomfortable and a little excited. He was obviously not given too many choices at home and he seemed to enjoy the freedom and the trust I put in him.It took a while of explaining until I got him to understand what it meant to make his own goal but he finally got the idea. I had a feeling that it was good for him. I must say that what happened next was something I can never forget. It was strange, surprising, heartrending and encouraging.Once he was clear on what he had to do, he started focusing on it. He seemed to exult in havinag a small goal that he knew he could accomplish. As he began enjoying his reading the Gemara, shukeling, swaying back and forth, a sighn of increasing involvement and enjoyment. At some point he was so happy, he looked up at me and he said 'Rabbi, I think I'm going to be a yeshiva bachur". He was smiling so big, I had never seen him smile that big. He had hope. He had seen himself in a new light. He was a champion. I had given him a new image of himself. He now felt that he could accomplish. He seemed to be relishing that feeling of accomplishment. This was a truly great moment for me. This had been a deeply personal work for me. It had taken me time until I had been able to make small and manageable goals for myself. I was relieved that I had finally found a way to feel proud of myself and now, of course, I felt such exhilarating joy in being able to pass on a similar feeling of accomplishement to my young friend, my student. Of course, this moment of triumph was mixed with some ambivalence and pain. I had taught him how to feel satisfied with the study of Talmud but I myself was carrying a secret burden of hatred for the Talmud. Inside I was angry that I had put myself in a position of teaching kids Talmud. No, I didn't really think it was so important for them. I didn't feel like I was teaching them something deep and meaningful. It was a little strange for me to hear my student tell me how excited he was that he would some day be a yeshiva bachur when I was trying my hardest to erase the memories of my days in yeshiva. So, I justified it all by saying that I had taught him a lesson about goal setting, self esteem and focus. I tried not to think about the fact that I was inspiring him to lead a life that I could not say I was proud of. Yes, then there was the other feeling. I had some deeply pleasurable memories from my days in yehiva. I didn't understand what happened to them and why my life needed to take such a different turn but I knew that there was a distance between me today and who I was then. Yes, maybe, he would find joy in that life. Maybe it was OK for him. Maybe it was good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Me a Rabbi? 2

The year, I must say was a tormenting one. There was a huge distance between the adult I was pretending to be and the child I had wanted to be and really, needed to be. I had a beard and glasses. I wore a suit and tie. I was always cordial and respectful. I did my job well even if I had no idea what I was doing. I was in order even if my insides were caving in. I pretended even if my soul was crying and dying. I ate a lot of nosh to hide the pain and the fear of being a child in an adult world and that was what I had to pay to hide from who I was. I saw many beautiful girls and women who had their life together. They taught around the school and I was so tempted to get to know them and have some fun. No fun for me. I was a Rabbi, I couldn't afford to have some kind of scandal. No, I had to behave myself. I taught these kids Talmud. It so happened to be that the Tractate of Talmud that the school chose for us to teach was highly impractical to teach to middle school kids. It was abstract, linguistic oriented and hard to relate to. This made me even more upset at my ironic position. I had hated this kind of study and now I was forced to put kids in the very position that I resented being put in myself. I had kids who were ahead of their age in their thinking and aspirations. How, inside, I had wished that I could be their friend. I wished that I could play with them. That's all I wanted to do was play. One of my students would skateboard to school. I wished I could do that too. They were into all kinds of computer gadgets and I wished I could explore too. Here I was forcing them to study Talmud while wanting to be in their shoes. All they wanted to so was have fun and all I wanted to do was have fun. Why were we sitting here forcing each other to do what we didn't want to do? Every morning I would trade spots with the hot second grade teacher. I felt so out of place leading a prayer service for her second graders, when all I wanted to do was hump her on the desk. Am I crazy? All I wanted was balance. I wondered why I was this way. Something felt off. Is this the way everyone feels? I just wanted to feel composed, calm and normal. I was pretty sure that something was way off. If it wasn't how could I feel so off, so far from sanity and composure?
How I wished that I could be an adult. I wished that I could just have a job and a life I could be proud of. I hoped that I would be a person. I need help, I thought, I just didn't know what kind and in my position, I was just upset, I didn't think much about what I needed to do. As I sat with the other real Rabbi's at lunch, I felt like I was sitting with seven uncles or fathers. I tried to pretend that I wasn't scared and that I was as secure as they were in their position but all I could feel was fear and irony. How is this happening to me? I don't really believe in what I'm teaching, I am just a child, just a wild rebellious child trapped in a crazy job with a fancy suit.
All I knew was that I better keep my mouth shut. All I knew is that I would have to do the best I could at keeping this fake and painful life together until the end of the year. Yes, I met with parents, I discussed their children's problems. I pretended that all was OK with me. I had problems that were much bigger than that of their children. In many cases I encountered parents who were helping their children in quite extraordinary ways. Inside I wished that my parents could have given me that kind of help. I was a good teacher. I cared for my students and worked hard on my lessons. It wasn't the children I disliked, it was the lying, the hiding, and living a life that was far more mature than the one I was actually prepared to live. I needed to play in the sand. I needed to figure out why I was so angry. I needed the space and safety to examine what I truly believed and felt about all the things I was taught. Did I really believe in God? Did I care if I believed or not? who am I ? What do I stand for? If there is not God, is there anything important for me to do here? How do I get a girl? Why is it that others do and I don't?
What would it take to live a life that I was proud of? Why was everything so upside down? Why can't I just be happy? Can I? Is there a way?

Me a Rabbi?

Life was only about to get even stranger. All I wanted was for things to make sense. Nothing else made any difference. I was tired of being so childish, insecure and scared. I needed to have everything together. I must say, I was brave and I was motivated. I wanted a girl. I wanted to be a man. I wanted to be proud of myself. I had spent this past year reading motivational books. I had been reading about goals and about asking. I realized that I must decide what I want and go for it. I had also read about marketing, leverage and using ones talents. I decided that teaching was my greatest talent. I also realized that I was so scared of facing those kids, it was terrifying. I sensed that, it could take me many years to get myself into the classroom and comfortable teaching. I imagined that if I cut out all those years of waiting and went straight for my goal, that would get me to where I was going in the quickest way possible. Looking back, I was lacking so much knowledge in what it took to be an adult and train, prepare and take ones profession seriously. It was more like I was trying to escape thinking about what was going on inside and who I was. I wanted to have things perfect already so that I could be an adult and get what I want without facing the pain and the questions that would make me encounter the many ages of growth that I had skipped. I didn't want to think about questions and lack of knowing, I wanted all to be known, clear and settled.

Someone I had known for a while who had now become a Principal of a school her in LA. I asked him if I could meet with him. I knew how to talk and I knew how to dress and he told me that he would give me a job. I was going to teach Hebrew and Talmud. In my mind, I was hoping that teaching in a Modern Orthodox Jewish Day School would be an innocuous position. I imagined that perhaps I would still be able to live at least part of the newly liberated life I had been looking forward to living out in California. This was all a great delusion. As soon as I knew I was teaching I went right back into the mode that I was trying to escape. Now I knew that everyone in the community knew that I would be teaching in so and so school. It was an orthodox school!! I could be a shagetz, I couldn't be free. I couldn't hang out with girls which was an important hope in my vision of coming to California. Now I had to be a respectable part of society. I had a job, I had a purpose, and I stood for a certain standard of morals. How did I do this to myself?
Now I was under scrutiny. Some of the members of my community, had their children in the school I was teaching in. Although, it could be that the more lenient standard of their own observance would cut me a little slack, my internal freedom was over. I was so angry. All I wanted was to be free. I just want to be my own man. I want to think on my own and act on my own. It seems like it should be so simple. How could I possibly live without that and how am I doing things that trap me under the scrutiny and judgment of other people?

To make matters worse, on the day before school was about to begin, my friend, the principal asked me if I had smicha, meaning, could I be called Rabbi, I said no. "I'm giving you Semicha" he said half jokingly. What he meant was that for this year, I would be called Rabbi. I felt anger surge up inside me. I felt the compelling urge to stop him in his tracks and say that I could not take the job if being called Rabbi was one of the qualifications. I just didn't have the strength. I didn't want to risk my job. I held my tongue. I was so angry. I felt like I had just sealed the fate of my death. Now, I had just rebelled against the things I held most dear. I hated Rabbi's, I hated being a Jew, I hated the burden and the responsibility. I had done all in my power to seek freedom, options and the space to listen to who I am and now, I had just robbed myself of all that I had worked for. I had lied, I had stolen from myself. No, the door was shut now. This year would not be a year when I could express myself. I needed to hide my true questions, my doubts and my skepticism. I would need to pretend that I was another orthodox Jew like the rest. I believed, yes of course, I believed in all the fundamentals. How could I be a Hebrew and Talmud teacher without believing? How could I be a "Rabbi"without believing? No, of course, I was a believer. I was certain. I was certain that I had just sealed my coffin. I had sealed my lips. I had sealed my heart from feeling. Now I was in prison. Funny, I had always known this feeling of being in prison and now I was back.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holy Hippie

So I decided to explore. I was enthralled by the beach and the board walk, pretty women and beautiful art. Can I ask for more. I felt so lucky. I needed this so badly. This was the perfect break from my tumultuous life. I found a hippy on the beach. Long dread locks and a long beard. I had never seen someone like this. He was playing the guitar and I decided to engage him. Something about him was intriguing. I stood near him and after a while we began talking. After we were talking for a bit, he looks at me and says, "I sense that we are family" . I was taken aback. I wasn't quite sure what he meant. "Are you Jewish? He asked me". I was shocked. I purposely didn't wear any head covering and definitely didn't want to be identified as a Jew. I had wanted to start all over again with nothing to do with my past. "Yes" I told him. I couldn't lie. He said his name was Rafael Yakov and he was from New Jersey. I was surprized , I had no idea that a Jew would look this way. In my naive mind, I thought all Jews were Yeshiva Bachurim. I was also disappointed. I had come out to Calfornia to spread my wings and test the waters. I wanted different people. I wanted to meet all people not only Jews and here I was talking to another Jew! In some way, I felt like God was telling me that I could run but I couldn't hide, that no matter where I went I would allways be associated with Jews and I hated that thought even more. I hated being a Jew and I hated the thought having a god that would make sure that I remained one.

Rafael and I talked for a while. As we sat on the boardwalk he asked me if I have ever heard of the song "and you shall love the Lord your God" by Debbie Friedman. I had never heard the song and I couldn't help but be in awe of the fact that I had run away from everything Jewish just to come here to Venice and have someone sing to me a Jewish song about loving God. Was there some kind of message in this or what? To me it was so ironic. I knew that it was impossible for me to love God. I had enough of him. So what kind of ironic purpose might there be in hearing a song about loving God? Of course I was doubly tortured by the fact that Rafael's singing made me keenly aware that it might be possible to love God and if that was the case, then my anger and disappointment were all a waste. If God, loves me, there was no purpose to be upset at him and if he loved me, why couldn't I feel it. How could be loved, if I feel so angry and anxious all the time. I had no way to resolve this problem. To me, I was sure that God was after me all the time to destroy my life and make it painful. How could other people feel love of God. What was wrong with this picture. Someone help me. If he hates me, at least now a I know why I feel so much pain, but since I didn't know, it was not only painful, it was also confusing.

Rafael, played the guitar really nicely, I needed a guitar, that was the answer. He told me he would sell me his for 20 dollars. I felt a little bad to buy his guitar because now he couldn't play it but he walked my back to my apartment and I gave him the money. Unfortunately, I had a very hard time making the guitar make a nice sound. He was so good that he was able to make a terrible guitar make a nice sound.

Meeting Josh

Now it was time to meet Josh. I felt so broken and unsure. I really didn't know how he felt about me. He did tell me I should come and he said he would help me, but I can't say that it took away from the awkwardness of feeling that I needed so much help. I felt like I had just been hit by a train and I was now flying through the air with my head spinning. I had no idea what was happening other than I was in a terrible mess. I had been around Venice for a couple of days and I knew that Josh would be in Shul on Shabbos. I decided to make my grand entrance then. I didn't know how I should present myself to the shul. I didn't want them to think I was religious. I wanted them to believe that I was not. I didn't want them to have any expectations of me. I wanted to be able to be a nobody. I wanted to be able to have sex with whomever I wanted and have noone criticize me. I was just a mess. I sat outside the Shul struggling with how to walk in. should I wear a yarmulka? Should I not wear any head covering? Should I wear a cap which I had with me? I felt like, whatever I showed them of whoever I am, during this first encounter, that would determine what they thought about me for all the time that I know them. I had to make this work. At the same time, the debate of the moment brought to my mind the profound lack of knowing that existed in me. I had not knowledge of who I was. It was empty. I had no information to refer to. None of my past aspirations or accomplishments could be used to determine the decisions of the next moment. My mind automatically referred back to my many years of Talmud study to help it with its decisions but all it found were piles of anger, fear, disappointment and confusion. No, nothing was left, as if it had all been burnt in a great fire. I made my entrance. I could feel all their eyes burning through my body like sharp razors. Soon they would want to know everything about me. Where was I from? Oh, please don't ask me anything. I don't know anything. It was so painful to be an adult and not be able to say anything about who I am other than I'm lost. I had nothing to show for myself. If only I could just be a silent explorer, someone who had been in the yeshiva world and now was peacefully exploring new options. I wasn't. I was angry and confused. I hated Jews, and I didn't' know why. I hated myself and I had no idea what I had done to end up this way. I had nothing to say for myself. I had so many questions, but my best impressions would probably be made if I said nothing at all.

Josh greeted me. He seemed to understand. He understood way more than I understood about how tired and worn I was.He is the kindest most understanding man alive and I was so lucky to have him as a friend. He really knew what I needed. He calmed my mind and soothed my spirit. He knew what I needed. He knew it would take a while to get me back to health and put me on my way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dr S. Wow! 2

I am forever fascinated by how one person can have such a profound effect on the other. Dr Sheldon and I got pretty close. I had a feeling that he could help me and I was happy that he cared. He started doing therapy on me in exchange for my help. He was moving to Israel and he wanted me to help him with the boxes. He had a way that he wanted the boxes taped shut and I must have done it wrong. He yelled at me. He was upset. I cried. I don't think I had cried like that in a long time. It hurt so much to be criticized by someone who's love I wanted. Yes, I was angry that I had been criticized but something in me registered that this criticism was different. He showed me how he wanted the boxes done and I started doing it the right way. I knew that I wanted his approval and that I didn't want him to yell at me, so I paid extra attention to do it the right way. An incredible shift began happening when I started doing it the right way. It was the first time in my life that I had the experience of doing something right, if I applied my mind to it. For many years, I imagined that I just couldn't do anything right. My mind was so anxious and flustered that it barely knew itself to be able to settle and do something well, so it didn't. Now, I had to. I had to focus, and I did! It felt so good. I realized that I could. I could focus and do it right. I have that in me. I am able to do something right! I do have the control. Since then, I have recalled this incident over and over again, in order to give myself the strength to focus on a project. It was a painful incident, but it did give me a refreshed idea about what I'm capable of doing.

Dr. S Wow!

One Shabbat, I wen to the shul of Rabbi H. Of course venice was full of many colorful people and although, I hated being in shul, I did look forward to meeting the people. Actually, I was looking for love. I had this hope that someone would love me and care for me. I needed a lot of help and I truly didn't know what I needed and how to help myself. I was quite distant from anything that was remotely related to feeling, life and reality. Dr. Sheldon, a psychologist saw me in shul and must have noticed how lost I was. He has a big heart and he invited me over for Shabbat lunch. We started getting to know each other. I remember feeling like a small child around him. It was like having a father. I knew that I was in bad shape but I was out of touch with how bad it was. I heard he was a psychologist. I was smart enough to know that to be a psychologist, it took a lot of training. I also knew that I wanted to be one. I was jealous. I wanted to be a Psychologist. I had no idea where to start. I had barely been to college. I also felt exhausted. I had recently completed an eight year ordeal in trying to conquer the world of talmud. I was tired and I didn't want to do anything else. I wanted to rest, I wanted to breath, I wanted to live. I needed a break. I didn't know exactly what I wanted a break from but I knew that I wanted a break. I also learned that he was a talented musician. This gave me an idea of how behind I was. Here was man who had an accomplished career as a psychologist and an accomplished career as a musician. I felt so empty. I felt an attraction for both of these professions. How would I ever get anywhere? Why do I have to start everything so late? I hated how behind I was in life, in doing anything constructive.

going south Rabbi H

In some ways, I was still so trapped in the Rabbi ring. I had not options, I was too scared to wander away from the nest. I called a Rabbi in Long Beach to ask him if I could stay for a night. He said yes. He didn't know me, I was happy that I'd have a place to stay for a night. The One was breathtaking, I had never seen such an expanse of gleaming water. Oh, how I wished that the beauty could melt away my lost heart. Somehow I imagined that such an expanse of power, beauty and glory, must have the ability to make me feel better, but no, it seemed like my heart would wait until I had the time to spend some time with it, look inside, and do things differently. I got to Santa Monica, I saw a sign for the College. I felt a feeling of hope. College, that meant I would get a new start. It also meant girls and I looked forward to that too. Now I was free.

I arrived at the Rabbi's house late at night. I knocked at the door but there was no answer. I went around back and saw that he was speaking to his wife in the dining room. I noticed that he was speaking very strongly. He seemed angry. I was shocked at how he was talking to his wife. Suddenly I had this ironic feeling of regret. I had come all these miles to have hope and peace. I had hoped to see family life in a new way. I had thought that a Rabbi in California is much more relaxed. I had hoped that things in California would be fresh and different. Instead, I was stuck for tonight with a man who spoke harshly to his wife. 'This is crazy', I thought 'I just want to be somewhere, where people talk nicely to each other'. Finally, somehow, I got into the house and got to bed. I was awoken at 6:00 AM for davening. I was so appalled. I hated davening so much, I was hoping that this Rabbi would have a little bit of consideration for the fact that I really didn't care about davening and on top of that I was tired from my trip. 'Why can't he just let me be?' I thought. This was the price I payed for putting my lodging in the hands of a man. The good side was that at the davening, I met someone who was going to become a great friend and blessing over the next couple of years, Shachar. He had long curly hair like Tarzan, and wore a cap, (which he made) that said Frum but Funky. He really was quite cool, playful and fun and he let me stay in his house for a couple of days and I got to know him. He really had an extraordinarily fun and exciting relationship with his Judaism. I spent the next couple years of our relationship in awe, wonderment, and bewilderment as to how he was able to have so much fun and laughter in his devotedness to being a Jew while I had only, fear, anxiety and terror in mine. How can these two exist. I hated my Judaism and wanted to do anything I could to eradicate it from my mind and body. I wished I could destroy the existence of the Jew in me. At the same time, I did have some pleasurable memories and associations with being a Jew and really, all I wanted, was for the bad associations to go away. As long as Shachar existed, I would have to constantly ask mysel the question. What's wrong with me? What happened to me? Why am I so angry at and scared of being a Jew? The answers for these questions were not far away. I knew that we Jews had sinned. We had been exiled and tortured because we were bad. I knew that this was our destiny. I Knew that, that's all I could hope for. I knew that the burden of being a Jew were harsh. There were many commandments that had to be done right. I knew that death could come at any time and I needed to be ready. I knew that there was nothing else I was taking with me to the next world other than Torah and Mitzvos. I also knew that it was virtually impossible to do them right. I knew that for a person to merit Olam Haba, he had to believe and I was not a believer. I knew that in order to merit the most lofty hights of tzidkus, a person needed to do mitzvos lishmah. I knew that I had tried so hard to do all these things and I had failed. I knew that I wanted girls and I was on the way to Hell. I just had the feeling from the greatness of my desires that there was no way that I'd be able to hold back for long. I had to do it, there was just no question. There was no way in hell that I was getting married, or waiting for sex until I got married because both of those would be hell and I'd had enough hell so far that now I was hoping to get some pleasure. Yes, what I really want is just a little bit of pleasure. Is that OK?


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rina's house

I finally made it to Palo Alto. I called Rina from a pay phone. I was glad to know anybody. My father knew her from a long time ago. I needed a compassionate heart and it sounded like she would understand. She cared and she seemed to understand that I was exhausted and that I had so much to learn and that I was scared. It was nice to spend time in her home. She was not orthodox, so for the Shabbat that I stayed in Palo Alto, I went to the Orthodox Rabbi. In retrospect, I find it strange that I didn't spend Shabbat with them. I just wasn't ready to be with people who were not orthodox. I needed to break in slowly. She gave me a red small Yarmulka, it was hand made and this would be one step towards my establishing my new identity. I was confused. Wearing a small yarmulka seemed rediculous. I hated my Judaism thoroughly. I didnt want a small yarmulka, I wanted no yarmulka. Then I wondered why? Why did I hate it so much. Why couldn't I just be a Jew who didn't like it but didn't hate it? Why couldn't I be like so many Jews who just didn't practice so much, or didn't practice at all, but had an appreciationd for their herritage. What had happened to me? How could it be, that up until recently, I had been studying the Torah so devotedly and it was my most favorite endeavor and now, I can't stand to even think about it? What has gone wrong and will things ever make sense? I had no words for this kind of pain and I had never heard of this phenomenon happening. The only logical conclusion I was able to entertain was one of utter failure. I have tried, I have given this endeavor, my very best and somehow, it has flopped, it has not worked. I have been left with no love, nothing that I can do, fear, confusion and a whole lot of unanswered questions. On top of that I was 25. In my mental books, I should have been married a couple years back. I didn't understand why my life was different than that of my friends. I rarely heard of a bachur not being married by age 25 and the only ones I heard about where strange, usually there was something wrong with them. I knew that I couldn't possibly be one of them, or at least I refused to believe that I could possibly be an exception to the rule. I had tried so hard to be normal, to be hidden and conform, I knew that, no matter what was the matter, it could not possibly be that I was going to be an exception to the rule. I couldn't let myself be seen. I knew that whatever was the matter, I would do anything I could to be normal and stay within acceptable forms of behavior. There was only a certain amount of change that I could afford, and I surely could not afford to look or be different than anyone else. I needed to be safe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

ride 3 (Michael, Salt Lake)

Turned out, Michael and Sue were really good for me. He had a degree in Sociology. I had never heard of that subject before, but he explained to me that it was a subject about how people related to each other. He explained to me, that what had happened to me was normal considering the kind of community I came from. I didn't know what about it should be normal and I never heard of coming from any other kind of community, but there was something about the way he said what he said, that planted the seed in my mind that perhaps there was something natural and expected about what had happened to me. Maybe there is a kind of pressure that is unique to closed communities, like the one I came from, that could make it quite difficult for a person to be their own person and feel their own feelings and solidify their own beliefs. Yes, this realization was probably the first step to a small amount of self acceptance that I craved so badly. Until then, I had been completely consumed with self loathing for having failed at achieving the goal that I had been striving for, for so long. Can you think of anything more despicable? I had been doing all I can do, to achieve God's love and respect amongst my friends and I failed at that. I had done everything wrong and I got everything wrong. Something must be terribly wrong with me. That's all I could think. Now, after Michael explained to me, that it would be natural for people to feel under pressure in a community where everyone was the same, my self loathing loosed, just a bit. I had begun, the extraordinary long process towards realizing that I was not entirely insane. Perhaps, I had just made a mistake. Perhaps, it's not only me, that's the problem here.

The ride 2 (Iowa, Salt Lake)

Next I went to Chicago. I had some cousins there and I had the illusion that seeing cousins would fill the hole in my heart. At the highway curved towards the great city of Chicago, this huge shining turquoise body of water came to greet me. I had never seen anything like it. The sun was shining and my heart was flying. I was happy, yes for one moment, I felt something bigger than myself, I had hope. I bought a Frisbee and made my way to the beach. I found a girl and we played Frisbee together. For a moment, all my fantasies came true in my mind. Although, there were a few imaginary moments in my mind, I had way too much anxiety, worry and guilt to be present to this enjoyable exchange. I needed to get somewhere, I didn't know where, but it always had to be out of here.

Then I met my cousins. My cousins mother asked me where my tzitzis were. How foolish of her to think that, that's what I needed to here. How much I needed understanding. No, that's not always what cousins are for. She ended up chasing me down the road with her car as i tried to spend some time with her kids, my cousins. She thought I was being a bad influence. I wish I had known enough then to deserve that prestigious description. I ran back to where I was staying and I've rarely seen her or my cousins again.

Next I went to Iowa. I remember the fresh smells of the fields and thousands of fire flies landing on my windshield. I arrived at the home of a Chabad Rabbi. My luck, the next day was his birthday. He made a party. Many Jews came and I wondered how I had gotten myself into this. One baal teshuva who I met there told me how he was so happy that he had not had sex yet although it would have been so easy to have it in his College years. I wanted sex, I wish it would be easy. I wish I would have been tested as he was, I would surely have the sex and pass up on anything else. That's really all I wanted now, sex. I imagined it to be the solution to all my problems. Actually, I didn't want a solution, I just wanted the luxury to not have to think about them for a couple minutes and I thought sex would be the perfect way to accomplish that.

Next I went to Nebraska, my father had a friend there. I felt lucky. How many people could say they have some place to stay in Nebraska? Well, although, I was glad to have a roof over my head for a night, I was really happy to get out of there in the morning. I had made the mistake of thinking that I might get some compassion and understanding from him, I didn't. He seemed to be made out of a similar fabric as my father, anything that looked strange or different, was under suspicion. He probably understood that I was escaping across the country and he didn't pretend to believe it was a good idea. Thank God, we didn't get to talking about it very much.

Now, all I needed to do was make it to Utah for Shabbos. I was still keeping shabbos and I had to step on the gas if I wanted to make it to Salt Lake before Shabbos. Going through Wyoming, it poured so hard, I had to pull to the side. I slept in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn. I put my suit bag over me, put the seat bag and hoped they wouldn't bother me. The next day I sped to Salt Lake. I was taken aback by the snow capped mountains. I felt like I had just entered a magical land. I had always imagined that beauty and majesty could relax a painful heart. They didn't but I wish they would. I knew, that under different circumstances, these mountains could give me joy and I might find leisure in them, no not now. I knew that I couldn't rest, I needed to press on. I had work to do before I would feel relaxed enough to relate to a moment that was here and now.

I got the key to the Chabad house, I was so tired. I was so happy to have a bed. I got up and the sky was dark. "Oh no!". I didn't realize how tired I was. I had thought that I would get up naturally before Shabbos. I looked at the time and it was late. I had arranged with a family that I would be there for Shabbos dinner. Now I was late and I was embarrassed. When I got there, they were far into their meal. Michael and his wife Sue were converts to Judaism. They were the kind of people I had been looking for. They had a bright and positive view of Judaism and I wondered if we were talking about the same religion. I couldn't fathom how someone could be a Jew and not be in as much pain as I was. I imagined the fear that it entailed. "Don't you realize" I thought to myself "that you need to be very careful". I knew that there were so many laws to keep and so many things to stay away from. I knew that it was scary and one needed to be on guard. I couldn't fathom how a person could be a Jew and be relaxed. I knew that every single moment had to be spent learning Torah. I knew that I would be held to account for every single moment that I had spent not learning Torah. I also knew that even if I was learning, I would still be held to account if the Torah was not studied with the proper intent and the proper intensity. I Knew that the only chance a person had in being a tzadik was to spend all his time in study and prayer. Deep inside I wish I didn't have to. I hoped and wished that somehow it could be ok, to think, to breath, to run and to play, but I accepted my obligation with servility. I knew that this was my mission and I had to do it. I still had not given up on my dream, I still believed with a full heart that one had to spend every waking moment learning and that what I was doing now was wrong and I would surely pay for it. I just knew that I could not learn now. Of course I viewed this as the most cruel of punishments, to be forced to prepare my own hell by being forced not to learn by the dictated of my own mind. Could it get any worse?

The ride 1 (Cleveland)

I remember turning onto the I 80, wow!, what a mixture of fear and excitement. I knew that I should be happy but I also knew that the work was just beginning. I knew that there was so much fear and confusion inside that even a huge change in geography could not possibly make a dent in the pain. If I was lucky, it would give me a chance to feel it and decipher it. I knew that what I was doing was highly questionable in God's eyes. I hoped he would understand. Look, I just have to do this. The open road was nice, my best friends along the road became Recees and Kit Kat. I had never gotten into them before but they sure did relieve some of the anxiety of spending so much time with myself. They were so consistent and reliable, when I had them, I always felt good. I hadn't grown up with them and their unique flavor was compelling. All along the I 80, there are plenty of places to get Kit Kats and Recees. The days were hot.

It was nice to see the country but I can't say that I was present enough to fully enjoy the beautiful changes in land formation. I made the trip and excuse to visit some friends. No, I can't say it was a visit to strengthen a friendship or remind myself of good times, I did not view friendships in that way at that time. It was only to temporarily numb the immense loneliness and confusion I was experiencing. Shmuli, lived in Cleveland. He was an electrician, his life seemed to be rolling along smoothly, he didn't have any guilt about spending his time with Cables and wires instead of Gemaras. I also visited Moishe Solomon. This was one of the strangest and most meaningful encounters I had on the trip. Moishe and I had been friends a long time ago. He had been like an older brother to me. Looking back, his zest for life reminded me of an expression of life I wish I could have. At some point, in his teens, he had suddenly left frumkeit, something I never even dreamt that I might do. We hadn't spoken in many years and I don't even know how I figured out that he was not very far out of my path as I made my way across the country. I don't even know why I thought about reconnecting with him, at a time when for the most part, I was withdrawing from any friends associated with frumkeit. Perhaps, I thought he would understand, and boy could I benefit from some understanding since, even I didn't understand what was going on and why I was doing what I was doing. By this time, Moishe had become frum again, and what I do remember about our time together was my anger at the fact that I needed to run away so far from being a Jew. I saw him, and he seemed happy. I realized, that I will probably end up becoming frum again just like him. If that's the case, why do I have to go? What's the point? I felt that I was in the process of removing myself very far from anything I had known in my frum upbringing while realizing that what I'm doing is probably wrong. This angered me. Why do I need to go so far from something so good and so real and so right? I wish I could just stay and have everything be ok. I was also very touched by something Moishe said. In the morning when he put on Tefilin, he was quite open to me. He said "If you want you could put on Tefilin or not". He seemed to put words, to the ache in my heart that I had no words for. He seemed to understand that I was scared and angry. I had no idea why I hated putting on Tefilin. I also knew that I had liked it. It felt so reassuring to be given the choice. He seemed to understand that, at times it's possible to be quite far from something that is so close to us. It would take me many years to understand this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The big day

The big day arrived. I forgot who I told and what I told them. I pulled my car onto the lawn.
I packed into the car anything I thought I would need, books, clothing and food, in that order of importance. I don't remember what exactly I said and how I explained myself to my parents. I do remember feeling like there was no explanation necessary because if they had understood my need and my immense pain, I probably would not have gotten into this chaotic state in the first place and if they didn't understand, there was no explanation that would make it clearer. It was pretty painful to have to leave. For so long, I had thought that somehow, this home would provide me with the strength and security I needed, what a mistake. It was hard to imagine that now I would have to find what I was looking for on my own. I wished it could have come from them. Oh, how comforting it is to imagine that someone else could have relieved my from my pain and indecision. I do remember hugging my mother. She cried. I had spent the last couple of months of my stay at home, locking her out of my life. Please don't talk to me. Please give me a break. I didn't quite understand why this was necessary but it felt like an absolute must. We had grown very close. Actually, it was not quite my choice. For years, she had used me as the source and object of her love. She gave me everything she could even if I didn't want it. She didn't have anyone else who was docile enough to receive her abundant love without objection. We had had this kind of close relationship from before I knew what mothers are for and what she should be doing. It made perfect sense to me that I should help her and try to keep the family afloat. I felt useful. It didn't dawn on me that there was nothing I could do to help the family and keep her sane. I didn't realize that it was beyond me, so I tried to keep my brothers frum and keep my sisters from misbehaving and advise my mother how to treat my father, so that he wouldn't get so angry. I was a great marriage counselor, the only problem was that I wasn't paid, my advice didn't work (maybe that's why I wasn't paid), and I did it at the cost of loving myself and spending time with myself. Other than that, it was a perfect arrangement. I never realized how my mother had her claws, her fangs and her needs wedged into my heart in a way that made me obliged to sustain her being with the very essence of my soul. I had to give up my ability to choose and be me in order to hold her up. Why couldn't she do it herself? No, I never thought about that because this was the only way of life I knew. My position, job and function in the family was to keep her heart alive, and keep her from dying. I just couldn't watch her die. If she would die, then I would die. My life was built on the passionate mission to keep my mother alive. Yes of course, that is impossible, so it was a project prepared for failure but I had to try. I couldn't watch her crumble. Who can stand by and watch their mother fall apart and die? Is there a greater pain than that? So try I would, until the pain of forgetting my own will and soul got so great that I just had to kick and punch. I had to be defiant. I did things that I never thought possible. Who was that person standing up for himself, his space and his time? I don't know who taught me to do that because I had never known that strong part of me. Who taught me to respect my space? Surely no one around me. But never the less there arose from within and angry and assertive young man. No, assertive was not the right word because many times assertiveness can be molded with kindness. Here, I was not kind anymore, I was angry. I was fed up. I was 21 years old now. I had begun to realize how much time and energy had been sucked out of me. I had begun to feel that the object of my kindness, my mother, was truly and deceptively, my greatest enemy. I had to face the fact that she was the greatest intrusion to my sanity and destroyer of my independence. I tried to suffocate the feelings. I separated from her but still found it hard to imagine that she is really terrible. That would mean that my mother, the most lovely and nurturing source of my life, is actually a vampire. How can that be? How can I believe that? If that is true, who can I trust? Is there anything right in this world? What does that mean? Have I been robbed? (of course). Have I ever been loved? What is love anyway? Perhaps, all the facts and experiences that I have encountered must be questioned and doubted. Of course the earth was beginning to shake. So many facts and givens had been feeling weak and on the verge of collapse. I seriously didn't want to wait around. I just wasn't interested in seeing how things would unfold. I didn't have the strength to hear what went wrong. My mother is a sick woman who is deeply committed to self growth. She always had a meaningful and deep explanation for her behavior. I was sick of it. It was over. I just couldn't hear it anymore. I just had to go. Yes, I imagined the open road that waited for me. I hoped that it would somehow sooth the rough edges, quiet the chaos and allow the wounds to heal. Oh, please, open road, I will see you soon. Soon, just a few more minutes, I know the directions to the highway, I have food. I know the way and soon we will be together. Long open road, I need you so badly. I just want space. I need time. I don't even know what I need just a long open road and some sunshine to figure out why I'm in so much pain. With that I hugged my mother. To me, her tears seemed to be more the concern over how she would live without me as her lover. I don't know how much true mother-son missing there was in those tears. It was an awkward hug so I was glad that it would be the last one in a while. I was done with so much awkwardness. I was ready for things to begin making a little sense.


I don't remember ever spending this kind of energy calculating and planning a next move. It felt like something new and big was coming alive in me. I was becoming a person, I was thinking. I was actually caring about what happened. I thought about how things would be and what I would do. Where would I go once I got to California. Truth is, I didn't think much more than that. I did think about gas money and the route I would take. I also made sure not to tell anybody about my big plan. No, I couldn't afford to have anyone's input on this one. This was my move, my life, and my trip.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

fed up, must go

From time to time I would call Josh. He was the only one I could rely on to give me a compassionate ear. Somehow, he knew a secret. I didn't know what he knew, but from anyone who I had ever met, he was the only one who I thought may have an answer for me. How did I get into this mess? How do I get out? Josh had moved to California and his phone number was my life line. I barely got through but when I did there was always a word of encouragement. This time, I was really at odds. I was so lost and disturbed. I had no idea where my life was leading and what I could do. I had never imagined that things could ever turn out this way for me. He heard me out and then somewhere in the conversation he said "Why don't you come out to California?". As soon as he said that, it was as if I was there. "Of course!".This sudden sureness, came as a surprise. How could I be so sure? I thought, I had never been so sure about anything? I had barely ever gone out of the home town that I grew up in except to go to Yeshiva in Israel. I had barely been on a highway, I had barely been to NY City and my mind barely conceived of there being anywhere in the world except the beis medrash.My mind had surely not opened it's image of this country to include California. Yet here I was sure about one of the most uncertain decisions I would ever make. I welcomed the excitement and the promise it held. Since I had left Yeshiva, I never had a project that excited me the way this did. I felt the onset of a new life. Perhaps things would change. Actually, I did have an in cling of the realistic feeling that things will not change in a flash. I imagined that the aches and pains that I carried in my heart would most likely accompany me to California, yes I also knew that it would be wise for me to have a change of location. I craved to be in a place where people didn't know me. For a while I had been feeling the buildup of sexual frustration and I imagined that if I go to a new place, I would be able to have as much sex as I wanted without anyone knowing. I also had the idea that I may want to change. I didn't know how long the change would last but I thought I might want to experiment with different dress and I imagined that being on the other side of the country might afford me the opportunity to experiment without the consequences of people getting the idea that I had changed. I didn't know what would come. I was hoping to keep as much of my reputation as I could hold on to. I supposed that this might be just a short break. What would happen if I decided to go back to learning, which at that time, I imagined a quite likely possibility, what would people think. Being out of town would be a nice way to experiment and see if I truly want to be someone different. Who was this person inside me? Who was he and why was he so sad?

Cartwheels in Yeshiva 2

As time progressed I got more and more severe with the restrictions that I put on myself. I had all kinds of rules and commitments that i had to keep above and beyond the already rigorous schedule of yeshiva. I had things that I committed to doing before davening, after davening. I had extra commitments that I committed to doing every time I went in or out of the beis medrash. I was never happy with myself. I always expected of myself to be working harder. I needed to accomplish everything yesterday and no time was soon enough to know that all would be OK, I needed to be sure now and as long as I could increase those chances by learning another piece of gemara I would and that's exactly how I saw it, every piece of gemara increased the chances that were I to be asked about it by a prospective father in law or anyone else that I needed to impress, I would have an answer, I would be able to impress him of my value (im yishalcha adam al tigamgem). No of course I had no idea what I was doing to myself and no in cling that something was wrong. I knew that I didn't feel that good but that's the only way I knew and I expected it to be this way. How would I know anything was wrong?

Somehow despite the fact that I refused to admit to anything being wrong, my body was beginning to let me know that it wasn't happy. It's amazing for me to witness in retrospect how stubborn and ignorant I was of my feelings and how aware my body was. I must have been quite nervous by now because I started leaving seder early to do cartwheels in the chatzer. This was a most perposterous development. I don't think I ever did this when anyone else was looking but it was bad enough that i was looking. What was I doing? Why was I doing this? I never knew what things felt like when they were OK to know what things felt like when they were not. Now my body was telling me something but I didn't know what. Of course I suspected that the need to do cart wheels in the middle of seder meant something but there was no way in the world that I would even consider that it had the remotest relationship with what I was doing, how much I was learning, how much I was thinking, how I was thinking and worst of all, how much pain and fear I was carrying inside.

Cartwheels in Yeshiva (IS) 1

I had heard of some people having trouble keeping to the rigorous schedule of the Yeshiva but I knew that I would never be one of those. I even had some friends or chavrusas that needed a break but I looked down at them. I felt great pleasure in my ability to stick it out. I may be dumb, I may be slow, but I would endure. We had always heard stories in Yeshiva about the bachur who had a tough time learning but at the end, he got the girl. He was the one who tried, he persevered, and he made it. I knew that, that was me. I had had a very hard time learning and the information went in very slowly, but I had learned how to take it easy and teach myself and I knew that at the end, all would be OK, and I would come out on top. One thing was for sure, I would never give up, after all, my perseverance was the only thing I had going for me. It was this kind of stubbornness that I encountered when things got really bad. How could I stop? No way, not happening. It wasn't even a doubt in my mind. It never entered my mind that I would stop learning. I knew that I was one of the chosen, I was one of the elite. I was a masmid, this was my reputation, this was my hope, even if I wasn't a community known talmid chochom, I learned enough that I was able to pretend in my mind that I was famous and my learning gave me the semi realistic hope that things would work out for me, I'd find good shidduch and a good job teaching in a Yeshiva. In retrospect, I was quite distant from any piece of data that had to do with our world. I was in a dream land that was very far away from my body, from my life, from my fears and from anything that I had experienced. I lived in the only place I knew to call home; the fabrications, hopes and dreams of my mind. My heart was sound asleep, unconscious is more like it.

Emuna in Yeshiva (Is)

At some point I must have begun to feel the pressure. How would I ever get married? How would I ever have sex? I needed to make sure, that when the time came, it would be easy to get married. Mind you, I had no in cling of relationship or relating to another person, I just knew that if I learned well, and I behaved myself, I would get the prize of a good wife and hopefully good sex and that was my hope. I also realized that my problems in Emuna were definitely detrimental to my finding a wife. I had to tell the truth, the prospect of lying and hiding my doubts just didn't sit well with me. I had to eliminate them. I had a plan. I had heard that, the great saints who had refined their physical natures to high degrees, were able to feel god's presence in the most tangible way, just as a man can feel his neighbors hand. That's what I needed. I was sure, that if I could, clean my habits, refine my nature and curb my temptations, I could achieve an absolute sureness in the existence of god and belief in his torah. I got the idea that if I spend my entire day in study and prayer, that would make me as holy as I needed to be. I imagined that I needed to clean out the unclean lusting thoughts of my mind. If I did that , I would be ok. I needed to drown them out. I knew that if I filled my mind with just Torah, I would be OK. I imagined that if I continued to learn more and more, the Torah would fill my mind to such an extent that there could exist nothing else in there. Then I imagined that since the Torah and god are one, it would be impossible for me to be filled with Torah without being full of God. Once I would be filled with god, then all my problems would be solved. I would know his truth. That would be the end of doubt. I would be free. All I wanted was to be free of this constant torment. I just wanted to know that things would be OK. I wanted to know that I would never need to tell anyone of my doubts. I needed to know that no one would ever need to evaluate whether I was a valuable person or not. I definitely couldn't afford to have anyone think that I was an apicorus. Those consequences were way to scary to even allow their possibility to enter my mind. I needed to be safe. I needed to know god. Now, the beautiful thing was, that barely anyone could detect how crazy and scared I truly was. What could be wrong with searching for God? How could you point a finer at that? Can you think of any loftier aspiration? So there I went pursuing god. I must say the pain of pursuing god in this way was unbearable, but apparently I was able to bare if for quite a long time. I was always testing myself. I was always measuring the amount of God I felt that way. Am I able to feel his presence today? Am I sure that what I am feeling is his presence? How do I know? I tried to come up with philosophies to help me believe in God and that his presence is all around and that it made perfect sense that he wrote this book and that it made perfect sense that his spirit was imbued in every letter of the precious talmud which we spent the entire day learning. I tried so hard but I can't say I succeeded. I succeeded in pretending that I believed. Not only that, I convinced others of how important it was to have faith and why they should. I Knew now, that all would be ok. It felt like things could be OK. No of course I wasn't thinking of my doubts, I was thinking of the feeling of sureness that I pretended I had. I imagined that when I felt a feeling in my head it was God. Sometimes, I imagined that my stress was just the fear of God and it was good. The more stress I felt, the more convinced I felt that I was on the right track, after all, I feel it, it's got to be real, how could something so painful not be real?

Emuna in Yeshiva (HS)

I struggled so much. I hated my life so much. Why couldn't my mind just shut up? It was always talking, always questioning. I had so many questions. I didn't believe there was a god. I just couldn't convince myself. I didn't see it and so I didn't believe it. Somehow, I needed to know for sure. I just couldn't buy that the Torah was written by god. I needed to know for sure and there was nothing that would comfort me. This cause me great distress. I needed things to be ok. I needed them to be in order. If I asked any questions, I would be viewed as a heretic. I couldn't afford to be looked at in that way. I already felt like I needed to be on guard about my reputation and this would but a dangerous dent in it. I needed to just keep this to myself until I got married. I imagined that,once I got married I could tell people who I truly am but until then I better keep things to myself. It just ate me up inside. I didn't want to wait, I needed to be honest, I needed to be able to talk. How will I ever be me, if I can't talk? How long can I go on like this? The lies hurt so badly. The pain and the hiding was like a dagger that kept stabbing at my insides. I couldn't understand how life could be so bad, I intrinsically felt like there had to be a way for it to make sense but I was just not finding it. For now, I had this general feeling that as long as I would keep everything to myself, all would be ok. I am the only source of information about myself. If I didn't tell anyone, there was no way for them to know. Although there was a certain temporary pleasure of self control in this measure, the fear of being found out was so great. The pain of not being able to share who I really am and what I was struggling with was even greater.

Yes, I did make some attempts to bring resolution to all my predicaments. I did ask a friend of mine if I could speak to his father, who I knew worked with baalei teshuva, I figured that he could help aleviate some of my questions. For me, this question asking session, was an attempt in the right direction but it didn't bring the kind of resolution I needed. I was way too nervous and insecure about way too many things for me to be relaxed by some superficial answers to my questions. I also felt that I was holding back my true questions and frustrations. I couldn't let anyone know those. I also needed so much more than answers to philosophical questions. I needed to cry, I needed to scream. I needed to know why I was in so much pain all the time. I needed to know why I was so scared. No, it would be a very long time before I could admit that I was in pain. Things would have to get a lot worse before I could admit that something was very wrong. For now, I'd just continue to hide. Hopefully that would do what it was supposed to do, help the days go by as painlessly as possible.

Anger in the parking lot

I was so angry. I couldn't believe that this amount of anger could be held in a person like me. I had never known myself to be an angry person. I thought I was a docile, quiet and peaceful man. What would I do with all this anger? I had no idea what it meant. Was I harmful? Could I hurt someone? Who was I angry at and when would it go? How would it go? I just couldn't imagine things going well if I was so angry. I hated myself. I hated my life. I would go into a parking lot and and lock the car. I'd make sure the windows were up and no one was around. Then I would just yell and scream and cry. I would hit the dashboard. I hoped that someone somewhere would hear my cries and help me. At that time I believed in the God that listened to cries and pleas of anguish. I hoped that he would help me, at the same time, somehow I felt that all the screaming wouldn't help. I was just in pain and I couldn't imagine what would take it away. Somehow, I just needed to be in pain. I didn't see how it would go and I didn't have any hope. I was in too much pain to wish that I could die. It would take time for me to begin to like life enough to wish I was dead. For now, I just couldn't imagine what had happened, what was happening and how it might get better,I was entirely consumed in the pain of disappointment and there was no solution in sight and neither was there an extra breath of space to consider that there might be one.

Throws of lust

I was going crazy. I had been thinking, more like obsessing over women and girls ever since I could remember and now, it was too much. I guess, I always took pride in being a person who had it all under control, well behaved and a baal midos, but what could I do if my desires were out of control? It was almost as if it wasn't asking me what it should do, it was demanding that I make a move. I did not know, at that time that it was possible to masturbate and my body was on fire. I had been under so much fear and stress, that my desires craved the relief they knew they could give me. I needed a girl. That's it, I knew, for sure that thats what I needed. It made sense. But how? How do I get a girl? I felt so awkward and scared. I am a frum boy. I knew that it had to be wrong. I also knew that I was angry, scared and lost. Somehow, I knew that, I was not in the ideal shape to meet a girl. I once met a girl who was attractive to me. Honestly, I just didn't know what to do. All I wanted to do was hump her or feel her and touch her and lose myself in her arms for just a couple of minutes. I knew it had to be possible but somehow it was not. Something was wrong with me. What would it take? How do I become a person who can be with another person? How do I ask for what I want? How do I get what I want? How do other people do it? Who would I need to be to have sex? Somehow, I felt that I'd need to change? Who would want to have sex with me? What was I? What do I have? What do I stand for? What can I offer. I was an empty shell of a person, lost, confused, scared with no identity. How will I ever get this together?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yes, I'm a Rebbe!

Of course in my state of bewilderment, this seemed like an ideal move, I'll become a Rebbe. What else would I become, a doctor? I knew that if I wasn't in Yeshiva, at least being a Rebbe was semi respectable, even for a bachur. I needed something to do. I went to work for a friend of the family as a second grade Rebbe. Looking back, I felt quite awkward. I was so sad, angry and scared inside. I was in no shape to be infront of a classroom, but I had a knack for teaching and so there were some good times. I did care about the kids and I did get better. It all felt pretty lop sided, wearing a hat and having the position of teacher and being so lost and unsure inside. I pretended all was OK. Oh, were things coming apart inside. I just didn't know what to do. what I was feeling or what I was thinking. Before the school year had begun, one of the parents of my future students had heard that a man with my last name, was going to be teaching his son. When he met me, noticing how young I was, he asked me, if I was the son of the Rebbe. slightly offended, I told him, no, I was the Rebbe. In general, that's how I felt, in the wrong place, unsettled and pretty on edge a lot, if not all of the time.

Post Yesh. confusion JC

Although there have been quite a number of tormenting season, to this life of mine, I don't think there were seasons much tougher than that first fall after I left Yeshiva. I had no idea where I belonged. I had no idea what was happening and what my future held. I would go occasionally to my old Yeshiva in Brooklyn for Shabbos. I was trying to feel associated with it. I hoped that, if someone wanted to look into me for a shidduch, they could at least hear that I was associated to a yeshiva. I had no idea what to do. I was scared. That's who I was, I was a ben torah, that's what I did all day, that's what I preached and that's what I stood for. How could I look at people now? Who am I? The only thing I stood for had collapsed. Who am I now? I had no place in society or amongst my friends. Worst of all, I had no place in me. I didn't see myself as a part of anything or representing anything. I finally found some work. I felt devastated. I considered working as the worst humiliation that anyone can experience. I had taken a lot of pride in being a ben torah, I was a man of god, I was a spiritual being, I was accustomed to spending all of my time in holy acts and holy thoughts, how could I now defile myself in this way. I found work in a store that sold TV's and Camera's. I was shocked at my fortune. What would people say? Has anyone ever heard of this kind of phenomenon, one day a respected as a masmid and the next day I'm selling TV's. This kept me busy for a while. I wallowed in my pain and let it sit. Of course I got furious and dejected once in a while, like all the time. I was shocked at how much anger and disappointment I had in me when I used to consider myself such and aidile bachur. This made me think. What is a baal midos? Who was I? Was I truly kind? Was I truly easy going? I saw a different side of myself now. I had feelings. There was a person in me. I had been hiding and now I was beginning to see the real me. Yes, it made me worried. Who am I really? Maybe there is a lot for me to know. I don't know if I want to know it. Sometimes was angry that I was thrown into this world of feeling, I don't want to feel, I just want things to be the way they were.

Summer of Change 2

I got lucky and just around the time of my mid summer disillusionment, a gadol had come to visit the camp so I did what any ben torah would do, I asked him what I should do. Surprisingly, he told me to go to college. He may have been right or wrong, either way, I didn't go to College right away. I felt that there were many more gates to open and bridges to cross before I could lay a quick fix solution on this problem. I must have been intuitively aware of the pain that I needed to feel, the anger that I needed to experience. There was more to this picture and I needed to find it out. No, of course, I was not going to give up on the idea of becoming a ben torah, but I started to become more acquainted with the possibility of needing to take a short break. No, of course I would not give up on what I had been working towards for so long. So what would I do? I didn't know. I didn't give it a lot of thought. I was just in a lot of pain and I was trying to avoid feeling more pain. I just needed to feel better and I wanted to see what I could do to feel better. I didn't know what was happing but I sure hoped that no one who I knew would find out that I was taking a short break from Yeshiva. That would be so humiliating. I had built a reputation for myself, I couldn't just let that reputation go out the window. I needed that reputation, that's all I had. I had others thoughts about me. All I truly possessed was my impressions of what others thought of me. I needed to know that it was secure. Their opinion was my hope and my future.

Summer of Change

That summer would be one that I could never forget. Changes arrived and were forced upon me that I could never have imagined happening in my wildest dreams. Until that summer, I knew that my future lay in being a Rosh Yeshiva of Magid Shiur. I knew that I liked teaching. I knew that I had struggled to know how to learn. All my friends were bnei torah and I never intended or even conceived of doing anything else with my life other than learn Torah. This is what I knew how to do, this is what I liked to do and this was the only thing that I felt was right to do. Although during pesach zman, I had been feeling stress around learning, I must have convinced myself that it was a passing faze and that with a good summer break, I would be ready for the next zman. Summer break? I became a learning Rebbe in a Sleep away camp. I was so frustrated. Technically, I enjoy teaching but I was having so much trouble preparing for my classes. We were learning mishnayos brachos. Nervous feelings were flying through my body like electricity. I was barely holding it together. I noticed other learning Rabbeim and how easily they handled their responsibilities. I wondered what was wrong. Why can't I just be like everyone else? What can I do? I had a seder. I had a commitment to learn one halacha of Shulchan Aruch every day. I had begun to feel that I was losing my grip on my rigorous self imposed learning regimen and this was my last hope. I had committed to myself that no matter what would happen, I would learn my one halacha every day. Somehow, someday, I would finish Shulchan Aruch. As you can imagine, the terrifying day came when even that one halacha was too much. I knew something was wrong. No of course, I could not possibly know at that time that something had been wrong for as long as I knew that I was me, never the less, the wheel was beginning to turn against me. My will power was only able to do so much. I was only able to hide so much from all the things that I wanted to do and all the feelings that I wanted to feel . It was time. Yes it was time to grow, it was time to become, it was time to feel but by now, I had so much extra disappointment and disillusionment piled onto my original anger and fear that it would take so much longer to get reaquainted with that man, boy, child hiding inside. Many tears would need to b shed and honesties spoken before I would begin to feel some of what it could have been like to be a kid, a child and adolescent.

Somethings wrong.(B Y)

Towards the end of that zman, even I could tell something was wrong. I just could not ignore it any longer. I was just so nervous. I needed to do well. I didn't know why I was so nervous all the time. Just so happened to be that my brother had come to study in the yeshiva for that zman. He had always known me to be so devoted to learning and I was embarrassed that he had to see me this way. I didn't know what was happening. We had been learning bchavrusa. I told him " I don't know what's going on, but I have to take a break". I had never been this way. I would never leave in the middle of a seder. It was really scary to not know what's going on. It was quite disconcerting, begin to feel like I didn't have as much say over how much I could learn as I thought. Until now, I had gotten a particular pleasure from feeling that I had control over how much I could learn, now I was beginning to feel that sense of power and control slip out of my hands. It was not easy to learn, I had to force myself and it made me so stressed. I must have felt stressed for years and I must have ignored it because now, it was coming at me with a vengeance. It wasn't just stress, it was holding me by the neck, it was hurting. It just could not be ignored. I had never encountered something like this. I had been scared and worried. I had had scary thoughts. I had felt insecure and shy but I had never been overpowered and threatened by my own will to succeed. How can you betray me? How can you stop me? All I want to do is learn. This is my dream. This is all I know. How can this possibly be happening. Avi knew better than I, he was far ahead of me. He had also begun to feel the stress of learning and he had begun doing some reading. I wasn't so willing, at first to read secular books but he helped me understand that it was ok in order for me to feel better. I started leaving second seder to go to another beis medrash down the block. I would scribble out any answers I could to questions about life, meaning, beliefs and fear. This helped. What I didn't know then was that I was in such bad shape that it would take years of relaxation and reconnecting with my deepest desires for me to begin to feel a semblance of humanity. I had not idea how far I truly was to the most basic and natural feelins of adulthood, maturity, and humanity.

Back in America, Shidduchim?

It just seemed to be the thing to do, keep going to Yeshiva. I didn't really think about it very much. This was the time that people started going on Shiduchim, I had looked forward to this time for so long but for some reason, now that the time had arrived I seemed less excited than I thought I would be. It was after Succos and I found myself going to a Yeshiva that a friend of the family had suggested. Truth is, that by this time, I was really lost and scared, of course I didn't admit it but I didn't really know what I was doing. I was feeling raw and unclear. I remember bachurim going on shidduch dates and me being scared at how disassociated I felt from the idea of sitting across the table from a girl. I just couldn't imagine being that close to someone. What would I say? How could I possibly do this? I wondered what was wrong with me. It wasn't that the prospect of dating seemed intimidating, it was that I had no concept of it. My mind didn't grasp the idea of being close to someone. It was as if other people didn't really exist in my world. something was definitely wrong but I had no idea what. What should I do?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I noticed weakness in others but I couldn't afford to think that there was a weak bone in me. I saw bachurim get sick and take off, not me, I had to keep on chugging forward. Sometimes, I envied them, they seemed to be more relaxed. They were good bachurim and I wondered how they justified taking a seder off because they weren't feeling well. To me, you had to be dead to not come to seder. Either way, I was excited, if they didn't come, I got a head and lord only knows how badly I wanted and needed to know that I was ahead. I sas bachurim leave early, before the zman was over to go back to America. I would never do that. I didn't realize that I was just too scared to think about what my family meant to me, my future and the logistics of the trip. I just stayed and kept on learning. I remember one Pesach, I decided to stay in Eretz Yisroel for Pesach. I was so lonely. I was so confused and broken. I had decided to do it because I had heard that, that is what serious bachurim do, but I didn't know how hard it would be to be away from my family for yom tov. It was lonely and quiet around the yeshiva. At the same time I had a good feeling that I was doing the right thing, these are the best years to keep on learning.

I'll never forget an experience that was quite jarring. In the midst of my commitment to not listen to the pain that was going on inside me, I had a burst of honesty that I never forgot. I was sitting in the back of the beis medrash one friday afternoon when it was practically empty. I had known this feeling before. I would get a particuar pleasure from learning in the beis medrash when it was practically empty because then I had that feeling that I was getting ahead of everyone else. At the same time there was this gnawing feeling that I was missing out on something central to life, spending time with people, comradary and companionship. The bachurim would go out on friday afternoon to play basket ball together. Boy did I wish that I could just go out there and play with them. It was so far from me. I was way beyond that. I had burried that possibility deep beneath my facod a long time ago. I knew I couldn't be that close to people. It was on one of these friday afternoons that I came across a Rashi. It seemed to bounce off the page and bite at my heart. It indicated that there is a certain amount of learning or accomplishment that a person can do and that a person should not delude themselves to believing that they could grab or hord more accomplishment than what is reasonably possible. It was then, that I had a shocking premonition. It said that although my life, presently was one devoted to learning and that I couldn't imagine any other life, I would someday need to stop learning because of all the extra learning that I was trying to hord for myself. This message was clear but of course I was too determined to head the warning. I knew what I needed and I knew what I could do. I needed respect, I was too afraid to look for it and ask for it but I hoped that if I learned enough, some day people would look at me and notice me. They would regret the many years that they disrespected me and I would finally get the peace, acceptance and security that I yearned for so badly.
I was so angry at myself. I always needed to grab another piece of gemara. I could barely enjoy any specific piece because I needed to move on. I needed to learn an amount that would gain me respect and recognition, I couldn't just sit here and try to figure out the gemara. As I would learn one piece, I was thinking about the next and what would happen if I was asked by my future father in law about another gemara? I needed to gain a sprinkling of gemara's from all over Moed, Nashim and Nezikin. I needed to make sure my bases were covered, that way people could get the impression that I'm well versed everywhere. Of course I enjoyed gemara enough that I was able to hide the blatentcy of my ulterior motive from myself. I was sick and I was crazed. It had taken a long time to conquer the world of gemara, to know how to learn. Now that I did, I felt like all the hights of respect and prestige were open to me. All I needed to do, was keep on learning, that's right, one foot infront of the other. Just keep at it. I knew that nothing could stop me now. I was on my way. I was well connected, well respected, a masmid, a baal midos, (a baal gaiva), and all good things that could be wished for in a potential son in law. If I just kept at it, I could be anything I wanted to be. What differentiated me from any other ben Torah? Nothing. Not only that, I felt the leadership burning in my soul. I felt the desire to inspire. This felt very real and true. I had begun teaching bachurim who were younger than me. I had remembered how I had struggled to learn how to learn. I had promised that I would master it and now I had looked forward to teaching it to others. I knew that I could lead. I knew that I was destined for greatness. I didn't know how and I didn't know when, but I felt it in my bones and I felt sure that I was on the right track.