A few months ago, I spoke with Rabbi Stern. It was after High Holy Days, which had been excruciating for me. I had been feeling disconnected from the community since March 2016, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I feel like I never had a place to celebrate the holidays. I have a therapist I see almost every week, but I felt that I needed more spiritual guidance.
I was sort of expecting Rabbi Stern to suggest going to services to be around community because putting myself out there would ease my feelings of isolation, which was the advice everyone I had talked to before had given me. In the best of weeks, I don’t attend Shabbat services. I’ve never believed that religion relies solely or even heavily on one attending services. For me, it’s much more important that you act on your religion, which is probably why I was drawn to Judaism. The large number of people at services also doesn’t really help, as I’ve noticed that I get more easily overwhelmed in those sorts of situations.
I was surprised when he instead suggested starting out by myself, slowly incorporating rituals and traditions that are meaningful to me. He didn’t think diving right back into the community would be helpful, especially since I was feeling burned out. He brought up the practice of hitbodedut, which is (as best as I can describe it) talking to God out loud.
When I was much younger, right after my grandma died, I started doing just that. I would be alone in my room, crying for Grandma, and I would just start talking to God. I was angry that He took her away, frustrated that the family seemed to be breaking a part, and I felt like I had no one to turn to. I also just needed to talk to someone who wasn’t related to me and wasn’t a doctor. The “conversation” would last anywhere from five minutes to an hour and I always felt less burdened afterwards.
I tried to practice hitbodedut, but I felt dumb just talking out loud. The only time I was able to do it without reservation was back in November, when I was visiting Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in Germany. When I sat down with Rabbi Stern last week, I told him how I felt weird just talking out loud to God and he suggested that maybe this blog and my goal to write and post every day was a quieter form of hitbodedut.
It’s just over three weeks into the new year and I’ve already shared several things that I normally wouldn’t, like details about my depression, being a sexual assault survivor, and my feelings about being in a mostly white Jewish community. So, I suppose maybe this is a form of prayer or at least a roundabout way of talking to God. It’s weird, but when Rabbi Stern said that, I felt much more motivated about this project and, most importantly, about being open and honest when I post. I’ve spent far too many years trying to keep up a facade, for fear of being rejected, but you know what?
I’m not afraid anymore.