I’ve been posting fairly frequently on Jewlicious, a Jewish and Israel issues blog, where the discussions become vast and often heated. One recent post, which started as a report gleaned from the Jerusalem Post about the issue of pre-marital sex in the Orthodox community, has burgeoned into a 460+ comment post about whose Judaism is authentic. The discussion, which is usually pretty respectful even when divisive, has devolved into a shouting match over what true Judaism is, and what Jewish tradition encourages or discourages in terms of thoughts and approaches to modern life.
Because I’m also coming off of a weekend at the Jewlicious @ the Beach conference, a gathering of students from CA Hillels where I was part of a panel on the challenges of being female and Jewish, I found this particular comment resonant (although not in the way the author might have hoped):
It is important for a Jewish woman to light two candles on Friday night. Takes half a minute. This will make the world a better place…You can light candles every Friday even if you are not seeing anybody at all, and if you live alone. ) Even lighting once will make the world better. Lighting every week will REALLY make the world better.
Unless I’m with my family, I myself have pretty much given up lighting candles Friday night. Part of this is a safety issue; if I’m invited out for dinner and go to shul first, I’m out of my house for three hours while a candle burns, and potentially burns my tiny apartment to the ground. I don’t have much, but what I have is in my apartment.
But the major issue is that I don’t find the candles resonant anymore. Because I equate candles with Shabbat, and Shabbat with my parents and brothers(who don’t live in my apartment with me) or the future family (that eludes me because I’m not even close to getting married), the presence of these candles works the opposite effect: they make me lonelier.
The Jewlicious commenter is right, “You can light candles every Friday even if you are not seeing anybody at all, and if you live alone.” But as to whether it will make the world better? I fail to see how—if it doesn’t even make me feel better, how can such a small act improve the world as a whole? You can make the metaphorical case for candles, representing Shabbat, and that if everyone were to observe a Shabbat, the world would be a better place. But if I can observe Shabbat without the candles, and if a candle is lit in a studio apartment and no one is around to see it, is it still the Sabbath?
Not that my Shabbat observance is what it used to be either. When you’re single, dancing between movements and synagogues, and feeling at home nowhere but your own home, 25 hours without phone, email, internet, television, radio, etc can be a lonely and alienating time. You know logically that Judaism should provide you with a belief structure, a framework for faith. But you end up questioning the humanity of it all, the isolationism that proves once again that Judaism is a framework for family faith and community spirituality, more than it is for the spiritual development of the individual. Take away the family, take away the community/neighborhood/synagogue, and I wonder who really believes, from the core of their being, instead of from a desire to belong to a community that believes. Maybe it doesn’t matter for people. Whatever gets them to faith is okay.
But it bothers me. My faith should be stronger than it is. By most accounts, the luck I’ve had is tantamount to divine providence—I’ve made it back from some precipices, more than intact. Better, even. I’ve made friends across different countries and have havens in many ports, should I choose to avail myself of them. And still, a solid faith eludes me like a soul mate. There are glimpses of it, to be sure—moments wherein hope is stronger than despair, moments when laughter or some other emotion transports me, and I feel warmed by faith or hope or some blend of both, and am convinced that there’s a reason and a purpose and that the ups and downs aren’t just random fluctuations. In those instants, I know there’s a plan, even if no one will share it with me. But they’re just moments of light, amidst a more pervasive spiritual disappointment.
For some, this would be reason enough to start lighting candles again…to bring into my house, my home until I find my home, a physical manifestation of the hope and peace that I want so desperately. Perhaps taking that first step will light the way until the illumination becomes more emotionally tangible, more permanent, more palpable.
But most days, I’m still unconvinced. With all I’ve been through, with all the thoughts that flit through my head, with all my communal discontent and instability, with all the emotions that I run through on an hourly basis, it still seems like a whole lot of maybe.