Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Living Without God in 1971

I like to write about all the big events in our lives in Israel, especially how we spend our first chagim and other special days here.  But there is something more, something constantly in process deep within me.  A few days ago, it arose once again.

I was at a writers' conference.  A writers' conference for women.  A writers' conference for English-speaking, religious women in Jerusalem.

The conference was a satisfying mix of networking with publishers and published writers, industry information and writing inspiration with a spiritual component.  And, in one of the writing exercises, a memory surfaced.

I was a preteen.  We were living in New York, in a suburban neighborhood where every family owned a more-or-less identical private home.  My parents were visiting with neighbors down the street.  I was home alone, or perhaps I was the only sibling still awake.  While watching TV, a commercial for a denture cleaner caught my attention.  I thought about how old people use denture cleaner.  Which lead me to thoughts about aging.  Which led me to thoughts about death.  Before long, I was in a state of sheer terror, because, after death, I couldn't see anything else.

At that age (and for more than a decade after), I lived in a godless universe.  I had no way to express what was, I realize now, an early spiritual crisis.   On the yellow wall phone, the one with the long spiral cord, hanging in the hallway outside the den, barely coherent and choked with tears, I dialed our neighbors and begged my parents to come home.

Life ends.  That realization terrified me, because, in 1971, I was living utterly without God.

Forty years later, I am blessed with a spiritual life beyond my greatest aspirations, one that grows deeper each year.  Once I located my own soul (not so easy when one lives in a godless universe), the journey began.  And that journey ultimately led me to Israel.

I am often struck, when friends and new acquaintances tell their stories of how they came to live in Israel, about how we are all guided here.  It's as if God handpicks us, one at a time, and sets us on a path toward this place.  It has long seemed to me that a significant percentage of olim are either converts or, like me, baalei teshuva.  It's as if, having lived lives without God at all, or without the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, making aliyah is simply a  natural extension of our spiritual journeys.

It isn't always easy to live here.  In fact, it's often difficult to live here, at least at this stage of Jewish history.  We have many enemies, some from without and, sadly, many from within.  But there is an undeniable richness to life here, access to spiritual growth, access to one's own soul, and to God, that can exist nowhere else in the universe.  God lives in Israel.  And, thankfully, so do I.

2 comments:

Chaya said...

Beautiful and very true. I think many of us have similar yet custom-made stories along the same theme. Thank you for putting your thoughts into writing.

Barbara R. said...

I didn't live without G-d, but with a G-d of whom I was scared half witless. It was when the G-d of Abraham et al found me that I truly knew what life was all about, and I learned where I had HAD to spend the rest of my life!! You are right on the button [again] with this one my dear!!