I cried at shul

Posted on January 28, 2007

Against my instincts to stay hidden, stay unseen while I’m feeling so much pain, I went to shul. I didn’t really want to go. I knew I needed to go.

I went figuring I could hold it back, hide it, drag out my public face again. But on the way there, I remembered D’s words:

“From everything you’ve said, Rivka, you might as well have had a neon sign above your head flashing DON’T ASK ME ABOUT ME. You didn’t give anyone an opportunity, much less an opening. If you want someone to come in and sit down and have a real conversation with you, not just idle chat, you have to at least unlock the door.”

Opportunity and opening, I thought. If I really want help, if I really want what I’m saying here that I want, I have to give them opportunity and opening. I have to give the congregation and the rabbi the chance to be successful. Only I can do that. If I hide it and no one notices, and I’m consequently angry or resentful or hurting because no one saw the hurt, then it’s because I set them up to fail. That’s not fair to any of us.

So okay. I won’t lie. I won’t hide. But I don’t have to advertise it, either. That was my plan.

Have you ever noticed how seldom things go “according to plan”? Especially when G-d is involved?

My husband told me later that I had no sooner walked in when people wanted to know what was wrong. I didn’t think it showed that much. But I was avoiding eye contact, to keep it together.

I made it before Kriat Sh’ma. Even my whisper had tears in it. Halfway through the Shacharit Amidah, I couldn’t keep it in. I was silent, but my body was trembling, shaking, and I couldn’t stop it. Rogue tears darkened the pages of my siddur.

I had better luck during the Torah service. I can get distracted easily by a good book. But then at the Chatzi Kaddish I lost it again. It was all I could do to stay upright. I barely remember the Haftarah. Ashrei did not make me happy. I silently sobbed my way through Musaf.

And in the midst of this, I don’t even remember when exactly–it was all a blur, the rabbi called me aside and said, can you stay a few minutes after shul so we can talk?

Opportunity, I reminded myself. Opening. Don’t run from this. Don’t hide. Don’t ask the question if you’re not willing to accept the answer. I said yes.

After shul a few people came up to me. A couple asked how I was doing. One woman said she didn’t mean to pry and if I wanted to be alone, that was okay, she wouldn’t be offended, but it looked like I was hurting and did I want to talk? We talked a little, nothing about how I was feeling. I didn’t want to get into it right then. But I accepted her gesture of friendship and was deeply touched.

And then the rabbi approached me, to see if I would talk with him. I said I would. We went to a quiet, yet still public, space. He asked me, what’s going on?

That was the question I didn’t know how to answer. That’s what makes this whole thing so [insert profane word of your choice here] hard. Because there is nothing going on. No marital problems. No financial problems (far from rich, but at least we’re not broke right now). No unemployment. No acute illnesses. All’s well with my external world, baruch Hashem. The problem is all in my head.

So I told him. I told him in record time (about four minutes–there was a clock on the wall) about my far-too-few ups and my far-too-many downs and how this time was a really bad one. I told him about reliving the memories around my father’s death, about some of the horrible things I had to hear and experience in the aftermath. I told him about my counseling sessions, that I had a good counselor but I was missing the Jewish piece, something she simply couldn’t give me. I told him about the medication, about how it works most of the time and what happens when it doesn’t. I told him about needing to stay in the moment, about the ice cream headache without eating any, about how fifteen years ago I stayed in the moment by cutting myself and now I resorted to less bloody means.

I watched him wince as I said that.

He asked some questions, ran through some ideas. I think he said he wanted to meet with me this week, that he’d make time, but now, some eleven hours later, I’m not sure if he still wants that or if that was only if I wasn’t up to talking today.

We’ve got to get you better, he said. He made a misheberach for me. It was evident in every movement, every word, his deep sigh when I finished telling my story, his wince when I talked about the cutting, that he cared. That he hurt for me.

It was very hard for me. It was frightening, being that open. But it was a relief, too. It brought a tiny ray of hope. I just don’t know if I can risk being hurt by holding on to that.


  1. Rivka

    Ayelet: Thank you. I confess I didn’t feel brave. I still don’t. I still wonder if I opened doors that would be better off sealed shut and locked. My future seems suddenly unknown. Will I wind up seeing a different counselor? Will I need to change medication? How will this affect my relationships with others in shul? I don’t know. It’s scary.

    Mother in Israel: Thank you. I want support but am afraid of the cost. I hope I can deal with whatever negative feedback there is. I can always hope there won’t be much.

  2. mother in israel

    I’m rooting for you. I hope that this will enable you to get the support that you need from your community. Yes, there may be some negative feedback too but I hope that if there is it will be outweighed by a few good people (like the woman who offered to talk to you).

  3. Ayelet

    Wow. You’re a brave girl.

You may also be interested in…

Dear Body

Dear Body

Dear Body,
I’m trying to listen carefully to you, but I’m still not understanding what you need from me. Please be really, really clear with me about what you need so I can take appropriate action.
Sincerely, Me

Skip to content