I went to shul last Shabbat. I was horribly anxious but I knew I needed to go for me. As it turned out, the (shul) rabbi was not there and another rabbi who is usually a fellow congregant (and whom I like very much) was leading services. This helped a lot.
While I was there, I talked with another woman who knows the rabbi better than I do. While I did not go into detail about how I felt or my recent struggles, I did ask in a very roundabout way about the prominent member’s comments regarding the rabbi’s commitment to the individual’s Jewish life.
She rolled her eyes at that and said something unrepeatable about shul politics. But the bottom line is that I should take what that member had to say with an entire jar of kosher salt. She then said that the (shul) rabbi is very understated in how he supports people. To him, a great deal is communicated through a handshake or a hand on one’s shoulder or greeting someone with a smile rather than a scowl. He is not overt in his support, but that does not mean he is not supportive.
She also said that he shows his satisfaction or delight in what someone has learned or accomplished by asking them to do more of it or to take on a responsibility that would use their new knowledge. The fact that he has, on quite a few occasions, asked me to teach a class or lead a minyan or write something for the shul to distribute should be, she said, interpreted to mean he is quite pleased.
This helped me feel a lot better.
I talked to another friend about being visibly Jewish versus not, meaning something like when I wear my Magen David necklace versus when I don’t. She laughed and said that I was always visibly Jewish and that even she (a non-Jew) could recognize Jewish values and ethics and my commitment to Jewish law in the words I chose and how I dress and how I raise my children and even the friends I choose. I didn’t think it was that obvious. She thinks it is glaring but in a good way. When I told her about feeling like maybe I wasn’t Jewish enough yet, she said that just wasn’t possible.
My friend D called me after Shabbat and we talked for a while, too. D asked me how I was doing and how the medication was helping and about my anxiety, because that always shows up before the depression does. I told D about my anxiety around shul, around the rabbi, and D asked if any of the things I was afraid of had ever happened.
Once, I said. There is this woman at shul who, years ago, angrily told me that I’d never be truly Jewish because I’d converted. I was horrified then and a friend stepped in and defended me. But I never forgot it and that woman still glares at me when she sees me.
After saying this was clearly this woman’s issues and not mine, D said if anyone at shul suggested something like that again, I should simply ask if they trust the rabbi, because if they do, accusing me is tantamount to questioning his judgment, since the rabbi is the one I learned with and he brought me before the beit din for my formal conversion. I felt not quite so alone then. I liked the idea of the rabbi’s status backing up my claim to Jewishness.
D also suggested gently that much of my anxiety seemed to be as if others had very high expectations of me and I wasn’t measuring up. When asked, I really couldn’t point to anyone who has high expectations of me. Except me.
Might I be projecting my high expectations onto others, believing that’s what they expect of me? Could this be a part of my anxiety? D knows this is certainly part of my history, my childhood. It is maybe a good topic to pick apart in therapy.
And then before I went to bed Saturday night, I picked up my book of Tehillim–Psalms–again. I thumbed through, skimming, and then stopped short. The words seemed to almost leap off the page at me.
4. With His wings He will cover you, and under His wings you will take refuge; His truth is an encompassing shield.
5. You will not fear the fright of night, the arrow that flies by day;
9. For you [said], “The Lord is my refuge”; the Most High you made your dwelling.
10. No harm will befall you, nor will a plague draw near to your tent.
11. For He will command His angels on your behalf to guard you in all your ways.
12. On [their] hands they will bear you, lest your foot stumble on a stone.
I hold onto this, the words of my friends, and the support for this blog. And I hold tight to my belief and trust in G-d, because that is my center and my foundation.