The rabbi at my synagogue is going to a conference on autism and faith at the end of the month and has asked me to answer a couple of questions regarding Judaism and Aspergers Syndrome.
The first question is: How does your Judaism help you in the everyday things you do?
I’ve got a confession to make. I wasn’t born Jewish, or at least I don’t think I was. My mum’s family, according to a friend who did some research on her family tree, were originally Jewish, but somewhere down the line it got lost, and I had started conversion before finding this out. It would have taken too long to prove, however, so I carried on with the process and finally converted in the autumn of 2008. I’d always been interested in religion, and as a kid one of my favourite books was about world religions. I met people in the Jewish Society / J-Soc at Manchester and began to look into converting.
However, I know that I will not be universally accepted as a Jew everywhere, and this bothers me. According to some Jews, I am worse than Hitler, I am diluting Judaism, my rabbi and the rabbis on my Beth Din panel are fakers and should be shot for making fake Jews, I am a fake, a liar, a fraud. I won’t be able to marry an Orthodox Jew unless I convert Orthodox, and even then I gather conversion for marriage is frowned on. So for a start, my status affects who I can marry (Levites and Kohanim are out too). However, I don’t think I’m ever going to marry. I know a Nice Jewish Girl should find a Nice Jewish Boy, settle down, have kids, but that life is not for me.
I was originally going to go Orthodox because the rigid adherence to rituals would have provided me with a totally stable routine, and it goes without saying that Lotte need routine or Lotte go crazy. However, because I am bisexual, I cut myself, I’m a female musician and there are certain laws I feel uncomfortable with, I went Reform in the end. I needed some freedom, and I felt I’d be too constricted by living an Orthodox lifestyle. It wasn’t me. Because I have such a thing about being left out, I had to get over, and still am getting over, the fear that I am doing something wrong in the eyes of G-d and that I will be punished. I don’t know if there really is a Jewish Hell, but I fear I’ll be going there for my ‘heresy’. Even though most of the people I’ve encountered who say horrible things about my religion – and by the way, anyone who flames me over it on here is getting deleted and blocked – are online, I take things literally and thus personally. When they say ‘Reform Jews are evil and are doing Hitler’s work’, they are, to me, saying ‘Lotte is evil and is doing Hitler’s work’. I’ll explain about this in more detail another time.
It’s not fair to say my life is exactly the same as it used to be, because it’s not. I changed my diet. I won’t allow any meat in my house, due to only having one sink and one fridge (and I won’t eat it anyway), and use paper plates for Passover (and oh, how I dread having to clean the house and check for stray breadcrumbs everywhere). I do candles when I can remember, although usually I make Kiddush at synagogue, and then I’ll go out for a meal with my friends. Because of my ME, I don’t always make synagogue on Saturday mornings (which is kind of unfortunate as I sing in the choir there), but I try to go on Friday nights. I don’t pray every night, and my Shabbos observance is pretty lame, but I do make sure I don’t do housework. When I was a student, I didn’t do any coursework. I don’t sort out any bills or go to work. I need to make it different from the rest of the week somehow. I always make sure I go to synagogue when it’s a festival, although I can’t fast on Yom Kippur as it will make me ill. The one festival I can’t stand is Purim, because it sends me into total sensory overload, but that’s for the next question.
The biggest problem is Christmas, as it’s my mum’s birthday and I would feel like a total bitch if I didn’t go to her house, plus I love my family to death and as my brother is in London and one of my cousins is in Belgium, it’s always good to catch up, and I like making people happy by giving them things I know they’ll like. I was such a bad daughter and sister that I feel I have to make it up to Mum and my brother for my horrible behaviour. When the Chanukah clash comes, you’ll find me lighting candles and trying to remember the words to Maoz Tzur. Luckily, my family aren’t religious at all and Mum always took priority over Jesus in our house, so it’s primarily about family. At the risk of upsetting people, my family always come first. Without them, I’d be dead. I’m not kidding.
On that subject, I was going through a sort of prep period when my gran died in 2005, and my belief in G-d helped me get through, although it didn’t stop me taking an overdose a couple of months later. I finally took the plunge, contacted a rabbi and started going to synagogue in August that year, and on the way I met loads of new people, some of whom became my friends, others of whom became my enemies. I don’t feel a part of the community, but there’s a small sub-community of converts that I do belong to – we’re all misfits in our own ways, there’s a few of us on the autistic spectrum, and we’re all going on the same journey, so we have to stick together. Although I wasn’t looking for an identity – I had other identities, queer, female, Aspergic, feminist, British etc. – gaining this new identity made me see myself in a different light. I was part of a group of people who’d survived everything that had been thrown at them over thousands of years, and in a strange way I felt like somehow, I’d come home.