My Year: Divorce and Everything after, through the Lens of Jewish Holidays

circle for year2First, know this: I was married for almost 17 years, but we’d been together since I was 19. That’s almost 20 years, folks. 

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One day, I turned a corner. Or the corner turned me; I’m not sure which. On the other side of that corner was the terrible realization that I couldn’t stay in my marriage anymore. 

Purim arrived a short two weeks later. As my world continued to crash down, I didn’t feel up to wearing the derby girl costume I’d planned for the holiday. If Purim is about trying on new and different identities, revealing parts of ourselves that we normally keep hidden—well, just going as my self in that moment was revealing enough for me.

By the time Pesach came around, I’d moved into a rental house and my soon-to-be ex-husband and I were trading weeks with the kids. Friends had helped me with everything from packing to moving to unpacking—and I was beginning to unwind from that most difficult and intense period of my life. Amidst the pain, loss, and grief came moments when I felt happy. Sometimes I let myself feel those moments, ever so briefly, before diving back into a sea of guilt.

Pesach offered me the opportunity to consider what burdens I should leave behind. It also challenged me to explore the possibility of possibility in the freedom of my new landscape.

Between Pesach and Shavuot, I counted the Omer. I love counting the Omer. It’s a presence practice—the practice of being present. It’s also a time of preparation. That is, if it’s really possible to prepare yourself for revelation—for earth-shaking transformation, like the fire of a kiln.

During this time, I actually did do a lot of preparing. I helped my kids prepare for end-of-school-year activities and their first time away at Jewish summer camp. I prepared all sorts of agreements and documents, financial and legal, for the impending divorce. I prepared some—probably not as much as I would have liked—for my first trip to Europe.

When I stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai for Shavuot, I was in Budapest—and it was amazing. I attended Tikkun Leil Shavuot sessions in which English and Hebrew were spoken, and one that was entirely in Hungarian. I speak no Hungarian! That was OK; I didn’t care. I sat in Hungarian Jewish comsweetsmunity and let the rhythm of the completely unfamiliar language wash over me.

While the language was foreign, the people were not. They were the same people I knew back home—some deeply engaged in learning: asking questions, interrupting the presenter, arguing over minor details with others; some holding their 2am cup of coffee as though it alone was keeping them upright; some skipping the learning sessions to talk with their friends and eat sweets. (The sweets are better in Budapest, by the way.)

It was 3:30am when I left the Jewish Community Center and walked the mile back to my flat, alone. For the next week I walked all over that beautiful city, alone. Part of my Budapest-Shavuot revelation was that I’m good company, most of the time; and that I would be all right—really all right—on my own.

Five days after I returned home, I stood in the county courthouse before a judge. Looking down and shuffling papers on her desk the whole time, she asked me 20 or so apparently standard questions before announcing that she would grant the divorce. Then she paused, looked at me, and said, “Good luck to you, ma’am.”

That was that.

For the next five weeks, I would see my kids for a grand total of about three hours, the time between their Jewish summer camp and their two-week vacation with their dad. Before I left for Budapest, I’d been dreading what I had termed, “The Summer of My Aloneness.” The truth is, though, the quiet, alone time of those five weeks helped me find solid footing.

On the fast day of Tisha B’Av, we remember times of pain, uncertainty, and destruction—times when God seemed absent from our lives. Things in my world weren’t quite that dramatic, but at this time I found myself confronted with another huge, life-altering decision, and it threw me for a loop.

I’d accidentally found a house for sale, and it seemed perfect for me and my boys. But I still had six months left on my lease; would my landlord make me pay the full rent for the rest of my term, or could I get out with just a penalty? Also, I had significant financial questions. First, the funds I’d need to use for a down payment were still tied up in divorce-paperwork-limbo; would I be able to access them in time? Second, those funds were dedicated retirement funds; should I use them at all?—and if so, would I be facing massive tax penalties?

The question of whether or not to move forward on trying to buy the house was a life-path, identity, and purpose question—and it came at a time when I was already exhausted by decision-making. On Tisha B’Av, I sat with my hunger, along with the questions, the uncertainty, and the weight of the decision.

A week and a half before Rosh Hashana, I closed on the house. One week before, I moved in. Three days before, I had a house full of people over to help unpack and to hang mezuzot. We were going into a shmita, or sabbatical year. It had been a crazy-making amount of effort to get to that point, but I wanted to be fully in the house before the new year started. And so we were.

With the High Holy Days came more opportunity to reflect. For a while, I couldn’t figure out what to metaphorically throw away for Tashlich; I felt like I should be aspiring for good rather than casting off bad. Sitting at shul during Rosh Hashana services, though, it struck me; what I needed to throw away was the weight of other people’s expectations. In 5775, I decided, I will not accept the burden of other people’s crap.

The Ten Days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur brought more questions. From whom do I need to ask forgiveness? Who do I need to forgive? After a while, I determined that this year, the biggest forgiveness challenge hit close to home.

“Self,” I wrote in a journal, “5774 was a really difficult year and I was hard on you—often pushing you without rest, beyond the state of mental and emotional exhaustion. None of that was fair. Going forward, I will try to be more loving and forgiving of you, my self. No one is perfect.”

I thought that was a pretty good apology! I accepted.

Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Last year during Sukkot, we celebrated my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. This year, I helped lead a group of seminary students on an encounter trip to some places in The Valley (a.k.a. South Texas) to explore some of the complex, interlocking challenges of life along the Border. If Sukkot is about moving your torah out into the world, then—well, check!

And now, we’ve just finished Hanukkah. Just before the holiday ended, I completed the last of the major moving-in projects I had lined up for myself back in September. This is good! Now I can let myself focus some time and energy in other directions. Speaking of other directions….

During HanukHanukkah 5775-8th nightkah, we light candles on our chanukiyot and set the lights in the window, letting our light shine forth in the world so that others can see. As I finished the bulk of my self-created moving-in tasks and reflected both on the holiday and on my life at this moment, I decided to bravely begin exploring the 40-something dating scene.

I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’ve come to see that if all I do is go to work and then come home and take care of my kids and/or things around the house, I’ll never meet anyone. And whereas back in the beginning of this “year,” my goal was to become the first-ever Jewish nun, I’ve since come to think that it’d be nice to have someone with whom to share my life.

Things don’t just happen by themselves; we have to initiate change in our lives and put some action behind our intention. So for Hanukkah, I set my chanukiah in the window and I signed up for an online dating site.

There’s one more Jewish holiday on the horizon. One more to complete a full year since the divorce process began. That’s Tu B’Shvat, which begins on the evening of February 3, 2015.

I can’t predict now what that holiday might bring to my life walk, but I can say that Tu B’Shvat is about planting seeds, about growing things, about new beginnings.

That sounds nice.

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Above photo used courtesy of Procsilas Moscas via Flickr Creative Commons.

4 thoughts on “My Year: Divorce and Everything after, through the Lens of Jewish Holidays

  1. It takes courage to write about a year like yours, but I’m really glad you did. This post is introspective, smart, and expertly crafted. I hope you keep blogging and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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