Monday, December 17, 2012

The Non-FFB Inferiority Complex

Chances are that if you became religious later in life (in any movement), you have had times when you were terrified that you were DOIN IT RONG. Whatever "it" was. 



Right or wrong, you get worried. Or embarrassed. This usually results in avoiding the issue entirely or avoiding it when other people are around. See, for example, bentchophobia.

Granted, it doesn't happen to everyone. (Though I suspect those people may be liars.) And most people only encounter it during certain phases (::coughduringtheconversionprocesscough::) or about certain topics. I think it's usually a little of both. A few periods of general "I'm doin it all rong!" and many periods of "What is up with this one thing that I'm so stupid at!"

Let me give you an example from my own life.

Netilat yadayim. Ritual handwashing. I can tell you the debates over when it is required and the debates about how to do it. But I am too embarrassed to say the blessing loud enough for my own husband to hear. In fact, I don't let anyone listen to me say anything in Hebrew. I mumble very quietly. I'm self conscious. Go figure. I feel like a five year old. A five year old DOIN IT RONG.

I finally had to read Hebrew aloud in front of him for lighting the menorahs for Chanukah. (Yes, I made it a month into marriage before the poor man heard me read Hebrew...I'm a ninja.) I stammered and messed up the most basic things, including nearly setting things on fire. I was that nervous. It took at least five nights for me to get into something resembling a groove. And I still felt like an idiot. 

I suppose it's only human, and it's natural. On most subjects, I'm already at the "F it"stage. I'll do what I know how to do, and if I'm wrong, so be it. I just hope someone will tell me nicely. (Granted, I may not accept your position as the halacha binding on myself. Maybe I am right, just not according to you.) But some things still make me nervous, and maybe they always will. Some people say being a little neurotic is a very "Jewish" quality, especially if those people are Jewish comedians. 

14 comments:

  1. My husband made me feel like I was doing handwashing wrong...I put the emphasis on the wrong syllable for Netilas yadayim and so now I usually do that one quietly (although he apologized for giving me a complex and I'm getting over it...)

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    1. LOL...a certain rabbi we both know did the same to me about the syllable. I figured it was pronounced with the emphasis on the last syllable like normal. I got corrected the first time I met him (nicely, of course), but it gave me the complex too. When I told Simcha, he freaked out, and said that neither pronunciation is wrong! He says that IS the Israeli pronunciation and that it's like the American v. British pronunciation of "advertisement." I am somehow not comforted, despite his very best efforts LOL... and I continue to say the "corrected" version.

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    2. If you pronounce a different syllable in adVERTisement than the British, then you ARE doing it wrong ;-)

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  2. As a future convert I always feel embarrassed singing in Hebrew at our reform Synagogue. i don't want to throw others off. Thanks nice to know we aren't the only ones.
    Keep blogging great information and helpful.

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    1. I still feel like I know no words in Hebrew songs because they go too fast. My words are probably about as good as singing along with lyrics on the radio! And my reading is too slow to read the words as they sing them. Thankfully, I found it incredibly easy to fake sing in Hebrew. And all the tunes are easy to fake along because there's a lot of variations on a few basic tunes. That's one of the few "Jew fakes" I do well.

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    2. Seconded. The worst thing about singing in shul, for me, is that I have a deep, loud voice, can't sing and we often have women (including the rabbi, who can sing) leading the service, so I feel like a cantor (Reform shuls don't have them here). It wouldn't be so bad if I COULD sing, but it's so bad I'm actually considering singing lessons (not just for that reason). Whether they will work is a different matter!

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    3. I hate singing along, partly because I am self conscious about singing in public at all. This is going away slowly- I'm studying to be a teacher of young'uns, and not singing is not an option (also they don't judge singing ability. They just think it's awesome that a grown up is singing Old McDonald with them).

      After having heard enough born Jews butcher Hebrew (because they about as much of it as I do), I feel like I shouldn't worry too much about butchering it myself. And yet there's always that niggling feeling that I should be Super Jew because I wasn't born to it. It's irritating. I get around this in shul by just humming along to bits I don't know and singing when I get to the parts I do. I keep telling myself that most of the people around me have a lifetime's worth of practice and I don't.

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  3. A lot of FFBs don't really know Hebrew well at all, but they make it sound OK - even when they have no idea what they're saying and are often saying the wrong consonants, etc. And they certainly don't know halacha, I have seen them accidentally be mechalel Shabbos many times.

    This is not meant to criticize them, but to make others who worry about "doin it wrong" realize that they are not alone.

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  4. I think guys have to get over that particular one much faster. My BF says kiddush+havdala for us almost every week+while he still stumbles here and there (usually cuz he's trying to say it all fast+nonchalant like the FFBs do), he's always done an amazing job for such a newbie! I'm so proud of him (does it show? :P)

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  5. My complex is definitely that I never learned to read Hebrew. For awhile, I was able to compensate by memorizing the common and/or important brachot (including netilat yadayim!) and learning the tunes and general sounds of the songs in shul. But, I realized that although it is important to be able to participate as part of the community, but actually understanding what I'm saying would also bring me much closer to Hashem. So I enrolled in a two-year long Hebrew course! I'm still in the first few months - we started after the New Year - and so far we're still just learning letters and how to read. But after a Chanukah break, we're going to start working on basic root words and vocabulary.
    I guess my point is that, if we can face our fears and inferiority complexes, these could actually become parts of our lives in which we find more preciousness and holiness. Maybe?

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  6. You have been eavesdropping in on my conversations with my rabbis haven't you?

    I'm going to have a complex by the time this bar mitzvah occurs.

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  7. If I could have a dollar for every time I mispronounced a Hebrew word, I'd be rich. Just keep working at it, and try not to worry too much about how you sound to others.

    Welcome back to the J-blogosphere!

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  8. You say, "I am too embarrassed to say the blessing loud enough for my own husband to hear. In fact, I don't let anyone listen to me say anything in Hebrew. I mumble very quietly. I'm self conscious. Go figure. I feel like a five year old. A five year old DOIN IT RONG."

    Do it once at loud, get corrected if necessary, and - poof - your problem is gone.

    As with anything else, our sages tell us "All beginnings are difficult!"

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  9. Pronunciation wasn't usually my problem, since I had a little Hebrew under my belt by the time I started becoming observant- but behavior was a huge source of anxiety about "doing it wrong" for me. And now, after 6 years of rabbinical school and Lots of Jewish experience, it's better- but it still crops up sometimes.

    But I have to think that everyone gets it sometimes, even FFBs. After all, none of us know everything.

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