My interest in leading a more observant Jewish life seems to have saturated my subconscious. Several times a week for the past few months I have had vivid dreams about myself as a more observant (and often Orthodox) Jew. It started with a series of itense dreams in which I go to a mikvah. I woke up each time moved, disturbed, and scared of my own desire for religious community and faith. There have been other themes as well. In some dreams I am a frum Jewish woman married to a man. In some I am a frum Jewish man married to a woman who wears long skirts and covers her hair.

I have had dreams where I get laughed out of an Orthodox synagogue due to my gender ambiguity. Dreams of kashering my kitchen. Dreams in which I am physically or verbally assaulted when the members of my congregation learn that I am not a zionist. Dreams in which I am bringing my mother to a mikvah to do a ritual so that she can get pregnant (at the age of 54, no less!). In one recurring dream I am trying to figure out which side of the mechitzah to sit on.

I grew up in a small, rural Reconstructionist synagogue that had formerly been a Conservative congregation and retained some of that traditionalist spirit but did not emphasize halacha. My liberal Ashkenazi family didn’t keep kosher, but we did Shabbat dinner and prayers every Friday night together and went to synagogue nearly every week. My mom was agnostic but insisted we go to Hebrew School. After my Bat Mitzvah I didn’t go to shul as regularly, but maintained a strong Jewish identity and when I left home I found myself gradually moving towards more observance.

I have gone to services at Reform, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist synagogues on both the east and west coasts. I go to a Conservative shul right now. I would like to see what services are like at the Modern Orthodox shul but worry about how I’ll be received, a boyish looking masculine woman wearing pants in a strongly gender-binary environment. My attraction to religious observance is interwoven with a lot of anxiety about peoples’ perceptions of me, making other people uncomfortable, and being the focus of attention.

I am increasingly drawn towards halacha, and towards having a strong, faith-based Jewish community… Despite my discomfort with some of it. The brand of egalitarian Judaism that I once assumed was more progressive (no gender-based rituals, avoidance of male pronouns to refer to G-d, replacing the word “Adonai” with “Shechinah”) actually feels somewhat contrived to me these days as I become more comfortable being a woman and struggle to embrace gender-specific experiences. The constant re-creation and changing of rituals and prayers in Renewal and Reform Judaism can sometimes even feel like an act of disrespect towards our tradition. But I don’t know that I have the option available to me to be part of a more traditional Jewish world, as a very non-traditional Jew… So where do I belong? I feel like a reactionary in the egalitarian-progressive Jewish world and like a radical freak in the traditional Jewish world. I hope as I find a way to integrate my religious practice and my radical political beliefs I’ll find a space where I can be all of who I am.

As a non-zionist, butch, queer woman it scares the living daylights out of me that I am drawn towards a more traditional Jewish practice that I learned to demonize in my 2nd wave feminist past and still feel much discomfort with. This journey is forcing me to confront internalized anti-semitism and rethink the ideas I had about religious people. My Reconstructionist upbringing feels like a liability at times. I don’t know how to even begin to learn all the things about Judaism that I feel I should already know… as if all Jews but me were born knowing all the complexities of Jewish practice! I haven’t yet started reconciling my identity and politics with my religious leanings. Most of all, I am unsure of how and where to find community. But I am making small steps towards observance. I recently stopped working on Saturdays, and started going to Torah service every week and using the rest of the day for restful purposes. I have started saying prayers every evening. I have stopped mixing milk and meat together in my meals and started eating only kosher meat. I am reading Jewish texts and commentary on a regular basis. For someone raised by ex-hippies in a haymish, non-traditional Jewish environment where my father often brought home shrimp for Shabbos dinner, these are big steps. Each small thing I do to make my life more Jewish makes me feel connected to G-d and connected to other Jews.