Standards, Values, and Expectations

by Loolwa Khazzoom • June 5, 2010 • Keeping It Raw

Something is shifting in me. I am not yet quite sure what it is or how to articulate it, but it is something along the lines of releasing the struggle – the ever-present tension between me, my family, my inherited community, and the larger society.

I just read Peter Knobel’s essay, “An Expanded Approach to Jewish Bioethics,” in the book, Healing and the Jewish Imagination. I found it comforting. I often feel adrift at sea in the Jewish world, because there are so many ways the Jewish community neither reflects me nor rises to my expectations of how it should operate. This chapter outlined some words that really resonated with me – virtue, values, respect, and merit, to name a few. And the chapter laid out issues in a way that made me really happy, because it rang my Jewish bell.

I am Super Jew. A flaming Heeb. My thinking, my personality, my essence is fundamentally in alignment with the Jewish way. And yet what is that Jewish way? There are so many distortions of the Jewish way as I understand it. These distortions are rampant in our community – leading to my constant state of distress. I see hypocrisy everywhere, which confuses me and hurts me and isolates me.

When I grow up with Jewish values of accountability — of taking the time each year to reflect on whom we have harmed and to humble ourselves before those people and ask forgiveness; and when my orthodox Jewish father, my primary Jewish teacher, refuses to do that reflection and take that accountability in the most intimate setting – his family, with regards to the most egregious of crimes – the violation of a child’s emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries; and when a purportedly egalitarian Mizrahi rabbi to whom I turned for help chose to cut off communication with me, effectively punishing me, instead of rising to the occasion of my trust and fulfilling his responsibility as community spiritual leader, I feel utterly lost, confused, and bewildered.

When I align myself with the Jewish world against the anti-Jewish hostility rampant in the rest of the world; when the Jewish world then rejects, invalidates, demeans, and renders invisible all Jewish identity except that from Central and Eastern Europe; and when the non-European Jewish community then dismisses and degrades me as an irrelevant or worthless female, except in relation and service to men, I feel utterly lost, confused, and bewildered.

“Jewish ethics begins with an assumption that there is a duty to Gd,” says one of my favorite passages in the chapter I read today, “Jewish life is centered on the performance of commandments…deeds that are obligatory in nature. We are asked to imagine that we will be called to account for what we do. Therefore it ultimately matters what choices we make, because our choices have an effect on our destiny and on the destiny of the human race. We seek a just society through these [commandments]. Therefore a pure autonomy…is modified by the harness of obligation…

“[O]urs is an embedded or relational autonomy. In Judaism, while individuals are of inestimable value, our range of choices is harnessed by the fact that we are embedded in community and family and that we are governed and limited by our obligations both to the self and to others.”  

I love this shit. I believe whole-heartedly in it. I spent my life devoted to and loyal in my pursuit of it. So where the fuck is it.

I have expectations. Standards. From infancy, I have cherished and pursued that which is great, lofty, and noble. People might like to claim it is not possible, especially in a child so young. But to quote to the best of my memory a poem I wrote many years ago, “You live in murky waters, so you see me through the filter of your dirt.”

It is possible. And true. There exist in this world people who are genuine through and through, whose core value from a young age has been pursuing heart-felt connections, freedom, authentic love, and understanding. Nobody is perfect, but there does exist in the world those who prioritize and invest their energies into questioning, self-reflection, and improvement of the individual and collective selves. I am one of these people.

When I revolve my life around what this essay refers to as “’virtue’ – that is, the explicit seeking of good and noble behavior in every ethnical decision we make,” that antiquated value that has fallen by the wayside in favor of shiny BMWs and cosmetic surgery, and when the people and communities I love and cherish instead choose denial, ego, dominance, convenience, and that which is superficial, I feel utterly lost, confused, and bewildered.

Where am I. Who am I.

And here is where the struggle is lifting: I am recognizing that I am really, really different. And that there are others out there who are also really, really different and feeling equally alienated from their families, communities, and society at large. I am recognizing that I will always stand out against the backdrop of any crowd, like it or not. That just by the nature of being myself, I will always be the pot-stirrer, shit-kicker, trouble-maker. That I will get the strange looks. That what I say will usually be coming out of left field from most people’s point of reference. That most people may not see me when I am standing eye to eye with them.

And that it is OK.

In my sexual behavior, my behavior as a patient in the medical system, my behavior as a daughter in a traditional family, in whatever I do, there will be a tension between my desire to be an intimate part of that which is established and my refusal to take part in that which feels ingenuine or toxic.

I think what is shifting is that I am letting go of the struggle. I am accepting things as they are and actively seeking out my tribe wherever I find them. Perhaps the shift can be explained this way: I am letting go of my expectations, without lowering my standards. For example, I do not expect most men to get me or be able to sustain a relationship with my bodacious being. But I do not accept in my life anything less than a man who gets me and is thrilled to rise to the occasion of a genuine relationship with me over the years.

And so I was able to go to a party last night wearing exactly what I was wearing, without trying to “dress up” – a motley crew of a pin-striped white-and-blue Oxford shirt, funky white pants with a silver-studded peace sign on my ass, white jogging socks with white–and-blue sneakers, an orangey-red wool cape, a multi-colored wool purse from South America, and red glasses with a twist on the Cat’s eye look. I went up to random people and introduced myself, but I wouldn’t shake their hands, and I usually didn’t say why.

The reactions to me were varied. I won’t say I didn’t care when people seemed particularly uninterested in talking with me, but it also didn’t bother me all that much. My focus was on getting back out into the world, exactly as I was, without any attempt whatsoever to reconcile who I am and what is socially expected of me.

Perhaps my new serenity can be thought of as a truce: I am no longer expecting society to play by my rules (even though I whole-heartedly believe those rules are in society’s interest and even though society may in fact purport to play by those rules but fall short). But I still am not playing by society’s rules. Instead, I am putting forth my vision and thinking to all those who care to hear it and see it and join me in my path – whether through the way I physically walk through the world or talk among groups or put my thoughts into writing.

2 Responses to “Standards, Values, and Expectations”

  1. David Lash
    Jun 06, 2010

    Glad you’re letting yourself go to the people who genuinely love who you’ve always been.

  2. Alicia White
    Jun 07, 2010

    Finally another member of my tribe :) My friend and co synagogue member are resigning our membership this week due to the same hypocrisy, laughable inability to regofnize their alienation of others while claiming diversity, and their inability to think new thoughts.
    – GO FORTH AND SHARE YOUR INDIVIDUALITY :) BE you!! I thank you for sharing that you are also the one that is on the cuff, misunderstood; the shit-kicker – the one who questions authority and why decisions are made – the one that is not afraid to stand up to what is wrong even when others look at you like you have three eyes:)
    From a kindred spirit – I salute you :)

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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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