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Losing belief is a journey. The mind must reorder itself completely. Logic, emotion, spirituality — all in perfect sync, all linked together by faith — must be unlinked.
There was wonder, exhilaration and sheer joy as I looked around like a small child grabbing everything in the new unfathomably large universe, where there is so much, suddenly, to understand. There was constant surprise, disconcertment, an unsettling of everything as I watched myself become someone else, but I wasn’t sure whom. And then there was grief. When I wanted myself back. When I wanted to believe and I didn’t care that it made no sense.
Life throws things with deadly aim — illness, tragedy, loss. And when it did and I stood with the shards in the flesh of my hands, I wanted my faith back just the way it had been. I wept because my entire being was screaming for a delusion, and like an addict in withdrawal I crashed against walls, consumed by my own mind. I grabbed out for anything to fulfill it, to satiate the desperate void, and I discovered the agony of praying to God when I knew I was talking to myself.
Eventually, there was closure.
It was a few years after my debate with my formerly Hasidic friend; it felt like a lifetime after my last birth. I was walking down 16th Avenue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. I passed a group of women I knew, their heads covered with the white kerchiefs of Rosh Hashanah, their skirts carefully covering their knees. I watched them disperse at the corner, pecking each other on the cheeks, calling, “A git yur, a git yur! Leshune toyve…Hashem should listen to your prayers…You should have nakhes and brukhe and parnuse…amen, amen, git yontif.” I was on the other side, for the first time an observer. I was watching the story from the outside, the warmth and charm of a fading memory.
I walked on. I no longer held the certainty of that life, the certainty only ignorance can give. I no longer wanted to. Now I only look back sometimes to see myself in the growing distance, the girl I had been smiling innocently at the woman I’ve become. Sometimes, we still reach out to each other across the opposite ends of the universe to see if we can still touch. She does not know who I am, a stranger light years away, and I look back at her curiously, yearning for the time I lived in a universe where the sun was not a star.
Judy Brown wrote the novel “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. This is the second in a series for the Forward about her departure from the ultra-Orthodox world. She is currently working on her second book.