Beyond BT contributor, Bracha Goetz, has written an extremely candid memoir, Searching for God in the Garbage, detailing how she became an observant Jew and overcame anorexia. It is told through actual diary entries and letters, spanning through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
Here is an excerpt from the book.
Chapter Fourteen: 1983 – 1985
January 26, 1983
I was glad you responded in such a positive way to my letter about the book. I honestly didn’t expect it. Sure, I have a lot more thoughts that I’d be very happy to share with you. Years ago, when we were working on the feminist critique together, you were Jewish and you were angry – but what could I say to you then? What can I say to you now … when I have this chance?
You seemed to hate men vehemently at the time. They were the ones who had put you down – kept you “in your place” for all these millennium. It was their fault. That was so clear to you. Remember how we all used to hang out in “Bread and Roses” restaurant – all the angry feminists of Radcliffe, who were mostly Jewish, and who could see so clearly that men were the culprits and that women had been the victims. I was there too, but if you remember, I never had much to say at any of our meetings. I didn’t see it all so clearly. Something bothered me with all this talk about the good guys and the bad guys … and most of all … it seemed so full of anger.
Now here I am, seven years later, finally feeling ready to say something back to you. What I have to say will sound strange at first, I know, and that is why a part of me doesn’t even want to bother. At the same time, I know it is important for me to let you hear my thinking now.
Remember the disgust we used to feel when we were considered nothing but bodies by all those men out there? Those were our souls reacting. When we were striving to be treated with the same respect that men were afforded, when we were fighting to have the opportunity to fulfill our greatest potentials as women – and even when society’s stress on skin-surface beauty was making us sick deep down inside – all of those times – it was our Jewish neshamas (souls) that were crying out to be recognized by us.
I know what you’d think of me if you saw me. Not usually barefoot, but pregnant – and baking bread (challahs) on a regular basis. Right away you would probably classify me as one of those who had given up. But it’s more the other way around. I turned away from all the anger at “Bread and Roses” because it was on a dead-end street. All I knew then was that it couldn’t be the way for us to get somewhere.
Last time we saw each other, I was headed for medical school in South Carolina. The summer after my first year there, I took a trip to Israel. I had just six weeks of vacation until my second year of medical school would begin. I was coming in search of something that was missing in life, and I knew that this was the last stop I was going to make before resigning myself completely to the cynical, de-sensitized way of life I was finally getting used to. I could not understand at the time that the constant, un-surrendering force inside that kept pushing me onward and wouldn’t let me rest – was Jewish. The drive to meet our spiritual needs is in all of us, but we don’t usually recognize where the deep and unfulfilled cravings are coming from.
We had dismissed Judaism early on, as being unable to provide any solutions to the problems that were important to us. The graduation ceremonies from Judaism were held at gaudy Bar Mitzva receptions. There was more than plenty of good food, but nothing that lasted. Then later on, we all heard stuff about how the status of a woman was inferior to that of a man’s in Judaism. Someone once even showed us some Jewish laws to prove it. We didn’t hear much, but what we did hear made a lot of sense. After all, it was exactly what we had suspected.
Well, now I wish I could ask you to take a second look. I would ask you to look from the place that lies even deeper than your anger. From that pure part of you – still unmarred from long years of hating – I want you to look at me and see what there is to this woman that you would find doing dishes, changing diapers, and making dinner for her husband every day. You never wanted others to judge you at face value. Now, I’m asking for that too.
An understanding of the woman’s true role in Judaism can only be obtained by suspending your usual way of thinking for awhile. From the very start, we have been taught to believe that public recognition is what counts. We saw men out up front in prestigious positions getting a lot of recognition – and we wanted it too. It seemed to those lurking in the background – that men were having all the fun – living life in the most exciting way.
But who told us that out in public is “where the action is”? Who was telling us that success in the public arena would make us happy? And who got us thinking that being a homemaker was a drag? What I’m trying to say is – somewhere along the line most of us accepted an assumption which no one ever proved to us. We believed it when “they” told us that getting public recognition would bring fulfillment, and yet we never even saw one living example of it.
In these intervening years, through exploring authentic Judaism, I’ve had the chance to discover a fact of life that was never disclosed to me before. Simply put: What’s up front is not what counts. It’s still very hard for me to accept that thoroughly, however. It will take a long time for me to adjust to this view of life, completely topsy-turvy to the one I’d been indoctrinated to hold up until then.
In a sense, though, I think this topsy-turvy view of what really matters in life can be considered a truly feminist way of thinking. It requires recognizing fully that the man’s role is not the preferred role. Once this readjustment in thinking can be integrated at a deep level within, it finally becomes possible for a woman to realize her greatest potential. Once freed from the burden of wanting to be like a man, she is able to be a woman wholeheartedly. We are then able to taste the many pleasures inherent in creating a home. These are pleasures of the deepest sort, which we would have never even permitted ourselves to accept and experience as pleasures before.
You can purchase a copy of Bracha’s memoir in paperback or Kindle formats.