The Heartbreak of Being a Religious Disabled Jew

We were lying on the beaches of Netanya, gazing upon the beautiful full moon and starry skies of Israel. At all times in Israel, I felt closer to the heavens, but even more so this night. Our fingers delicately intertwined, as we talked about everything from that week’s Torah portion to soccer.

“You know what I learned recently?” I asked. “People don’t actually get it on in the yichud room! They eat and exchange gifts! What the crap? When I get married, I wanna get things started out on the right foot as soon as possible, if you know what I mean. Now that would be a great gift!”

Belly laughing, he replied in his Israeli accent, “well, then, at our wedding, we will have armed guards outside our yichud room! How are you so perfect? You’re the most amazing person I’ve met.” And, then, he rolled over and passionately kissed me. My heart fluttered, bolts of electricity pulsed through my veins, and I was ever-so relieved that he wasn’t a super nigia (no touching) frummie (religious Jew).

Over the last several months, he had become my closest friend in Israel, a country to which I was a new immigrant. Our friendship blossomed into a romantic relationship over time, and, for the first time in years, I had feelings of love toward a man. He brought with him the hope of loving again after a devastating heart-break years ago.

Two weeks later, he walked into my beautiful Jerusalem garden apartment with his head hanging low. Adorably, his yarmulke was shifted to the side of his head, and his long Nachlaot-style tzitzit shifted back and forth with each step he took toward me. As he sat down, he looked up at me with terribly red eyes. I was expecting it. Ever since he told his family about me and told me he loved me, he retreated.

“You’re about to cry, aren’t you? Please don’t. It’s okay,” I said and handed him his belongings that I had already gathered in anticipation of the impending break up.

With the tears beginning to stream down his face, he said, “I’m just so sorry. I’m just not strong enough to deal with your disability.” Gutted. Why did he have to go and tell the truth? Why couldn’t he just tell me I was a bitch or mind-numbingly boring?

“Wait… But, I was disabled when we met. I was disabled when we were friends. I was disabled when we were lovers. Why, now, are you too weak? You said you loved me. When your future wife gets in an accident and becomes disabled, are you gonna leave her too?” As much as I wanted to rip his yarmulke up and slap him with his tzitzit, I also wanted to console his terribly broken heart.

“I know, and I do love you. I thought I might be okay with it, but I’m just not. A friend was telling me how her aunt got ALS, and her husband resented her disability so much that he began abusing her. I don’t want to become like that. I’m so sorry. You’re the most beautiful, amazing, wonderful person I know, and I’m just an asshole. You deserve better.”

My heart broke more for him than for myself in that moment. He hated making this choice. He hated hurting his best friend. So, I did the only thing I could, I embraced him, as he sobbed into my neck.

“I shouldn’t be the one to be crying. I should be the one comforting you. I didn’t shed a tear during my divorce, but I can’t stop crying at the thought of leaving you.”

“It’s okay,” I replied. “I wouldn’t want to sign up for this either.”

He left, and I revisited that crushingly heart-breaking pain. This time though, it wasn’t just the pain of losing a love, but the devastation of accepting that, just maybe, this was my lot in life…to be alone.

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To mend the broken pieces of my heart and to regain hope, I visited the kotel (the western wall) every day for forty days. Through fevers, the flu and the harassment of beggars, I wailed at the wailing wall. I prayed for peace, health and love for myself, my friends, my family, and, most of all, him. With time and the pursuit of many men, (mostly arsim and taxi drivers yelling out of their cabs, “kusit!” meaning hot chick or “wy! He niret kmo Barbie!,” meaning wow, she looks like Barbie.) I began to heal.

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Finding love for anyone is challenging and often a roller coaster of butterflies to heart break. But, for someone with a disability, finding true love is even more difficult. The f***ing roller coaster is usually out of service.

Stigma is attached to dating someone with a disability. People assume I am barren, incapable of having sex, a huge burden on those around me and that adding me into the equation of their lives would simply make theirs more difficult. Boyfriends in the past have kept me a secret from their friends and families, as well as ending our relationship because their parents didn’t approve of me. (Well, the truth is, only mothers hate me. Dads love me.)

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Before I converted to Judaism and dated non-Jewish and (mostly) secular Jewish men, I was often in a relationship, even if they were in secret. And, for as long as I’ve been in college, men have pursued, to the point of stalking, me. However, the orthodox Jewish community is even more close-minded to loving a woman confined to a chair, even if she is beautiful, wonderful, amazing, successful and religious.

Rabbis often advise the able-bodied to not marry the disabled. Matchmakers only set disabled singles up with other disabled singles, one defect for another. Families don’t want a disabled woman to marry their sons and produce no offspring. Synagogues remain inaccessible. Religious Jewish singles events are often held in inaccessible venues. The disabled are viewed as those to whom we must give charity, not those we are to love.

While I was coined in katamon, Jerusalem, as “the hot girl in the wheelchair,” rarely did a religious man ask me out, unless he was married or a grandfather of six. No one ever set me up with anyone, oh, except for the grandfather of six. Guys discussed whether to ask me out, and their friends discouraged them. The only religious men, who loved me were kohanim (priests), who can’t marry converts because they are descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother. Forbidden fruit? Shiksappeal? Probably.

Now, six years since my conversion, I have settled on my expectation to marry a man dedicated to the mitzvot, as I have become. My groom may not wear a lopsided yarmulke and long tzitzit, but he will have a pure heart of gold and the strength it takes to love “the most beautiful, wonderful, amazing person” he’s ever met.

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4 thoughts on “The Heartbreak of Being a Religious Disabled Jew

  1. Haha, Elana. The charedi grandpa asking me if I’d be interested in going to the mikveh and then having sex with him is hardly the same as asking me out. But, good point. Touché. #1 thing I don’t miss about Israel: shady charedis.

  2. This is my first time be introduced to your blog. I recently went through a breakup with similar details. My boyfriend met me with my disability, loved me with my disability, but ultimately left me because of it. I’ve been through many break ups, but this one is a different kind of pain. Thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing. Thank you helping me find hope.

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