(This post was originally written for the "Times of Israel" on October 21st, 2013. The original can be found here).
I'm not sure if you've seen the current video being shared virally about the situation with the illegal immigrants in Israel. It's gone viral to an extent that not even Grumpy Cat can compare to. In the past hour, I've counted sixteen people on my Facebook list of friends who've shared it. If you haven't seen the video, you can probably access it here under the title: Israel's New Racism.
What confuses me about this current video being circulated regarding the issue of illegal immigrants and Israel is the awful way so many people are judging Israel. The ridiculous, racist statements in that video do not reflect Israeli society at large, and, what's more, the ridiculous Eli Yishai (whose inane statements have come back to haunt every Jew and Israeli) isn't even in the government anymore. Yes, there are hillbillies in Israel who are racist and stupid - but there are also idiots in all our countries. Do we judge the US based on Rush Limbaugh? Or Saudi Arabia based on Osama bin Laden? Or France based on Gerard Depardieu? If not, then why use the folly of that video - voiced by a small segment of Israeli society - to color the nation as a whole?
We must also consider this glaring truth: if Israel was so godawful to these illegal immigrants - why do they keep going there? Perhaps - just perhaps - the situation is better in Israel than any other country in that area, and this is why the illegal refugees keep flocking to Israel, despite the overtures of this video to brand Israel - once again - as a brutal oppressor? Already, by January of 2012, the number of illegal immigrants numbered some 55,000 souls - and, today, they amount to over 60,000 persons, with the numbers growing daily. If Israel were so bad, would they keep coming? And, if you are going respond blithely that they come because it's better than their home country, yet, Israel is treating them unfairly, then I must ask the question: why are they going to Israel, specifically, and not Egypt, Sudan or Ethiopia?
No country just automatically allows illegal immigrants to settle there. Is it racist that the UK, Italy, Japan, France and China subscribe to jus sanguinis? Is it racist that the US dispenses only 50,000 green cards to lucky winners in a lotto each year and turns down thousands more each month? Is it racist that one must qualify to apply for Australian citizenship - after having met certain, crucial criteria? Is it racist that Canada has deported thousands of illegal Caribbean citizens back to their home countries? Is it racist that none of us can just pick up ourselves and go live, work and start a family in Mongolia - without first having been given permission to do so by the Mongolian government? Consider, in your own country, would the government sit quietly and grant citizenship to 60,000 random people who suddenly show out of the blue? A government's first responsibility is to it's own citizens; refugees, who are vying for citizenship are not a government's first priority, though they must be considered carefully, fairly and with compassion. The issue of refugees and illegal immigrants is a delicate and sensitive one in every country, and more so in Israel - a country built on immigrants and refugees. It is a complicated situation and I can offer no solution. I feel for the refugees, but, at the same time, I understand the difficulties Israel (a country of only 7 million people) faces with this complex issue of illegal refugees. As Jews, we are commanded to love the stranger - but, is loving the stranger an automatic granting of Israeli citizenship, or, is it somehow trying to change the situation in the home-country of these illegal immigrants and make things better for them there? How does Israel make this wrong - a wrong it did not commit and a wrong which it has been dragged into unwillingly - right? I don't know the answer - but I don't think automatically granting every single one of these poor people Israeli citizenship will solve the problem. Do these people even want to live in Israel? Do they want citizenship in a country which speaks a language, practices a culture, and lives a religion entirely different from everything they know? Or are they simply there because they are waiting it out - waiting for things to get better back home? For every sharer of that video who condemns Israel for being supposedly "racist" against the illegal refugees, I must draw a parallel to your own racism: you are assuming these people want to be in Israel, and want Israeli citizenship. Your stereotyping underlines your own racism and refusal to look at these poor souls as individuals with different hopes, dreams and aspirations - many of whom, I'm sure, would love nothing more than to be back in the comfort and familiarity of their home country, with the promise of a peaceful, secure and economically-viable future to look forward to, rather than living in the very foreign Israel.
My heart goes out to these people who are coming to Israel and seeking asylum in the Jewish state, but at the same time, why has there been no recognition of the fact that Israel has let these people in and allowed them to stay? Why is there no coverage of Egypt's treatment of these people: brutal execution, rapes, or immediate deportation back to their home country where certain death awaits these poor souls?
In discussing this current dilemma Israel faces, we cannot ignore the glaring fact, that, with the influx of illegal immigrants, there's been a huge upsurge in crime (murders, rapes - including rape of elderly Israeli women - and theft) and southern Tel Aviv is now, practically, unlivable for Israeli citizens. I understand that Israel - given its unique Jewish history regarding the holocaust - would be judged by a different standard than the rest of the world; and one would expect Israel to just take these poor people in, since the country was founded to take in the Jewish oppressed and poor of the world - but the question to be asked is: how? How does a tiny country like Israel deal with a refugee crisis of this magnitude? Should Israel grant them all citizenship? How? Does every Syrian refugee get citizenship in Turkey? Has Lebanon, or Syria given any Palestinian refugee citizenship? No (interestingly, the only place where Palestinians got citizenship was in Israel - 20% of the Israeli population are Arabs, but not many know that). So how does Israel deal with this situation, pray tell?
Furthermore, once again, in the comments being left by viewers of the video, we see words being twisted to describe this situation; words which were created reflect the unique horror of Jewish history, but, which, instead, are a modern, sick twisting, to turn the formerly oppressed into today's oppressors. Words like "pogrom", "Nazi" and "gas chamber" are used in response to the dispensation of this video. These words have been bandied about to, simply, discredit Israel and add legitimacy to the claim that Israel is an oppressor nation. I'm not sure what the conditions are like in the camps being built to house these people - and, to be sure, I'm sure it's not a place any of us would like to live. However, at the end of the day, Israel is trying it's best to give these people shelter and isn't sending them back to the murderous regimes in power in their home countries. Israeli money is being used to build these camps (termed "prisons" in the video) to keep these people safe and fed. Israel continues to open its doors for these illegal immigrants - while Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan and all the other countries which border the troubled state of Eritrea don't. What's factual is that none of the racist Israeli people in the video ever called for killing any illegal immigrant; rather, they agitate for, simply, the deportation of these souls. Israel may not be perfect - and it may not be handling this situation according to what other's think it should do - but until one of the people who share this video and believes in it's veracity start agitating for the Eritrean refugees to come to their countries, or until they start sending money for Israel to raise the living conditions in the camps, then I think they're being pretty hypocritical and simply demonstrating that this has less to do with the refugee crisis, and more to do with bringing down the Jewish state.
When I first read that basketball star Amar'e Stoudemire was Jewish, I felt immediately a surge of pride, as I'm sure many other Jews did. Another accomplished Jew. Another Drake, another Sammy Davis, another Lenny Kravitz, another Jerry Seinfeld, another Omri Casspi. Another Jew who showed that Jews were multi-colored, multi-dimensional and multi-talented.
"See? Jews can jump." The thought made me smile.
But that smile quickly faded away and was replaced with a raised eyebrow as I continued to read: there was no mention of how Stoudemire was Jewish, rather, only vague assertions made on his part that he was "Hebrew through his mother's side".
Yes, even the least Jewishly-educated person out there knows that this is a red flag of the highest proportions. Jews are Hebrews, yes, but we don't really use this archaic term anymore - rather, this term has been adopted by many oddball non-Jewish, non-Hebrew cults to assert that they are the true Heebs and we are... well... not. To say one is "Hebrew", rather than Jewish instantly warns the Jewish person that something is amiss. Black Israelites, Messianics, Jews for Jesus - all these subversive groups consistently and routinely use the word 'Hebrew' as a means to covertly enter the Jewish fold and distinguish themselves from the rabbinic Judaism which world Jewry today descends from. Even perfectly fine and accepted-by-mainstream-Judaism groups as the Samaritans and Karaites use the term 'Hebrew' to distinguish themselves from Judaism and Jews.
So does Stoudemire, apparently.
Yet, no one seemed to find anything amiss here. Stoudemire was famous, and rich; a man of substance in this fickle world where celebrity is the new idol-worship. Jewish publications ran the story with glee: Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Times of Israel. Everyone was touting Stoudemire's Jewishness without any journalistic integrity of delving into facts, and, instead, promoting this man's assertion. All of these Jewish websites, heralding the coming of Stoudemire as the New Jew on the Block, did nothing to research the most important and basic question: just how is Amar'e Stoudemire Jewish, or, to use his word, 'Hebrew'?
Being in Trinidad has taught me a number of things about Jewishness: it's a prize. There are many weirdos out there who want to be considered Jewish for reasons which have nothing to do with God, the people of Israel, or even Judaism. There's an odd, almost insane compulsion by many to assert they are Jewish and invent fanciful stories to boost their own sense of self-worth. Perhaps they are just as sincere in wanting to be Jewish as any sincere convert, but their methods signal deeply disturbed self-images and egos. I've had members of the local Jewish community lie about their Jewish backgrounds; I've come across messianics who contact me with lies about their true faith, and, instead, assert themselves as Jewish; I've heard Christian Pentecostal pastors deny their true ethnic heritage and claim a Jewish one instead. To be Jewish in many corners of the earth is a thing of pride. Perhaps it's the Jewish sense of survival across the millennia against all odds, or maybe it's the Jewish narrative of chosen-ness which captivates them makes them think the conversion process is beneath them and that they could just be Jews, just because they said so.
Although anti-semitism is on the rise, there is an equally disturbing trend of Jewish-philes on the rise today - Jew-philes who attempt to masquerade as Jewish but who aren't Jews in actuality. These people can do just as much to hurt the Jewish people as an anti-semite, since they do not represent Judaism/Jews/Israelis/Hebrews in any way, shape, or form, yet they purport to know who we are, what we're about, where we are now, and (most alarmingly) to be Jewish. Perhaps my experiences in Trinidad have made my a cynic, but in my mind, these people need to be shunned and ignored by world Jewry. To acknowledge their madness is to give it (and them) credence. Judaism is being painted black by the crazy anti-semites. We don't need another type of crazy to add to the mix.
Comb the annals of the internet, there is not one reference to answer the puzzling question of Amar'e Stoudemire's Jewishness. I did, however, come across one site which investigated the possibility that Stoudemire may have had a Jewish bubbe - but that site, after thoroughly researching marriage certificates and names, came to the ultimate conclusion: Amar'e Stoudemire is not a Jew.
To me, it's all fine and dandy if any random wants to call himself/herself a Jew, but it becomes hurtful when the Jewish establishment takes these people seriously, primarily based on their fame/fortune/combination of the two. Would anyone in the rabbinut schedule a meeting with the lady who wrote me on Facebook in 2010, insisting that she be introduced to the head of the Jewish community in Trinidad because she needed to explain to him how his denial of Yeshua as messiah invalidated his Jewishness and, instead, validated hers? Or would the Jewish Agency consider assisting the lady who claims she is Jewish because her ancestor in the 1600's had been born Jewish?
The answer is a resounding no to both instances.
No rabbi in the world, no one in the Israeli establishment, no one in world Jewry would consider either of these ladies to be Jewish because the fact is, neither of these women are Jewish.
However, what if these women were famous, celebrated for some skill or talent? What if these women commanded fortunes in the hundreds and thousands of millions? Would they be considered Jewish - based on their fanciful tales, ideas, delusions?
This week, Jerusalem Post ran an article which says that Stoudemire is considering making aliya.
Perhaps Jewishness is not so much a matter of descent or conversion, but rather one of bank account and celebrity.
That the Jerusalem Post chose to publish this story that Stoudemire is considering making aliya is a slap in the face of every convert who struggled before a bet din, and every potential candidate for aliya who was told their conversions are not recognised by Israel/RCA/charedim/whoever. It's dismissal of all born Jews who have no documents to back up their Jewishness, and, who, thus, cannot get married or buried in Israel.
I have no problem with Jews of color (hello! I'm a Jew of color!). I love the stories of hearing of Jewish celebrities who don't fit the popular mold of white Jew, maybe because one of their parents was black, or because they converted, or because they found out one of their distant ancestors was Jewish, or because they come from other diverse Jewish communities like the Indian Jews or Ethiopian Jews or Mizrachi Jews.
My problem stems from the fact that the rest of us are put through the wire proving our Jewishness while this man just stands up and says he is and is taken seriously by the establishment - be it Jewish media, the Israeli government and/or the rabbinut. I doubt the Ministry of Absorption in Israel would seriously consider Stoudemire's claims, and I'm pretty certain that the rabbinut wouldn't either. But the mere fact that the defender of truth in the highly democratic world of Judaism and Israel - the media - would continue to give this ridiculous man and his story space in their publications leave me worried for the future of Jewry, and hurt that he would be touted as Jewish when he clearly isn't, just because he is famous and rich.
May the day come that Amar'e Stoudemire joins the Jewish people through the recognised and established medium of conversion. When that day comes, he will be a credit to all of Israel, but as it stands today, Amar'e Stoudemire is not Jewish - and his assertions otherwise should not be given credibility.
I've written extensively in other places about my innate desire to return to being kosher (Facebook statuses, e-mails to close friends, even once my Blackberry Messenger status was updated to reflect this... way back when, when I actually had a Blackberry) - and I don't simply mean a return to the Hebrew dietary laws, rather, a complete return to being religiously Jewish in every sense of the word, in every sphere of my life. While I am an odd duck in the modern Orthodox world (in that I respect and admire other streams of Jewish thought and can find merit in them), I am, at the end of the day most attuned to a dati leumi sort of lifestyle. I love modern Orthodoxy in so many ways I cannot count - my beliefs coincide most forcefully with this particular Jewish denomination. But being Jewish is never primarily about belief - it's about practice, and as it stands, my practice puts me squarely in the pews of a Reform congregation (and I don't mean this disparagingly at all - but that's really not who I am).
I believe that life is a journey and every journey has purpose, even if we can't always fathom that purpose while it is happening. While I lived in Israel, I was very precise in my modern Orthodox practice. Coming to Trinidad for the past four years has subdued my practice (and that's putting it mildly). I won't rehash how "good" I was in Israel, nor will I tell you how "bad" I've become in Trinidad - what I will tell you is what I don't/won't do in Trinidad: I don't eat pork, shellfish, or any of the other treif animals which Trinis tend to consume (including, but not limited to: horse-meat, iguana-meat, turtle-meat and shark-meat. I do, however, eat treif chicken, beef, lamb and duck - Trinidad has no capacity for kashering any meat, so I am stuck with eating treif chicken, beef, lamb and duck). I won't celebrate Christmas or other non-Jewish religious holidays (as one of the most diverse societies in the world, Trinidad boasts the Hindu festival of Divali and the Muslim holiday of Eid-Ul-Fitr, alongside Christmas and Easter, as national holidays). I won't eat anything during Pesach that doesn't have a kosher l'pesach hechsher on it (unless it's fresh fruits or vegetables). I don't go to bed without saying Shema (i.e., I always say it), but I don't always pick up my siddur and say the whole bedtime Shema. And finally, like most Jews - regardless of religious practice - I put everything aside and definitely won't eat or drink or shower on Yom Kippur. And that's the extent of my Jewish practice in Trinidad. I've fallen off the bandwagon - and I'm desperately trying to hoist my muddy self back up onto it.
I am ashamed of how far I've sunk into being treif. It's such a slippery slope, giving up one part of my Jewish practice, and then another, and then another... ad infinitum. Four years is a long time to be in kibbutz galyot in a land where there isn't much to propel and fortify a person's singular quest for modern Orthodox practice. I yearn for the day I can return to Israel, where being Jewish is as easy as breathing - but until that day comes, I'm in Trinidad for a reason, and I have to make the best of things and just make it work somehow or the other. (As an aside, I'm stuck here, partially because of my own fault. I'm doing my MBA here, and am currently stuck on my final course - Finance - against which I have the most enormous mental block. The moment I pass this course and am handed by MBA degree, I am hauling tail from Trinidad and headed directly for Israel. But I need to buckle down, eradicate that mental block and pass Finance. In a way, I kind of wonder if I'm using Finance as an excuse to stop myself from going back to Israel - as an only child whose parents, three grandparents and aunt I'm very close with (my mom's sister, Annmarie) are still alive, I can't say that the thought of leaving them doesn't scare me. But anyway, this is a rant for another day and for another blog. Let's get back to the issue at hand: me being terribly un-kosher).
As I said earlier, everything happens for a reason - and I can partially ascertain a few reasons for my having to leave Israel/a large Jewish community and being in Trinidad:
1. Being close to my parents, grandparents and aunt - while I've always been close with these six amazing people, who've taught me so much and helped shape me, I've always been the child in their midst. Spending these past four years with them and growing into a late twenty year old adult, I've begun to view them as peers, and gotten to understand them on entirely deeper, more human levels; thus appreciating them differently and loving them more.
2. Learning to appreciate the various Judaic denominations outside of my particular modern Orthodox mindset - in Israel, I turned my nose up at other streams of Jewish thought, and thought of modern Orthodoxy as "the way". Coming home to Trinidad, to a Jewish community which is, at once, pluralistic and non-denominational, I've managed to see Judaism from a unique vantage point which allows me insight into all various streams of thought which abound: Conservative, Chabad, Reform, secular, atheist - and I've ben able to appreciate all these denominations and viewpoints, and, furthermore, been able to understand myself and modern Orthodoxy in a much deeper way, and managed to learn the beauty of acceptance of those who don't share my views (I want to expand on this point more thoroughly in a blog one day).
3. Being away from Israel has made me miss it more and struggle to understand it more - being away from Israel these past four years made me miss it so much that I voraciously read up on the Israel I'd left behind. My knowledge and understanding of Israel has widened and deepened exponentially in relation to how much I miss it. I understand Israeli culture, Israeli politics, Israeli entertainment, the Israeli religious establishment, Israeli defence, Israeli art, Israeli literature in ways I wouldn't have had I never left and stayed in the Anglo bubble in which I lived whilst I was there. Absence doesn't just make the heart grow fonder - it makes the mind grow wiser as well, it seems.
So yes, being in Trinidad serves a higher purpose (that, and I do love Trinidad tremendously. I am not roughing it here by any stretch of the imagination), but at the same time, being here has basically eradicated all traces of my Jewish practice - and for this, I am truly regretful. The thing is, you see, the Jewish community here is small. No - that's not the right word. The Jewish community of Trinidad is miniscule. To put things into perspective for you: on an island of 1.2 million persons: a total of twenty-something are Jews. Yeah, yeah, the official word is "there are anywhere between fifty to a hundred Jews on the island, depending upon who's in the country at any given time" - but that's misleading in the most manipulative and most watered-down sense of the word "Jew". The Trinidadians who ascribe to Judaism as their only religion, who consider the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their only Deity, who won't go to church and bow before Jesus, number all of only twenty-something persons. I kid you not. Yeah when there's Rosh haShana or Chanukah, we have large turnouts, but the fact is, in Trinidad, we bandy around the word "Jew" quite loosely, in order to up the demographics for whatever reason. With such a tiny core group - and within that group you find all the varying Jewish beliefs under the sun - it is difficult to find support for the modern Orthodox lifestyle. Mind you, I know that, ultimately, the fault lies with me - but there is a certain ease which comes with having others share your mindset. I love my fellow Trinidadian-Jews and I wouldn't trade a single one of them for a million modern Orthodox Heebies, but at the same time, I'm the only representative modern Orthodox person here on the island, and, as such, can feel quite lonely at times (concurrently, we only have one person who is traditional, and one person who is Conservative, and only one who is Reform, and only one who is Conservadox, etc. - and I'm sure all of them yearn for a fellow Trinidadian-Jew who will share their belief/viewpoint/practice). I don't want to feel like an odd duck walking around the length and breadth of the island with a kipa on my head and tzitzit blowing in the wind. I don't want to feel different. But isn't that the very point of being Jewish: the otherness/the separateness/the different-ness? The meaning of the Hebrew word kadosh (which translates as 'holy', but is absorbed erroneously into the non-Jewish mindset as 'sacred') really means separate or different. To be a kadosh/holy nation is to be separate and different. True, in my personal little pickle, this is quite an extreme version of being different - as I'd be the only weirdo prancing around in a kipa in Trinidad - but maybe it wouldn't be so bad? I'm a person who's easily prone to embarrassment, and even as I think of going out in public, looking conspicuously Jewish, I'm blushing quietly in the privacy of my bedroom. But again: maybe it won't be so bad? Trinidadians on a whole are a quite accepting people. The religious diversity of our people has led to us being pretty cool about other religions, and with Judaism so severely under-represented on the islands, kipas aren't really identifiably Jewish to the average Trini. However, at the same time, there is a definite threat of radical Islam and secular Israel-hating present on the island, so I know if I do opt to wear kipa (and I so badly want to for religious reasons) there is the odd chance that I can attract unwanted attention. But still, the primary reason of not wanting to be different is what makes me balk from donning a kipa full-time in Trinidad.
Perhaps I could just move past the kipa thing on the outside and start wearing it all the time (or as often as I could) at home. That would be simple enough; provided random guests don't show up and quiz me mercilessly about the piece of cloth I have attached to my head with bobby pins. Kipa is worn in order for us to always be in a state of prayer and since this is my confessional of sorts, I guess I must confess about prayer here: I don't say my blessings the way I used to - since I knowingly eat treif food (albeit it only chicken, beef, lamb and duck) - which I know is usually made with some sort of dairy, I've slipped from no longer counting between dairy and meat meals, to completely disregarding saying brachot before meals and bensching afterwards. Furthermore, despite my built-in self-regulated insistence on saying Shema before bed (thanks, in no small part to my mother who always made me say bedtime prayers), I don't really say any other sort of Judaically sanctioned prayer during the day (ok, in my defence - as pathetic and poor as it may be - I do sometimes do sporadic bursts of "thanks God!" for particular good things that happen, but, admittedly, these are few are far between). I've noticed that with my ever-decreasing focus on food-related prayer came a directly related decrease in prayer overall. Running alongside this is an overall lowering of interest in Judaic reading material (although my Zionist reading material has remained constant and even, possibly, increased).
Indeed, the highway to treif is broad.
Which brings me to my final article of neglect: Shabbat. I'm always ever so excited about incoming Shabbats. But hosting Shabbat is an enterprise in itself - and my bachelor-type existence doesn't make such a weekly venture possible. And even if I could, while I know there are members of the Trinidadian-Jewish community who would show up, the vast majority wouldn't be able to: for work reasons, for distance reasons - I know it's a difficult day. We're living in a largely Christian country, and Saturday has become, by and large, either a work day, or the only day we're able to run errands. And so, most Shabbats are spent by myself. But I am always excited - the setting of the sun on a Friday evening has become something of a ritual to me; no matter what I'm doing, I stop, I pause and I take note of the fact that the Shabbat is upon me. I usually attempt to light candles, and though this is a regular practice for me to light candles, it isn't an every-Friday-night sort of thing. Ok, give Jack his jacket (or Nick his kipa), I probably miss candle-lighting maybe ten times for the yea, but that's still ten times too much. And even though I regularly light candles, making kiddush doesn't always naturally happen afterwards. Things happen - and I violate the Shabbat inadvertently. It's not that I want to - it's not that I don't want to afford her the respect that we're commanded to; but it's not easy. Yes, this is me making pathetic, fumbling excuses for my own mess. I tell myself, "Nick, you must keep Shabbat today", but then something would happen and I won't. And being the eternal procrastinator that I am, I always suck it up and think to myself "Next week! Next week for sure!" It's not that I even usually go out on Fridays. Generally my (exclusively in Trinidad) non-Jewish friends are quite accepting and understanding of this weird Friday rule I have and they don't push me or try to coerce me to go out (in fact, all of my friends are quite supportive of my Jewish oddities all-around), so the onus really is on me.
I need to start upping my practice because I feel spiritually empty without having all the fences of Jewishness around me. I ritually, everyday, place my Magen David necklace around my neck, but it is an empty gesture, devoid of merit. My Jewishness is not just identification - as proud as I am to be affiliated with this honored religion, my soul craves the practice. It's a matter of discipline, when you think about it, isn't it? It's so easy to develop bad habits - but so unbearably difficult to break those bad habits once they've been formed. And it's funny, but even though it's difficult to try to break bad habits, it isn't hard once you've got the hang of being good, again, is it? I'll give you an example: last week, I somehow managed to keep kosher! I got to Thursday, and thought to myself "hold on, Nick, did you just keep kosher for the past three days?" Sure enough I had! Without even consciously trying, I did it. I had salmon and tuna, salads and bread, rice and cereal, and nuts and even more salad (lots of our foodstuff is imported and carry recognizable hechshers). Keeping kosher wasn't even hard! The thing is, you see, I must admit, my primary aim had been to eat healthy and lose a couple of pounds, and in so doing, I inadvertently took to keeping kosher. I kept kosher, not for the sake of God, but for the sake of vanity. It was a sobering thought to think that all of my excuses of things being so hard, blah blah blah, really didn't become hard when I had to put myself first. It was a lot shameful when I looked at it from that perspective. But the fact is, I was able to keep kosher, and though I didn't realize I was keeping kosher and didn't keep kosher for the right reasons - I proved that I could do it. If I could keep kosher in Trinidad (and not eat meat for three days!), I can definitely stop making excuses and do the rest: I can keep Shabbat and I can say my prayers as well. It's just three little things to get back in order, and the buck must stop somewhere, and that somewhere is here and now.
So this is what I've promised myself I'll do: I blog about it and keep track of what I'm doing and how I'm doing and whether I'm progressing and continuously upping the ante of my Jewish practice. Maybe I'll come on here one day and type: "Kept Shabbat, prayed three times today, completely kept kosher, gave tzedakah" and be able to hold my head Jewishly high. But for right now, my head is looking at the ground, Jewishly embarrassed.
The target date is set: tomorrow, with the incoming Shabbat, I will strive to keep it to the best of my abilities. The fact remains, I've kept Shabbat before - it is no insurmountable task - and had Shabbat been some sort of miracle to lose weight or look good, I would've been doing it in a heartbeat. I've kept kosher before (hell, I even did it again last week!), so that shouldn't be hard. I've never really managed to pray/go to shul three times a day; so this is the one real challenge I face - but I'm going to start small. I'll commit myself to saying Shema three times a day and maybe the Amidah as well (can one even say Amidah without a minyan? I'll have to check up on that) and just go slowly, one prayer at a time.
So it starts tomorrow. I'm excited and not a bit nervous. I'll keep you in the loop.