Anyway, she was beautiful and smart and we shared interests and it was one of the most painful learning experiences I've ever gone through in my life. But that came later.
She'd been raised Catholic, but was now Wiccan. So when we moved out to California (a few months after I moved out of frumkeit), I started asking questions. Actually, I got more useful answers from a mutual friend of ours. Hmm... let's call my girlfriend R and this friend S. S was also a Wiccan. She's about 20 years older than R and I (R is only a few weeks older than me), and I started asking her about magic. I asked her if she'd ever experienced magic, and she said she had. I asked her why she thought it was real. How could she know if it was just in her mind or not. She answered: "Why would it matter?"
It was an interesting answer. She honestly wasn't concerned about whether magic was objectively real. It was the internal reality that mattered. I think the reason this made such an impact on me was that it made Wicca seem less like a religion to me. Not something competing with Judaism, if you see what I mean. Oh, it had religious trappings, and there were things in it that would have been outright avodah zarah had I ever done them (I didn't), but it's really only a story. And stories aren't dangerous.
I don't remember if it was R or S who recommended the book The Spiral Dance to me. But it was a great intro. The one quote I remember best from it was:
Wicca is a religion of poetry, rather than a religion of theology.How about that? And the book went into how in Wicca, you get different parts of yourself to communicate with one another. And all I could think was, "If this ever took over, therapists would be out of business." I can't help but think that it's a very healthy thing to learn how to get the various parts of your psyche to recognize and deal with the other parts. Hell, just recognizing the various parts that we all have in us is a big step.
Also, even when Wiccans do get into the issue of deity, a commonly held view is "All the gods are one god, all the goddesses one goddess, and the god and goddess are one." I don't know how much clearer it can be that this view is not truly polytheistic. Someone who really holds this way is only dealing with aspects of One Creator, rather than multiple deities. Sure, interacting with them on an individual level is a no-no for Jews (though I'm not sure that it's all that different from meditating on a single sefirah), but it seems perfectly acceptable for non-Jews.
And I figured that the frum community was never going to accept me, so why not go with this? I never -- and I need to emphasize this, as strange as it may seem -- never changed my convictions about Judaism. I was no longer an Orthoprax Jew, but I was still Orthodox in the sense that my Torah convictions were still alive and kicking. Kicking me, mostly. There was no way on earth that I was going to join one of the heterodox Jewish movements. I see them and Christianity and Islam all as religions which are just mistaken breakaways from real Judaism. Wicca wasn't. It was completely separate.
And while the reality of magic may not have been important to S, I can say from personal experience that it is real. Or rather, that it can be. I'm still convinced that 99% of all so-called magic is a hoax.
So why'd I leave Wicca? Oh, that's the easy part. My 4.5 months in California in 1997 were trippy. I drove off a 300' cliff and turned the first car I ever owned into tinfoil. I was in such pain that I can hardly think about it. Among other things, S, who R and I used to call Aunt S, and who was the one person I could talk to about issues between me and R... well, suffice it to say that it's coming up on their eighth anniversary.
And I'd been planning on moving back to Israel anyway, before I met R. And I'd been corresponding with a friend online during the whole mess who was living in Israel at the time, and she picked up the pieces of my broken heart (damn, if that isn't poetic), and I moved back to Israel and moved in with her, and we've been together now for 7.5 years, and our daughter is 5 years old.
See... I could never be frei in Israel. Maybe it's the thing the Ramban said about the Torah having been given for Eretz Yisrael, and that keeping the mitzvot outside of Israel was almost a kind of zecher of the real thing. A way to keep in practice until we got back to the real world. Maybe it's because I know how precarious things are in Israel, and didn't want to tip the scales. Whatever it was, I just could not even conceive of continuing my rebellion if I was back in Israel.
So I didn't.