Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is I Is or Is I Ain't an Observant Jew?

It feels great to be writing again, and even better to be in dialogue with all of you again.  I'm going to post part of a reply someone sent me after my last blog and tell you why I'm posting it.  Here it is:
You are unique, and fitting in to a group is not easy.  I feel that way often.  I should say, I felt that way often.  When with Orthodox Jews, I always felt like an impostor, even during the years I covered my hair, arms and legs.  When around less observant, I'd get judgmental  (read: jealous) about their choices or lifestyle.  (It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making.). 

Ok, I totally relate to what she's saying.  COMPLETELY.  But it brings up so many questions for me.  For one, "fitting into a group is not easy." PREACH!  It is NOT easy.  At least not for me.  And so my question here is, to what extent do we need to let go of individualism to live in a functioning community, and to what extant do we need to hold onto our individualism so that we don't lose ourselves to the community.  If we are TOTALLY individuals it's hard to see how a community can function when your own needs and freedoms come before the needs of the community.  However, I think we can all agree that a community that comes at the cost of of the individual loses what makes the coming together of people so beautiful and meaningful.  Not to mention that the foundation would be frail and easily broken, in both cases.  There's definitely a balance somewhere in there, but I think each community has their balance somewhere on a spectrum between the two.  And I think that's good.  There is room in this world for EVERY KIND of community.  Example: A hareidi (ultra-frum) community often puts the community first.  This leaves little room for individual expression, but holds a certain container that wouldn't exist otherwise.  On the other side you have communities where individuals' freedoms come first, but I may not want to raise my kids where there is naked gardening.  Extremes, I know.  And honestly, naked gardening sounds kind of awesome, but not really.  

Moving on.  "When with Orthodox Jews, I always felt like an impostor." Hells to the yeah.  I mean, I was, am, doing it.  I dress modestly, I observe basic halacha.  It's not that so much as the fact the I don't know that I totally buy into it.  So while I don't go swimming on Shabbos, part of me is like, Rabbi dudes, I'm not going to build a raft.  I live next to a pond.  It's a hot summer day that lasts forever with my kids.  WHY CAN'T I GO SWIMMING?! Or this one: I've been with my husband for 15 years.  We know ourselves and our limitations.  So when I'm a niddah and feeling crazy emotional and yelling at my kids, and just need damn hug from my husband, WHAT THE HELL? I NEED a hug!   I'm not going to jump him.  I feel like it hurts my relationship to have to distance myself so much for 2 weeks every month.  And the whole Kosher thing?  I keep it for sure.  But in my heart, I don't care if there's a tiny bug in my salad.  I think having 4 sets of dishes (meat, dairy, Pesach) is ABSURD and impractical.  There's no way they lugged all that cookware through the midbar for 40 years.  And 6 hours?!  If the problem is that there might be meat in my teeth, how 'bout I floss?  Like I said, I keep all this now, but I do it with reservation and some resentment.  

Next. "When around less observant, I'd get judgmental  (read: jealous) about their choices or lifestyle.  (It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making)."  So this is a big one for me.  When I began my religious journey it was definitely with some hesitancy.  But for each mitzvah I took on, I never stepped back.  When I saw other's on their journeys live between worlds, (say, keep Shabbos while in Israel, come back to America for a visit and hit the movies Friday night) I got really judgmental.  And here you should definitely read jealous.  I would've felt like a hypocrite if I did it, but I resented the fact that I didn't.  When I see funky frum Jewish women sometimes uncover their hair, or worse yet, have their hair covered in an awesome tichel wrap, with a flowy shirt and a hot pair of jeans, OH MAN do I get jealous.  They look so COOL, and hip and awesome, and I look down at my jean skirt with my sneakers and my muffin top hat that looks so lame, but doesn't slip off like my tichels and this is a ridiculously long run-on sentence, but MAN I feel that burning jealousy.  How come they can do it and not be hypocrites, but I can't?  

And the second part of that sentence is an even more pressing question for me.  "It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making."  Here is my question:  Do I insulate myself in a world (community) where everyone holds to similar standards so that I am not tempted to veer from observance?  In the orthodox world, veering from orthodoxy is well, falling off the path.  And it's our choice, who we surround ourselves with, how we spend our time, what we fill our heads with, etc.  Just like an addict shouldn't hang out in a crack house, maybe a frum jew shouldn't choose to live somewhere that holds these temptations.  And are they just that, temptations?  Or is it possible that observancy does not flow with my heartsong?  That to be true to myself as I know me, there is space for me to live with a little less restriction and therefor less resentment and jealousy?  

I am asking these questions out loud as a process of sharing my thoughts.  Maybe you struggle with something similar?  Maybe not.  I know that I am not really looking for advice.  I think this is a personal path and that there is NO RIGHT ANSWER.  But if you feel inclined to share your struggles, choices, victories, I would love to hear.  I am ALWAYS open to dialogue.  Unless it's about what to watch tonight on Netflix.  

1. Hot apple cider on in a cold November rain (please tell me you just sang that in a nasally voice in your head like I did)

2. Make your own pizza night!
3. Beautiful friends that share their journey with me
4. My 2 year-old playing peek-a-boo with his bellybutton this morning
5. My husband giving me time to write this in the middle of the day
6. Waking up before the kids and getting a shower (YES!)  


  1. Okay, I don't know why it's highlighting some parts... I can't turn it off and I'm computer illiterate, so just ignore it. Thanks!

    1. I've never said this before in my life but Hells to the yeah! (don't even know exactly what it means, that's how old I am.) Anyway, when I hang out with frummies I sometimes feel judgmental about their emphasis on halacha rather than the light within it. When I hang out with people less observant than me, I sometimes feel judgmental about their laxity. So I guess I need to figure out what is behind all this judgment, other than my old hippie rebelliousness.

  2. I totally hear you Tovah. I have gone back and forth about how outwardly frum I am while still maintaining a kosher home and keeping Shabbat. Our choices about what exactly kosher means vs. what someone who is Chabad thinks kosher means, may be different, but I feel confident that my kitchen is kosher, you know? My choices about what we do on Shabbat may be different than what we did on Shabbat in Israel (no we don't go to the movies Friday night lol) but I still feel that our heart is in the right place, I only wish I lived somewhere surrounded by other Jews like you guys to spend time with on Shabbat! I covered my hair and wore skirts and sleeves in Israel, in New York I did neither, we went back to Israel and I went back to dressing more "modestly" because that is what the norms of the community we were part of dictated. I don't feel like a hypocrite because I think our insides and our outsides both grow and change and reflect each other. I have no idea if people judge me, but I don't think it's any of my business if they do. I make choices on a case by case basis (for example wearing certain kinds of head coverings to certain places with certain people) based on my own preference (fashion obviously hahaha) and what I consider appropriate, both to fit in and to be appropriate. I wouldn't wear a bathing suit to the supermarket and I wouldn't wear pants to shul. So my point is, I think it's okay to try things on and see how they feel, trust your intuition. Mo and I both know that there are certain things we would NEVER do, and certain things that just aren't meaningful to us so we don't do them. I do appreciate the value of doing something we don't want to do just because we feel like Hashem wants us to, but I don't think everything in life should be like that. There has to be a balance, and as you said, that balance is different for everyone. If someone tells you there's only one right way, run the other way! :)