Thursday, May 05, 2005

Opening Up

Just read an interesting piece from Mirty. It touches on an issue I've been thinking about for some time. Should I "come out" and tell my family about how I've changed regarding my religious beliefs and level of observance? As it stands now, my family is well aware that I've changed quite a bit. If I had to speculate how they view me, I'd say that they think I'm still religious, still technically observant, but with very little sincere commitment, and probably relying on every possible leniency I can find. Kind of how they think most Modern-Orthodox people relate to Judaism. They might suspect that there's a lot more going on than just that but they prefer to maintain a "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy and stay in the dark on exactly how frum I may or may not be.

My hesitation in opening up to them is not because I'm afraid that they're going to be angry or upset at me. They probably will be to some extent, but that doesn't really bother me very much. My concern stems more from the fact that I'm pretty sure that they will feel it necessary to take some unilateral action against me. For example, cutting off contact to some degree. Or not allowing me to spend time with my nieces and nephews. Maybe I won't be allowed to stay with them when I come to visit. I have an aunt who stopped being religious and she was pretty much cut off from the rest of the family (even some of her own siblings stopped maintaining contact). While I can't be sure exactly how they'd react, what I expect would happen is that upon hearing the news, they would immediately seek out a Rav and ask a shaila about what to do, how to relate to me, etc. Judging from the increasingly extreme halachic positions that my family has been adopting the past few years, I can't rule out any possibilities, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.

Anyway, last week on Pesach, my mother was walking to the bus stop with me, and she mentioned that she had spoken to a distant aunt who told her that a certain cousin is no longer religious, and how his father was taking that development quite hard. Then she asked me,

"Why would someone become non-religious?"

Wow. How should I answer that?, I wondered. Should I use this opportunity to tell her my own feelings about why I was becoming less and less religious? No, I definitely couldn't do that. Although she might have been using that question to gauge my own feelings on the issue, I very seriously doubted she was prepared to hear me explain all the reasons why I was heading down the path I was. My mother is not able to handle arguments that go against dearly held beliefs very well. Well aware that she doesn't have the capability to effectively counter convincing intellectual arguments, she tends to just hunker down defensively, occasionally making a feeble attempt to fend off the assault on her beliefs, all the while trying desperately to block out the unpleasant implications these ideas are causing her to face. So I just gave her a vague answer, telling her that there are lots of different motives, depending on the person, and everyone has their own reasons.

But not wanting to drop the ball on this entirely, in case she really did want to face the cold hard facts of the direction her son's life was headed, I posed a question of my own.

"Do you think you know me?" I gently probed.

When she replied that she was pretty sure that she didn't, I told her that if she ever wanted to ask me anything about my life, about who I am, about how I feel about things, I was willing and ready to discuss it with her. I had only one condition: that it be asked out of a sincere desire to understand me and not as an attack demanding an explanation.

She thought about that for a few moments, and replied, "Well, I'm not sure I'd want to do that."

I was so not surprised. Let's stick with "Don't ask. Don't tell."

So I'm pretty sure how my family feels (well, at least my parents, but I think they're a fair representation of the rest of the bunch) about getting to know me better. This might work fine for them, but unfortunately, it doesn't work at all for me. I don't find such a relationship satisfying. I need depth in my relationships. Substance. Realness. Not superficial shallowness where we pretend to not see what's going on, and avoid all issues of any import whatsoever. I can't stand spending time with my relatives and not being able to express how I really feel about things. I hate having to hide from my family about who I really am. Just thinking about it makes me feel constricted and stifled. I want to stop pretending. Stop having to muzzle myself. Stop keeping all my views, thoughts, experiences, ideas, feelings, and my whole life bottled up inside of me when I'm around my family (or at the most, open up a tiny bit and be super careful not to step somewhere that I might break some eggshells). But I can't. I have to remain quiet. Because if I do open up and come out of the closet I risk losing any relationship I have with them at all.

So what should I do? Take the risk of being cut off and ostracized from my family, but possibly gaining a more fulfilling and meaningful relationship? Or play it safe and keep my mouth shut, ensuring that there will still be some sort of connection with them all, albeit not one of any great depth or significance?

24 comments:

mike said...

DH:
It seems to me that you really have no option. In either case you will not achieve the deeper relationship with your family that you desire. If you muzzle your feelings, you will maintain a kesher with your family, which I assume is your wish. True, you will not obtain the deeper relationship you want, but that will also not occur if they cut you off. Life is full of tradeoffs. Good luck.

The Hedyot said...

In either case you will not achieve the deeper relationship with your family that you desire.

Not neccessarily. If it was a foregone conclusion, you'd be right. But it's not. Like I said, it's a gamble. The question is, is it worth risking the meager relationship I currently have to possibly attain a better one, or should I not risk it and play it safe with what I have?

mike said...

DH: the answer lies in your heart only. Perhaps you have one particular relative with whom you can confide and share your views with.

LostSpirit said...

Boy what a predicament! But I think Mike makes a strong point when he says “Life is full of tradeoffs” and I found that I only started feeling the truth in that statement, in many aspects of life, when I started thinking for myself, and acting on what I believed where the best chooses for me and my kids.

I found that for all those who are following the safe root of letting others think for them, and following blindly the “system”; they are avoiding the reality of that statement, I have had many friend who have asked me “so now you have moved away are you any happier?” and I always try to answer by explaining that chooses in life have tradeoffs, and that there are fewer things I am unhappy with now compared to how things use to be, there answer is always the same typical answer “well you just should have done like we all have done and stayed fully in the system, and that way if any thing goes wrong you are not to blame”.

First time I have come across your blog so I do not know too much about you, but I would say that if your family is any thing like the typical “Frum” family, then yes they will reject you and it will only damage your relationship with them. but any way I don’t know where you have this fairy tale image of open family’s where every one can express themselves, and be respected for who they are, this must be some kind of funny image you picked up from the outside world, because there is not much place for that in the “system”!!!!

Ok sorry my comment turned out a bit too long, but as a word of advice I would say that even thou family is one of the most important things in life, it still is not every thing, and sooner or later you will find that you can not live the rest of your life according to the script they have prepared for you. So think hard, and go with your heart. Good luck.

daat y said...

is it possible your ambivalence is internal.do you have to be exactly like your parents or not at all like them.

rebelmo said...

No way. There is no way that they will accept you. It is selfish to demand or confront them on this just to make you feel better. It will make them feel bad, real bad.

Dont go there.

Just accept them as they are and show respect for their traditions and rituals.

Jengenis said...

take the risk...if u don't u'll always wonder wat if you had

Dayli said...

Difficult choice. I tend to agree with Mike, though. Assuming the chances are high that your family, at least your close relatives, will reject you - the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" allows you both to continue maintaining some type of relationship without causing each other ubearable pain.

While I think it's sad, that parents would cut off contact with their children for ANY reason - regardless of what the reason is - it's your (our) reality. And in the interest of love, respect and mutual interest, I would think it's wise to keep the extent of your change from them.

Perhaps you can find some solace in the fact you are saving them from potential pain. That may very welkl be worth the discomfort of being quiet.

Rachel Ann said...

I would tell if by doing so you would save them greater heartache; for example much better you spill the beans and tell them exactly what is happening rather than someone else who heard it from someone else who "saw it" well, was told by the person who saw it.
If you maintaining a front, and publically not doing anything against Halacha, then there is no reason just now to say anything if disclosure would cause pain.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to your problem. I'm going through someting similar -- I left Orthodoxy (and Judaism, for that matter) and became a Muslim 3 months ago.

My problem is that "coming out" will result in losing my wife and kids -- something I'm not willing to do.

I'd suggest keeping your situation secret as long as possible. Why cause more heartache for those around you.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

Ah, dilemmas. DH, in principle, you'll probably feel much better having gotten over your parents' reaction to your coming out, than you would wondering how they would react (do you want to carry that for the next 10 years? 20? 30?) OTOH, there's something to be said about not being "in their face" about it. For all it's worth, let me tell you about how I did and didn't do it: Prior to my leaving home (and frumkeit,) My parents and I would fight loudly. over observance and cultural things: The size of my kipa, whether I wore a hat or suit on a date, the people I hung out with, the religion of the women who left messages on my answering machine, you name it. Once, my father gave me a "first person testimonial" book of a baal teshuvah. I sensed that this was directed at me and threw it across the room. (I was never "unfrum" while living with them.)

I moved out and began experimenting and we stopped fighting. Wore a kipa and observed their mitzvot while visiting (still do.) I never did a full "coming out." When they continued to press me with shiduchim, I'd say "I'm already seeing someone." (Earlier, they had made it clear that they would not admit to the people they networked with for shiduchim what my desires were.)

It was actually my fiancee (now Mrs. Moreh) who "came out" for me. We were there for Pesah (10+ years ago) and my mom asked why we didn't come more often. MM explained that we feel free to travel on Shabbat and hagim and that we're happy to come by and visit anytime (and not stay for 2-3 days.) Mom said she understood, though that wouldn't work for her and my dad (and that I shouldn't tell my dad, because he's old and this might kill him.) BTW, I'm told that Papa Moreh stays up nights worrying that my 40-year-old-still-single-for-all-intents-and-purposes-yeshivishe brother is "a gay," so go figure. On my wedding day, my mom said to me, with my dad present "we want you to know that we accept you for who you are, despite your choice to live life differently than we had intended" (paraphrased.) Wow, what a relief.

Things are not 100% neat and clean. I invited my parents to my grad-school graduation, and didn't wear my kipa under my cap. OTOH, they've never been to my house (it's the mess) so I'm not sure if I'd cover my head if they came by. My parents know that we have a house in the country, that's 20 miles from the nearest shul, which we attend (connect the dots, a car helps.) We have no kids (which is an issue in itself,) but we have not had to deal with stuff over them (e.g., where they go to school or how they should behave when they visit Bubbe & Zaide Moreh.)

For the most part, I do things their way on their turf, my way on my turf (and mostly keep my perents off of it.)

I think there's something to be said for a little bit of restraint, primarily because of the tendency to go "in everyone's face" with one's "new-found-freedom." (Think of SAHM4yrs' husband turning the lights on and off in the kids' room.) But, "don't ask don't tell" will only take you so far. Your parents' not asking is also a very potent weapon in their arsenal. It keeps you off balance. My opinion is that if they ask, do tell. The "ask" is likely to come in questions about who you're dating or would like to date, what you're doing or did some weekend, why you choose to live in a certain place, etc. Try not to be afraid. (BTW, having a shrink helps.)

Ben, been there, sorta done that.

Air Time said...

You need to do a cost-benefit analysis that works for you.

Ask yourself what the possible price is for coming out, and what you will get for paying that price.

And besides, you never know how your parents will react. A number of years ago I had a similar choice. I chose to talk with my parents about my disinterest in judaism and religion.

They were surprisingly very supportive. They said that regardless of the path I chose, they would always love me and I would always be their child. Nothing was going to change that. They did insist that as long as I was in the house I play the role, which I understood and was OK with.

The Jewropean said...

anonymous,

you might want to contact this organization:
www.jewsforjudaism.org

they might be able to clarify some points on islam.

Tamara said...

I feel for you Hedyot. These decisions are difficult. I think there is some solace in knowing that you are not the only one dealing with these issues. As a matter of fact, it's not only frums that deal with this. I was raised reform, am still 'reform' by some standards; however, I am more observant than I have been in the past and am not opposed to digging deeper into my Judaism. Trust me, if I decided to keep a kosher home (which I am thinking of since I'll soon be moving), I'm sure my family would "whisper" behind my back.

Imagine the flip side of your dillema: I went to a birthday party, on Saturday, during Pesach. This was for my step-niece. I figured there would be deli platters and bread and stuff so I brought along a box of matzah. I am pretty sure they were a bit bewildered when I made my sandwich on matzah, and I brought my own Kosher for Pesach chips too. :) I felt so good about my choices because of the 8 or so Jewish adults I was the ONLY one observing Passover. It really really suprised me because we were raised to keep it; and my grandparents were observant and born in Poland.

Sooo, even though it's different, I have my own dillemas. If I wanted to keep kosher, eating with family and such would be an issue to resolve.

I wish you peace and strength in your choices. I am a firm believer that we must live our lives. "If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you". I try to live by these words.

Ben Sorer Moreh said...

Both Anon & Jewropean amaze me. Anon, did you not consider the ramifications to your personal/family life when you converted to Islam? My question is not regarding Islam, as much as your choosing it with expectation of staying in the closet. If you believed enough in Islam to convert, why don't you have the courage to come out to your partner (with whom you volunteered into an adult relationship?) Jewro, why is it that you and many other Orthos believe that every person who's "questioning" should submit themselves to a Rav or kiruv web site?

Anonymous said...

Anon, did you not consider the ramifications to your personal/family life when you converted to Islam?

Sure -- for months before. The question boiled down to one's relationship with God vs one's relationship with other people -- and how to make both function in a way that fulfills the greatest needs.

why don't you have the courage to come out to your partner (with whom you volunteered into an adult relationship?)

I would -- but doing so would force a situation of breaking up the family -- something I'm not willing to do. Not to mention the social impact on the children.

Anonymous said...

Jewropean:

I'm not willing to discuss religious beliefs here -- suffice it to say that I'm very familiar with Jewish Apologetics (having worked in the field).

I only posted to comment on the social/personal dilemma of leading a "double life"

Anonymous said...

I think you shouldn't change the status quo until you have to. Your parents brought you into this world and raised you and so you owe them something. If the status quo must change, let them change it. I don't think your personal comfort level is worth the pain they will receive when they openly hear from their son what they will consider words of kefirah.

This is the first time I'm visiting this blog so I don't know you and I don't know what books on Judaism you've read. I would suggest The Faith of Judaism by Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein (printed in the 40's or 50's I believe) as well as the writings of R. Samson Raphael Hirsh. Judaism need not just be a religion of dry rituals. It can be intellectually facinating. Well, I'm just sharing my thoughts with you. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Vew vewy intewesting.

Hedyot - First of all, how ya doing. As for your issue, I'm all for outs - then again, I'm not you and am probably only speaking my own personality here. But I know that I'd prefer to live completely honestly and not think that I'm "hiding" something.

Aswell, I'd say that logically speaking, your take on religion is a lot closer to reality than theirs. Let /them/ hide in the shadows.

Anonys - d'ya know how annoying it is whan someone writes anonymously? ;-) As for Me though - - well I... Anyhow -

The kiruv man ('who worked in Jewish apologetics') Man(!) do I wish I knew who you were! I mean to say that I probably /do/ know you and would love to know which of the people that I know, happen to be you.

I mean, kiruv guys going frei is fun enough, but going /Muslim/?! Well, that's just awesome!

Then again, I'm sure you're not anyone that everyone knows, though Gottleib and Berger happen to be Muslim too, by the way. They're just "closet" believers, don't ask how I know.

But back to you. I have no problem with you becoming a Muslim, I mean, until you get on my bus and feel an erection coming on. Then I have a problem with you. Otherwise, you're just like the rest of us - fucked up in god knows how many ways and taking a path that for you seems "objectively" to be "the truth". Of course though what you're really doing is rebelling - and part of what you're rebeling against of course happens to be your wife, so in that regard, I'd say you're best off - and certainly She's best off - with a nice, clean divorce. Then you can go to Arabland (!) and live the life that the rest of us only dream of.

And so far as your identity goes, c'mon, you never "worked" in kiruv. You might have given a class once, before you knew mezonos from masturbation, or had guys over for Shabbos, before you'd ever heard of Hotza'ah, or been a madrich on some program, or - most likely - worked at heritage house. None of those guys are frum. Seriously. It's quite a phenomenon.


As for anony 2, some folk here might scream at you, or at least they would if they hadn't already given it to the jewish european a moment ago. Anyway, that guy probably deserved it, but I don't think that you do. In fact I like you, and love to stop by on Shabbos sometime.

The fact that you're new here is quite obvious and needn't be mentioned, we know that you've just arrived off the ship. You're the thinking, middle-aged quasi-modern-orthodox paternal type who thinks for himself and enjoys more "intellectual" Jewish apologetics and theology - and, like I said, I like you, but Hedyot /knows/ about SRS and lotsa other MO thinkers, accepted and non-accepted, and so do many of the type who stop be here. They know about SRS, may find him interesting or not, but have issues w/Judaism that go far beyond replacing the Gri"z with Aryeh Kaplan. But I /do/ love you, and thanks for trying.

me

Anonymous said...

Your parents brought you into this world and raised you and so you owe them something....and who decides what that "something" is and how much?

Who are Berger and Gottlieb?

BSM (too lazy to login.)

Anonymous said...

DH,

It is hard to advise you anything mostly because everything depends on who you are (your character, temperament, etc) and whether you're married (sorry, did not understand it from the post).

It seems that the issue here is not only your relationship with paretns and extended family but also whether you are a real "truth seeker" or not. If you are, then sooner or later you will have to break away from something that your consider as a lie.

But in the meantime, try to build your own world and your own relationship (with a woman, if you are not married) the way you like it. From what you write I understand that it is "frumkeit" and not Judaism that you can't accept. Carry on and you will find that many texts/sources of Judaism - misappropriated by the frummen - may lead you to the truth you are seeking. Build your own world and find a good friend or two - it will help/save you when you do "announce" your exit from the Frumland.

q

Anonymous said...

Obviously the answer depends on the specifics of your relationship with your parents. I thought you might benefit from a personal experience I had recently.
I grew up modern orthodox and as a teenager became very dedicated to being frum and very interested in learning.(I still am.) I ended up learning in a "good Yeshiva" for several years. A friend of mine from high school also learned in that Yeshiva and we learned b'chavrusa for a year and half. This friend of mine was a tremendous "masmid" who put a lot of effort into learning. He was fairly open minded as I am, but we differed in hashkafa in certain key areas. Specifically regarding ,for lack of a better description, emuna p'shuta vs. rational reasons behind belief.
I was on the rational side while he maintained that he somehow sensed that "it" was true.
He left the yeshiva to begin working, in order to deal with his fear of not being able to succeed in his profession. At the same time he was finishing his degree in the evenings. Eventually, he stopped learning and moved out of his parents' home to a different neighborhood. I knew that he was having serious issues with frumkeit. As time passed I wondered if he was still frum. Recently I saw him again without his yarmulka at a high school reunion and let's just say I am still shaking.
I think I would have appreciated him telling me ahead of time.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I recognise this all too well. I am going through it myself. I studied in a reknowned British Yeshiva in the North-East of England for 10 years and 7 years in Kollel. I even have rabbinical ordination to top it all off. (you''ll just have to take my word for that.) I am also VERY familiar with Jewish Apologetics. You name 'em, I taught their stuff. Yep I am an ex kiruv worker gone very bad. I wonder whether I preached with such fervour in order that I convince myself. In any case it would appear that I failed miserably. When you know that stuff as well as I do, you know where all the holes in the argumentation are. And then you have a real problem if youre looking to "get home" by the lights of reason alone.

Revealing your beliefs is inherently risky. Not doing so is on the other hand also risky. If you do not, how long will it be before they notice that you are not as religious as you appear to be? Do you really believe that you can keep up a seamless pretence for the rest of your life? And what for if you believe the rules that you follow have little legitimacy? The truth is that only you can answer the question as to whether to face this head on. Based on what you have shared I think whichever road you decide to take will cause you suffering.

Life is analagous to an aeroplane: "a very wel balanced set of compromises" in the words of a the famous engineer. No less true for it's being cliché.

I am personally going to be returning to Judaism but that is another story. I have allowed myself free reign to live as a goy also undercover of a religious facade. Let me tell you sirs.... That road leads nowhere. I could not possibly sum up the complex phenomenology and the underlying intellectual torture that I have put myslef through in the space allowed. Suffice it to say that Nietszche would have been proud of my intellectual masochism.

Whichever way you chose, remember , you did it for yourself.

Regards,

The Master

P.s. wich Gottlieb and Berger is a Muslim?

Me, Uncensored said...

First off, I don't think you should tell your family about your religious views.

Not for fear of getting cut off (although that's certainly a factor and I've gotta say I wonder why anyone would want to be in a community that would just abandon you like that for not totally conforming) -- but to just not cause distress.

Your mother would flip out, wouldn't she? Is there *anything* she can do to change your mind about your beliefs? No. But she'll think there's something she can do and she'll just wear herself out worrying and trying to do what only God can do -- change your heart.

So no, don't tell.

My other comment is this -- some relationships, I think, have to be mostly 'surface' stuff. Not everyone is a deep thinker, and that's okay because they're still good people and can be good friends/family in other ways. Instead of looking to your family to fulfill this need in you, why not seek out others who can? This may mean making friends with people who aren't exactly like you but that's what makes it fun -- different views, more to talk about.

That way you have people in your life you can talk to and still get to keep your family.