Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I have a confession to make. I'm terrified of Halloween. Ok, maybe terrified is a bit of an exaggeration, but I find it quite unnerving.

In fact, I'm supposed to go out tonight to hear someone speak but I'm actually considering staying home and skipping the talk. Is this ridiculous or what?!

When I told my friends about this, they all laughed at it, surprised that I would be feeling this way, and to be honest, I was just as surprised as they were. Why was I feeling this way? It was quite unsettling, more so the fact that I was scared than the fear itself, but when I took a closer look at the issue it became quite clear what was causing this irrational anxiety.

As a kid it was understandable to be scared. We were told that bad things happened to people who were out that night. But these weren't just things said to scare us. The local yeshiva actually sent the kids home early on Halloween so no one would be out after nightfall. Besides the innocent mischief like TP'ing a house or spraying shaving cream, vandalism and violence were common, or so we were told. My parents instructed us never to open the door that night, no matter who was knocking. Additionally, my first year of high school I attended a yeshiva where many years earlier someone had actually been murdered on Halloween. Ever since, the week of Halloween every yeshiva guy walking the few blocks from the dorm to the beis medrash had a police escort to accompany him. So with these early impressionable experiences, its easy to see how I could have gained such an ambivalent view of the day (and no doubt a few horror movies along the way didn't help matters much).

After that first year of high school, I attended yeshivas where the bochurim were on a private campus and pretty much isolated from the larger community. We probably weren't even aware of it when Halloween passed us by. The years after high school I was in Israel during Halloween, where nobody even acknowledges it whatsoever.

So this year, finding myself back in the US of A, is the first time since the age of 13 that I am really experiencing an actual Halloween. And after thinking about it, I realized that the reason I'm feeling scared is because I'm still looking at Halloween through the eyes of a frightened 13 year old. Because I haven't actually encountered, or even thought about the holiday all these years, I still have the same juvenile sentiments that I had about it all those years ago, when my last impressions were sincere dread and fear. What I needed to do is reexamine the issue with a mature perspective. It seemed absurd, but evidently there were irrational, childish fears that because they were never thought about or addressed, had lain dormant within me for many years, never being resolved the way other such notions had been.

This lesson really drove home a point I once wrote about in a previous blog post. As I said there:
"...there are still myriad areas of thought and experience that I haven't adjusted my perspective on. For the most part, this is because I haven't had any opportunities to seriously reexamine these issues and feelings. Changing ones lifestyle and society can raise many issues that one needs to clarify and take sides on, but there remain countless other areas which are just not touched on by the events and experiences of everyday life. Additionally, the sheer volume of ideas, habits, perspectives, and tendencies that the frum world inculcates in their followers makes it practically impossible for a person to totally undo all the subtle, yet deeply rooted, effects they have on one's psyche."
So many ideas are drilled into us in our youths. Some overtly, some subtly, most very deeply. If we don't directly face these issues, they will stay with us forever, lying quietly within our hearts and minds, waiting for the moment, probably many years later when we least expect them, to resurface and wreak havoc in our lives, our daily routines, our relationships. They will throw us off balance, causing us to question ourselves and misstep. It's imperative to understand these long forgotten patterns of thought and undo them before they can affect us adversely. Like our rabbeim taught us about doing teshuva - it's like cleaning for chametz: You have to vigorously hunt for every possible trace of it, dig deep down to find it, and then when you do, you have to work hard to eradicate it and it's influence on you.

Rebbe, I accept your teaching. Have a most Happy Halloween! ;-)


Follow-Up From The Day After: I actually had a wonderful time all day long, seeing all the kids decked out so cute and the adults with some wild and wacky costumes was tons of fun and actually reminded me of Purim in Jerusalem. I was in midtown in the evening and the crowd was just so lively and fun. It was great! The subways and streets were just full of delightful sights. There was nothing uncomfortable about it whatsoever, and besides easily helping me overcome my irrrational phobia, experiencing all this also reinforced my belief that so much of what I was taught in my youth about non-Jews is such a bunch of sh*t. And just in case someone might say that no adults actually still believe that crap, I'll add that I spoke to a frum relative that evening and when I described my experience, he was shocked that there was anything enjoyable about it. He wasn't risking going out unless it was absolutely necessary.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Evolution Of My Disbelief - Part I

A friend recently asked me, "What got you to stop believing?" I was ready to respond with a few memorable incidents that I distinctly recalled strongly affected some of my former perspectives, but I stopped myself short, because I realized that his query was much too vague. Although I understood that he was referring to a general belief in Judaism, his ambiguous formulation didn't do the question justice. What got me to stop believing what? Traditionally, not every belief in Judaism is considered essential. And not every essential belief must be subscribed to in the absolute sense. Answering him with an example of a minor setback in my faith wouldn't paint an accurate picture. Further clarification was necessary. What aspect of belief was he referring to? Belief in the whole entire Judaism? Belief in God? Belief in the Divine nature of the Torah? Belief that the Torah is all literally true? Belief in Revelation? Belief in certain halachos? Belief that all these beliefs are essential? Before answering the question of "What caused me to stop believing?", I needed to specify exactly which belief it was that I would be speaking about.

Before I proceed any further, there is an issue on which I need to elaborate a bit: As is well known, within Judaism in general, there are many core beliefs that are demanded of a religious Jew, such as belief in one God, belief in the Torah, belief in the binding nature of halacha, etc. These are some of the central, fundamental areas of Jewish belief. But within the ideology of Chareidi Judaism, there are countless additional beliefs that - although never explicitly delineated - demand equal, if not greater, adherence and loyalty. Some of these issues might seem trivial and mundane, but because they are considered an essential part of how Chareidi Jews observe Yiddishkeit, they become articles of faith with as much import as the established and better known ideas.

To my mind (as it saw the world back then), and I believe to the mind of any properly indoctrinated Chareidi person, one doesn't just believe that Judaism is true. One believes that CHAREIDI JUDAISM is true. And the beliefs of Chareidi Judaism which its educators and leadership make efforts to bolster and promote do not revolve around issues of God, or Sinai, or veracity of the Bible, or historicity of the Mesorah. Those issues are so taken for granted as accepted truth that they never enter the discussion whatsoever. No, our articles of faith were about a totally different list of beliefs. Rather than making statements about the rightness of Judaism, our list of beliefs underscored the rightness of Chareidi life:

We believed that all chareidi people were honest and moral. We believed that the gedolim never made mistakes. We believed that no respectable frum Jew would ever own a TV (let alone admit to it). We believed that wearing a black hat and jacket (and white shirt) was imperative. We believed that anyone who observed halacha as he was supposed to was inevitably a very happy and contended person. We believed that all proper Jews throughout history believed what we did, and practiced what we did, and that going back through the generations, they all were essentially Chareidi Jews (including the Rishonim, Tannaim, Nevi'im and even the Avos). We believed that all the fantastical and miraculous tales of the great rabbis of previous generations were all true (and if they didn't really happen, well, at least, they could have happened!). We believed that there is nothing more worthwhile and important in life than studying Torah. We believed that all traces of modernity were forbidden. We believed that every instruction and directive that our gedolim told us was right and just. We believed that every Torah idea spoken by a respected rabbi (chareidi, of course) was true in every way. We believed that every halacha, every minhag, every detail of our lifestyle was the way it was because that's how God wanted it. We believed that Rashi's pshat was what the Torah meant to say. We believed that frum marriages were bastions of happiness and fulfillment. We believed that Modern Orthodox Jews didn't really care about what mattered in life (i.e. halacha, torah, yiras shamayim, etc.). We believed that if you wore a colored shirt, or went to college, or participated in popular culture, or didn't strive to learn in kollel for the rest of your life, or didn't adopt as many chumros as you could, well then, there was obviously some deficiency in your moral character. We believed that every word of advice our gedolim dispensed was for our well being and in our best interests. We believed that all goyim were immoral and unethical (aside from the occasional exception). We believed that the "outside world" and all that it contained was a terrible, evil place, designed to tempt and seduce us from the proper path. And most of all, we believed all this unequivocally and absolutely, without any doubt in our puny little minds.

Like I said above, these ideas might seem absurd. But they were fed to us with the conviction of absolute, unadulterated truth, and violation or contradiction of any of these implicit principles was met with condemnation on par with denying any of the explicitly stated articles of faith. No one ever contemplated challenging these precepts. (Actually, I do recall an incident where a bochur in my class openly said, "I'm not interested in learning Gemara. It's boring." From the stunned reaction of the rebbe and the collective gasp from us classmates you would have thought he just confessed to something as heinous as masturbating on a sefer torah.)

So, for me, the things that initially got me to question my beliefs were not philosophical or existential difficulties that challenged those core issues of Judaism. No, for me, what shook me up were revelations that challenged the ideas which were a part of Chareidi Judaism.

When I discovered that not all respectable Jews subscribed to everything the gedolim demanded, I was shocked beyond belief. But, but.... how could they?!
When I read books about Jewish history that told me things that didn't conform to my understanding of the past, I was terribly troubled. This couldn't be true!
When I was told that I didn't have to be a learner, I simply refused to acknowledge it at first. That's ridiculous!
When I discovered sincere and irrefutable frumkeit and yiras shamayim in those people who were condemned as "not really frum", I was shaken beyond belief. But I thought....?
When I heard a non-Jewish song that moved me in a most meaningful way, I didn't know how to process it. How could this be? Isn't it all pritzus?
When I read a non-Jewish book full of ethical and moral ideas, I was totally confused. There was only one way to explain it. He must have gotten it from us.
When I discovered that some of the niggunim (tunes) which were used to accompany our holy prayers were taken from non-Jews I was aghast. Impossible!
When I discovered that various established minhagim may well have had sources in non-Jewish practices, I was deeply disturbed. This can't be. Someone's making something up.
When I realized that gedolim have political agendas and even try to rewrite history, I was devastated.
When I saw my Rosh Yeshiva spin a Torah idea one way on Monday, then another way on Tuesday, I realized that Torah and Truth were not as synonymous as I had thought, or at the very least, Rabbis and Truth, or Rabbis and Torah, or whatever it was, I no longer even knew myself.
When I discovered Rabbis with impeccable Chareidi credentials doing and saying all sorts of things that didn't fit the stereotype of how a Chareidi Jew is supposed to behave, I was totally confused. Now who am I supposed to believe?

These and so many other revelations and experiences continued to challenge my preconceived notions. At first, I tried to resist them, dutifully maintaining the beliefs they had instilled in me. People were lying to me. Distorting the truth. I couldn't trust the people who were telling me these things. I must consult my Rosh Yeshiva so he can explain to me how to understand these things. But eventually, I could no longer withstand the mounting challenges. It was irrefutable. The truisms that I had believed to be as certain as the sunrise fell by the wayside, one after another. Over time I gradually discovered more and more that led me to realize how false this thing called Chareidi Judaism really was. The more walls that fell down, the more disingenuousness I discovered.

All this didn't immediately lead me to reject the central precepts of Judaism. Those challenges arose much later in my transition. At this point, I never even considered that the fundamentals of Judaism were in any doubt. For now, I was only discovering how specious the religion of Chareidi Judaism was. But since I equated Chareidi Judaism with real, authentic Judaism, I was deeply unsettled by these revelations.

I have no doubt that many people are reading this and getting very pissed off that I'm pointing at all these trivial and superficial notions and referring to them as central tents of Chareidi ideology. I admit that if you asked any Chareidi Jew if any of these things are really as important as belief in Torah M'Sinai, they'd think you were nuts. But actions speak louder than words. These "trivial" issues matter to people a lot. These are the things that are focused on in yeshiva. These are the ideas that the stories they tell are meant to prove. It is these issues that a person going through yeshiva thinks about when he thinks of being a proper Jew. Obvious issues like the importance of keeping halacha aren't addressed. Such things are as taken for granted as wearing pants. They don't teach why a person should keep halacha; they teach why a person shouldn't keep halacha like a MO person does. It may sound absurd, but normative Judaism is not what they teach in yeshivas, and if you think about it, of course they can't teach that, because so many of the groups whom they deplore claim to practice Judaism: MO, Tzionim, Conservative, etc. They need to distinguish themselves from those deemed unacceptable, and they do that by stressing these minor issues as significant and crucial. They may not really be the true tenets of a Chareidi Jew, but to a teen going through a Chareidi yeshiva (and to many adults who have gone through the system), they are as close to gospel as it gets.

Some people may read this and think to themselves, "That's ridiculous! So your fairy tale image of something that never existed was shattered. That's not a basis for rejecting Judaism!" I agree. All this does not claim to explain or justify why I would fully leave observance. But that was not the subject which is being addressed. What I'm doing here is answering the question of "What got me to stop believing?" That question can only be addressed when we first examine what the ideas were that I believed in so earnestly. As I explained, I believed in a mythological religion called Chareidi Judaism, which consisted of many detailed ideas, histories, figures, and practices. That's what I first stopped believing in, and it didn't take much to shatter those beliefs. Just a little reading outside the approved literature.... a few innocent meetings with people outside my frum ghetto.... some honest and unbiased questioning of assumed notions.... a little exploration outside the establishment.... once those fallacious beliefs were exposed to the light of reality, it became abundantly clear how little foundation they really had to stand upon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


What makes you feel good? What provides you satisfaction? What gives you a sense of achievement?

A friend of mine who is a respected and accomplished pediatrician recently related to me about a past relationship that she went through. She explained, "I liked him a lot. But I simply couldn't stay with him. He had a very archaic perspective of women and he never really respected me for who I was or what I could be. To him a woman is always second-rate to a man, and even though he didn't overtly treat me badly, I knew that he never truly appreciated me. Even though I love what I do, and am successful and accomplished in my field, to his mind, I should be staying at home, doing what he thinks is right for me. I can't be with someone who views me, and the world, like that."

When I heard those words, something in my mind clicked. What she described was exactly how I recall feeling when I was living in the chareidi world. I don't think I ever consciously articulated it that way, but when I heard them, the words resonated within me. In fact, not only didn't I ever express it back then, I doubt I even realized it until I left that community.

That boyfriend who treated her well was just like that yeshiva society that I grew up in. They never truly treated me badly. They didn't abuse me in any way. Overall, they were kind to me in many ways and treated me quite decently. Even went out of their way at times to show me how much they cared for me. But underneath all that kindness, there was something very basic lacking in the way they viewed me.

I only understood it after I left that world. After I found myself among people who appreciated my skills, my talents, my very nature; who appreciated me for what I could contribute without forcing me to be something I wasn't.

I finally realized that that chareidi world that professed such concern for me never ever truly valued me.

They had a vision of what I should be. A talmid chacham. It's what they value most of all and what they feel each male should be striving for. Anything a person may accomplish aside from that lofty goal is tolerated as a mere consolation prize in the contest of human achievement.

But that's not what I am, nor what I ever wanted to be. It was only after I entered a totally different realm of religious society that I found people respecting me, seeking my input, appreciating my skills, in ways unrelated to any halachic or torah related issues. Only then did I experience that inner satisfaction which made me feel that I was truly valued.

Every society is entitled to have their own barometers of success. I can respect that. But if the qualities which earn one respect are those which a large segment of the society do not strive for, how can they honestly claim to be surprised when people seek their validation elsewhere? Is it any wonder that a person who can never feel truly valued in the chareidi world would want to leave?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I Hear You...

Chareidi people are nice. They are generous. They are giving. They are welcoming. Obviously, as we all know, there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, barring unusual circumstances, my experience with individuals in the chareidi community has been positive and pleasant.

Yet at times one encounters statements from the chareidi world that belie such sensitivity. Remarks that reveal an antagonism that seems quite at odds with the kind and accepting impression they give off. Sometimes those statements are couched in editorials that cleverly mask their derision. Other times the contempt is so blatant that one can't help but be shocked at the brazenness of the affront. Most of the time, those who are charged with presenting a chareidi perspective to the outside world are savvy enough to know how to make their points without insulting anyone (or any institution) outright. For example, writers such as Jonathan Rosenblum or Avi Shafran, whom you will usually find in publications such as The Jewish Observer or Hamodia, or occasionally in non-Orthodox organs. But at times, one can read comments from chareidi writers that are practically dripping with condescension. In publications like Yated (in their articles, editorials, and letters sections) or on blog comment threads from anonymous figures, one can read statements that are anything but accepting. On the contrary, they are mean-spirited, exclusionary, offensive, smugly superior, and contemptuous. They consistently insult anyone or anything that falls outside the rubric of their narrowly defined daled amos of halacha. It can be a person, maybe a rabbi, a teacher, or a public figure who's the target of their scorn. It may be an institution, such as a school, shul, or organization that will find itself under attack. It may even be a practice that is being adopted (or already is the accepted norm) in some communities which will be the focus of their ire. But whatever it is, there is so often a tone underlying the writers point that bespeaks a truly ugly sentiment.

Let me make myself clear. I have no problem with the fact that they disagree with some things. Even many things. In my humble opinion, every group is entitled to draw its own lines where it deems fitting (within reason of course) and is entitled to present its case to the public as much as is necessary to further its cause. I have no truck with people disagreeing and/or arguing.

But why do they have to always be so negative? So disrespectful? So self-righteous?

I was reminded of this tendency when reading a blog post on the well known chareidi mouthpiece Cross Currents. That blog used to be on my regular blog reading list, but I stopped reading it ages ago after I found my comments being censored and I got tired of reading put-downs of other Jewish denominations. But recently I was pointed to this blog post about a woman who was hired as the spiritual leader of a shul in NYC. On the DovBear blog, Krum as a Bagel wrote a response to the CC post, and in the comments section there were a few people who made the following statements:
"What is it with Menken and Cross-Currents? Why are they continuously so mean spirited?"
"90% of Cross-Currents is nasty, smarmy rhetoric. Really, it makes me sick to identify as a frum Jew after reading a typical Cross-Currents post. So full of hate and spite for anyone not exactly like themselves."
Similarly, on a frum discussion board on which I lurk, I often hear incredibly offensive comments made about those who are supposedly less frum, or frum in a different way than what is deemed acceptable. To be fair, it's not that there's usually an overall anti-"less-frum" sentiment from these people. Generally, their view of those outside their community can probably best be described as patronizing pity mixed with a guarded suspicion. The latent hostility usually rises to the fore when an issue catches the public's attention and they feel a need to clearly draw the battle lines, to set the record straight about who the enemy is, and why they are so. It's obvious that on this particular list, because those participants think that they are in a closed, members-only club consisting primarily of like-minded people they feel less inhibited to fully speak their minds, and it's not uncommon for people to really let out the full brunt of their antagonism. (Believe me, it ain't pretty.) Oftentimes their tirade is just senseless ranting, clearly based on nothing more substantive than their emotional biases, and I can't help picturing them as if in some stereotypical caricature - bug-eyed, shouting incoherently, flailing their arms wildly, trying to warn the world of the impending doom. But other times their words are so virulent, so belligerent, that it's truly an upsetting thing to hear.

In countless lectures, seforim, blog posts, dvar torah sheets, op-ed pieces, blog comments, and most of all, in the private discussions heard only by those granted entry to the inner sanctum of the chareidi world, one constantly hears such sentiments: Negativity. Scorn. Derision. Superiority. Condescension. Dismissiveness. It is frequent, it is widespread, and it is very, very deeply rooted.

I said above that my experience in the chareidi world was for the most part positive. But that's all on a very personal and direct level. On a communal level, I had plenty of negative encounters when I lived in that world. Granted, no one actually directly attacked me for being less frum, but that was only because I was smart enough not to show that side of myself to those who would be bothered by it. But throughout those years that I wore the black hat there were plenty of attacks aimed at me - by my peers, by my rabbeim, by my roshei yeshiva, even by my family - they just hadn't yet realized that I was part of those groups they were condemning. And truthfully, I hadn't fully acknowledged it to myself either.

But inside, deep down in a part of my heart that I was afraid to face, I cringed when I heard their mockery. In that dark and lonely corner of my soul, I knew that I was that person they were taunting. That was me. I hated myself for it. I tried my utmost to eradicate that part of me from my self. I denied it for so long. But throughout those years, as I listened to their sarcastic sneering, I gradually understood that they were not just deriding those on the outside. Their barbs were aimed at me.

I was the one that didn't want to learn Torah day and night all my life.
I was the one who wanted to be lax about halacha.
I was the one who wanted to partake of the secular world.
I was the one who took shortcuts when no one was looking.
I was the one who valued this world over the next.
I was the one that wanted to shirk the yoke of God.

I, and so many others.

So, to all you Yated subscribers that think that anything outside of your strict and distorted version of Judaism is such a terrible violation of all that is sacred...

To all you frummies who look condescendingly at those not as committed as you are...

To all you Yaakov Menkins, who think that anything outside your community's practices have no place in Judaism...

To all you Toby Katz's who constantly and consistently attack those who aren't up to your religious standards...

To all you Lakewood Yid's who don't want to ever make any compromises...who want a Judaism that is trapped in some non-existent past...who think that God wants us to live in a restrictive, confined ghetto, idyllically shuckling over our gemaras, obediently following whatever our gedolim tell us to, viewing the world and Judaism through the eyes of a third grader...

Well, I hear you all loud and clear. The message you're conveying is unequivocal: There is no place for me in your world.

Undoubtedly, I expect that you'll immediately deny this, but it's true. Because this is who I am. I cannot be the type of Jew you demand I be. So is there a place in your world for me to be the sort of Jew who I am?

I didn't think so.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Am I Happy?

There is an almost predictable routine that occurs when people first discover that I am not religious. Once the initial shock wears off, and they have reconciled themselves to this new reality (at times arriving at this recognition only after endless debate), they inevitably inquire about my emotional well being. Am I happy?, they want to know.

Although it's quite understandable to me why they are asking me this, the question still irritates me quite a bit. I recognize that their inquiry stems from their assumption that the primary motivation for my abandoning observance was because I was unhappy in my old life, and they want to know if my newfound lifestyle has granted me that elusory state. But the question grates on me terribly. Because I know that when they are asking me that, the subtext of their query is really the following: "Deep down, are you really happy living like this? Of course not! You can't possibly be happy living without the beauty of Yiddishkeit; without shabbos; without Torah; without mitzvos. So you might as well just come back to being frum! After all, if you're not happy like this, why stay here?"

Putting aside for now the faulty assumption that pursuing some elusive emotional state is the root of my shift, and ignoring the condescending belief that a person who isn't frum couldn't possibly be truly happy, what particularly infuriates me about this exchange is the hypocrisy of their position: NOW you think that if I'm unhappy I should leave? What about the countless years when I was unhappy being frum?!! Why didn't you suggest it then that I leave because I was unhappy?! It's a load of crap what you're saying. You don't for one second believe that happiness (or its absence) is a valid basis for choosing a path in life. The only reason you're presenting such a notion is because it suits your purposes. Please! Spare me your bullsh*t concern for my happiness.

However, ignoring their unspoken implications, the question still remains in front of me. Am I happy? Truly, I want to know it as much as - nay, more so than they do. Am I happier living my life the way I am now than when I was frum?

When I examine that question under closer scrutiny, I realize that it seems to be a mostly irrelevant one. Yes, being happy is important to me. But comparing how happy I am now to how I might have felt back then is irrelevant because finding happiness is not the reason that I chose this path. It simply wasn't. True, at times, I admit that I may have actually articulated that it was what I was looking for, that I was just so unhappy in that world, so I had to leave, but actually when we examine the situation closer, it becomes obvious that although I expressed it in those terms, there was so much more going on which was directing me towards a different path.

Although it was something I definitely wanted, finding happiness wasn't the goal of my decision to leave ultra-Orthodoxy. The reason I left was to get away from all the sources of misery that were an integral part of my life as a chareidi person: The restrictive environment, the demanding (and often meaningless) rituals, the endless gemara learning, the lack of opportunities to feel good about myself, the hypocrisy that I was beginning to detect, the insistence that my life be shaped in a way that I didn't feel right for me, the constraints placed on my relationships, the intellectual dishonesty, the persistent religious one-upmanship, the intense insularity, the requirement to believe so many disproved ideas, the questionable leaders, and on and on. Conversely, my departure from the community was also intended to be able to increase the opportunities where I would have positive experiences and encounters in my life.

The point I want to make is that the reason I left was not because I wanted happiness. It was because I wanted more of those positive things in my life, and less of those negative things. Happiness is a logical byproduct of taking such a step, but it wasn't the goal.

(In looking at the larger picture, although that explains some of the reasons why I left, it's important to consider the circumstances that allowed me to leave: It was only when certain societal pressures were removed that the door opened for me to actually step out of that world. And it was only when I came to understand the deficiencies in the intellectual underpinnings and ideologies of ultra-Orthodoxy that I lost the motivation to endure that unhappy way of life I was previously committed to. I hope to explore the nature of this trifecta in greater depth some time soon.)

Getting back to the question that my interlocutor posed to me, "Am I happy?" my answer would be as follows:

"Am I happy? I hope so, although I admit that I can't be sure of it. Happiness is a difficult thing to gauge. However, more importantly to me, is the fact that in my life as I am currently living it, I have much less of those negative experiences and emotions that were a part and parcel of my life in your world. And at the same time, I am able to partake of so many wonderful and enriching opportunities that your lifestyle prevented me from experiencing. Am I happy? I'm not absolutely sure. But I am sure that I'm glad my life is no longer shaped by the dictates of your world."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Survey for Ex-Frummie's

If you're no longer frum and are interested in taking a short survey elaborating on your journey away from religiosity, please email mali_aune_main@yahoo.com and let her know that you'd like to receive the questionnaire. It's for a project about people who have been raised as Orthodox Jews and as adults no longer practice. The project is only meant to explore the experiences of this little known subculture, not to denigrate Judaism or to admonish those who no longer practice.

Update: A blog has been started to get more info on the survey: http://nolongerfrum.blogspot.com

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Torah Response

Since everyone's been chiming in on the latest scandal in the frum community regarding the sexual abuse allegations, I figure I have to say something too, even if only to keep up (and also to clarify being quoted out of context). I have just a few thoughts on the subject, and nothing very innovative.

Firstly, despite my well known feelings of antagonism towards the frum world, I don't for a second think that this problem is something which any normal and decent frum person is not incredibly disturbed by. Any implication that decent frum people, regardless of their affiliation, don't consider such behavior troubling is such a gross distortion of the reality that it's not worth dwelling on. I'd also like to clearly state that I don't recall ever being sexually abused in any manner at any point in my life.

However, despite that acknowledgement, I think that this issue brings to light one more manifestation of the denial and coverup that is so rampant in the frum world. The fact is that there are sexual perverts in the frum community. Whether or not they are more or less common than in general society is uncertain, but I don't see why it really matters for the purpose of this discussion. They exist. But like every other aspect of reality that clashes with their perfect Torah World fantasy, the frum world is (or rather, has been up until recently) in denial about their existence and their effects.

Like spousal abuse. And alcoholism. And drug use. And disaffected youth. Until these problems hit so hard that they can no longer be denied, the frum community continues to react to such disturbing facts by either burying its collective head in the sand, downplaying the severity of the matter, or focusing its efforts on keeping the matter hushed up.

In my opinion, this recent scandal is not and should not be only about the actual abuse that was perpetrated against innocent people. That is a horrific tragedy which can not be minimized and should not be ignored, but there is another problem here, one which is far more prevalent than the aberrant perverts in the frum world.

I don't have any evidence to go on to conclude that abuse of any kind is common in the frum world. I would tend to think that it's quite rare, but I admit that that's probably just a result of my ignorance on the issue. However, aside from my possibly mistaken view about actual abuse, I am very confident that the coverup of such incidents is rife throughout the community. People don't want to hear about it. They deny it. They think it can't be true. They're ashamed about it. And they come up with every excuse in the book not to face the issue. They think it's a Chillul Hashem. They think it's all lies. They think it's lashon hara. They think it's inappropriate to speak of sexual matters. They think it'll ruin the shidduch prospects of their family. Of course, if no one is seriously acknowledging a problem, nothing real is ever going to be done about it. So the problem doesn't go away, and the criminals capitalize on that fact, continuing their atrocities unabated.

The characters in this recent incident have had allegations about them going back decades! I have no doubt that hundreds of students were affected by this person. Certainly, many were shamed into silence, but there were also some who spoke to people about the matter. Either rabbis, family members, therapists, whomever. And yet these people were never removed from their positions of power. How is it possible that so many people's complaints and accusations went unheard? We know how. It's because the frum world would rather bury its head in the sand than acknowledge that their precious Torah communities, their respected Torah rabbis, their prestigious Torah institutions, have such a serious blemish in their midst. Doesn't the Torah say, "U'biarta HaRA Mi'Kirbecha?" Expunge the evil in your midst! Don't cover it up!!!

Gil writes about how he knows of many schools and institutions which are making serious efforts to combat this problem, and I acknowledge that such efforts should be encouraged. But as far as I can tell these efforts are not widely publicized. They are deliberately kept under the radar. And until this attitude of keeping things hush-hush is changed, the problems will not be able to be addressed properly.

As long as the community continues to delude itself into believing that its society is such a wonderful and idyllic place which couldn't ever harbor such despicable monsters, these terrible atrocities will continue to occur, and of course, when inevitably the tragedy they were unwittingly complicit in is brought to light, they will shake their heads in shock and sorrow, asking how such a thing could ever have happened in their holy community.

How indeed?

What It's All About

I was recently informed that I had an honorable mention in Gil's recent presentation at the RCA convention. He spoke about the effect of blogs and how important it is for rabbinic figures to be aware of the issues related to them. You can see a PowerPoint slide here. In line with what I saw Ben Avuya and Godol Hador do, I'd like to give a little introduction to any newcomers to my blog, and explain to you a bit about who I am and what this little endeavor is all about.

I myself am no longer a religious Jew, at least in the traditional meaning of the term (which I consider being a halachically observant person). I grew up in an Orthodox home, not one which would be classified as Chareidi, but also not what would be termed Modern Orthodox (MO). We were strictly halachic, but with connections to all the various frum communities and groups that existed, and I don't recall us subscribing to any practices or views which I considered too extreme. Maybe I was just too young and ignorant to know how we identified ourselves, but that's how I remember it. In any case, after childhood, my formative teen years were spent in black-hat yeshivas, and throughout high school I became increasingly more right-wing in my thinking and practice, which closely paralleled a similar change that was occurring in my overall family. After high school I discovered a more moderate form of Orthodoxy, which greatly appealed to me on certain levels, but which also triggered a serious crisis in my views of what it means to be a frum Jew. That crisis was averted and eventually I adopted that more moderate approach and spent a few years in a yeshiva which helped me integrate that philosophy into my life. I stayed that way for some time even after leaving the yeshiva, but soon after leaving the confines of that closed world, I found myself in a new environment, one consisting of many Jews of a much more MO background. Despite an initial ambivalence, I found myself feeling much more comfortable in their company than my old society. Over time, I gradually shifted to living in that more MO world, and remained there for around 4 years. That period was a very eye-opening experience for me, one which I learned much about things I was never exposed to, and which shattered many stereotypes that I had previously considered to be sacred truths of life and Judaism. Eventually, as a result of a variety of changes that were occurring within myself, my commitment to halacha began to wane, and in due course, different aspects of frumkeit were abandoned. At this point in time, I can no longer honestly consider myself a halachically observant person.

To better understand my motivations here, a more in-depth background of my transition is necessary, but it will take too much time to explore for now. Suffice it to say that over the course of my high school years I became a very committed right-wing/yeshivish/chareidi/black-hat kind of person. I completely and totally subscribed to the views they taught me. On issues of secular studies, modernity, interacting with MOTOS, halacha, the primacy of learning torah, Zionism, Modern Orthodoxy, listening to gedolim, and all the other issues upon which lines have been drawn in the Orthodox community, I had fully adopted their views. I implicitly believed all they taught me as absolute and objective truth. I believed what the gedolim said was da'as torah. I knew that the yeshivish/chareidi view of how one should live their life represented the one true derech of Avodas Hashem, and that everything else that considered itself a version of Orthodoxy was just a compromise at best, and a corrupted distortion at worst. I believed all this fully and wholeheartedly.

That was all many years ago and since that time much has changed for me. Although at one time I firmly believed in the goodness and rightness of all aspects of my chareidi lifestyle, eventually, after much honest deliberation, exploration, self-reflection, meeting many different sort of people, and learning new ways to think about and view the world and Judaism, I became aware of many deficiencies in my life, my thinking, and my self. I discovered how weak many of the pillars of my faith really were. I discovered how poorly my religious upbringing met any of my most important and basic needs. I found gaping intellectual breaches in what I had previously thought were strongholds of logic. I discovered glaring holes in our tradition.

After allowing myself to step onto this alternative path which was so different from the one I had initially been following, I encountered other issues which had nothing to do with me personally, but which sowed further doubt in my mind as to the rightness of that former derech. I was shocked to discover how so many of the foundations of my identity were based on lies. I became aware of how people who were charged with my best interests ignored them to pursue their own agendas. I came to understand how so much of what I thought was a divinely inspired way of life was a combination of half-truths, distortions, cover-ups, deliberately maintained ignorance, normal societal development, and sometimes even outright lies. I found hypocrisy and inconsistency. I came to see just how lacking those who I trusted as paragons of virtue, honesty, and spirituality, really were.

That's what this blog is about. It is my voice and my feelings about how I think the Orthodox life that I came from is inadequate. Many of the ideas I express here are personal and subjective. You will generally not find logical arguments disproving the existence of God, or showing how the Bible was written by man. That's not to say that those issues don't play a part in my transition. They do to some extent. But my focus here is rather on how for certain people, for people such as myself, the Orthodoxy that I was raised with can simply no longer work for me.

When reading my entries you will see that I point to many different factors that contributed to who I am now. Family upbringing, personal experiences, societal difficulties, intellectual arguments, communal issues, and many other factors have all played a part in my development. One day I hope to develop all these disparate ideas into a coherent presentation that can clearly show the buildup and breakdown of how these issues affected me. Another day perhaps.

For now, you're welcome to read my incohernet ramblings in their original and contradictory form. Read about my experiences in yeshiva and how they adversely affected my perceptions of Judaism and Torah (link, link). See the manner in which many of the sacred ideas of my former lifestyle deteriorated (link, link, link). Later on I explore the realization of discovering how inadequate my upbringing was in preparing me for real life (link, link). I discuss my efforts to undo the flawed manner in which my mind was trained to think (link, link, link). I share some of the ways my family deals with my change (link). I explain why I don't like certain yomim tovim (link, link). I speak about my struggle to construct a new way of practicing Judaism that is devoid of the painful relics of my past (link). At times I also focus on certain specific and common issues which plague the frum world (link, link).

This blog was originally intended as a personal project to give myself an outlet. It was never meant to be a soapbox. Despite that, at this point in the process, I feel that I want others to hear the things I have to say. The things I'm writing about are not just about me. The experiences I relate are those of thousands of others who feel the same. The dissatisfaction I express is widespread. The frustrations, resentments, and discontent of those like me is a festering sore that the frum community has ignored for far too long. (Just one more unpleasant fact they prefer to deny and consequently sweep under the carpet.)

For myself, the issues I explore no longer hold such significance. I have left the community and have very little interest in returning to it. But I want you all to hear it because it's about you. You are the ones who are causing all these problems. You are the ones that are forcing scores of youth to grow up unhappy and miserable, feeling they are worthless. You're the ones that believe that your lifestyle is the path to the most happy and fulfilled life that a person can wish for. And you need to hear just how wrong you really are. Judaism might indeed be beautiful, but what you're giving us is damn ugly. It isn't fulfilling, it isn't enjoyable, and it sure isn't something we're going to put up with when we finally have an opportunity to escape it. It isn't the outside world, or the Internet, or movies, or striped shirts, or chalav stam, or Rav Kook, that make us want to get out. It's you. You need to hear that loud and clear. You are what's making us hate Judaism.

Yes, I am biased, and subjective, and at times quite bitter. But I am a product of your society. And I am not an aberration. I'm not alone. There are plenty of people out there who have left just like I have. And there are plenty more who would love to get out if they could find a way. And I believe that there are many more that are not yet at that point, but who are on the inevitable path which will eventually bring them to that sad realization.

Ignore me if you wish. Marginalize me. Reject my ideas as the angry rantings of a cynical and irrational individual. I don't claim to always be entirely objective. But what I do say, absolutely and unequivocally, is that even if my views are subjective, they are worth listening to. Even if they are biased. Because your system is failing. Whether or not it's objectively the best, the most true, the most holy, the most whatever, on a subjective level, it's failing dismally. Objectively or subjectively, the fact of the matter is, it's not working for far too many. Emotions might not be rational, but they are real. And in the calculus of what shapes our commitments and attitudes about our religion, they are as important - if not more so - than cold, hard logical arguments.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Subway Ticket Update

For all those that care to know, I got that annoying subway ticket dismissed. Since I let you view the ticket, I figured I should also let you view the dismissal.


Click for larger image.

Although I got what I wanted, the whole thing was totally not worth it. I had to wait around for almost 3 hours, and shlep down to Fulton St. in Brooklyn. The actual time spent talking to the clerk was maybe 5 minutes. It's most definitely not worth it for somone whose time is more valuable than mine. No doubt, the city takes that into account when handing out these tickets, figuring that most people won't bother disputing them, so why not just freely hand 'em out. Oh well, what the hell, it was a learning experience.

Chag Sameach.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The One True Derech

Recently, on Godol Hador's blog, GH reposted one of my comments as a "guest post". Well, I figure that if he can recycle one of my long-winded rants as a featured blog post, then I can too. So, here it is for your viewing pleasure. My comment there was prompted by GH's post about how so many skeptics are ex-chareidim, and how often these people are a result of the black and white nature of the chareidi mindset. (I've actually written quite a bit about the Black and White Principle (as I like to call it) and his illustration is just one more manifestation of what I've long known to be a sad reality. Link, link, link.) To better understand the context of my post, I suggest you read his original blog posting. What follows below are my thoughts, slightly emended from my original words:

While I don't disagree with GH's general idea as it applies to many people from that society, I'd like to expand on the point in a subtle way. For myself, my right-wing ultra-orthodox background did not cause me difficulty in the way that he describes specifically. For example, (back when I cared more about halacha and torah) when I was first exposed to it, I didn't find it problematic to believe in a billion year old universe and still consider other parts of mesorah well founded. The same with ideas like considering the flood allegorical, and evolution. True, it did adversely affect my overall trust in the veracity of the system, but those revelations did not cause the entire structure to immediately collapse in the way he describes.

However, the much more direct impact of the black and white mode of thinking is that I can not bring myself to seriously accept non-chareidi expressions of Judaism as truly legitimate and authentic. That's how they really screwed me over. The truth is that Modern Orthodoxy actually appeals to me in many ways, and I'd probably be ok living that lifestyle and adopting that approach to viewing the world, and viewing Judaism (hell, actually, I was ok doing that for almost 3 years). However, throughout it all, as much as I admire it and consider it to be a better approach to Judaism than the chareidi one, I can't help feel the persistent tug of my past, reminding me that it is not "the truth"; that it's not the right way to be living as a religious Jew. There is a place inside my heart that can not stop viewing Modern Orthodoxy as a compromise, a corruption, a feeble and inadequate substitute for the supposedly real and proper way to be a religious Jew. This, despite the fact that intellectually I'm more than convinced of it's merits (while also remaining well aware of its failings).

This dismal way of thinking accounts for why every time GH presents an approach that reflects some more moderate, reasoned view of Judaism, I typically react with, "Well, that's not how Orthodox Judaism really is." Because, as much as I like what he's saying (some of the time), I still can't help but view his idea as an illegitimate form of OJ. To my twisted mind, true OJ would never subscribe to such a view.

Similarly, in the opposite vein, it's the hold this idea has on my mind which explains why I particularly enjoy comments from people like Lakewood Yid (one of the regular commenter's at GH) and his ilk (here's an example). Lakewood Yid is a proud member of that society which I was once a part of and which I believed so strongly to be the true heirs to what Torah living and thinking meant. He truly is an embodiment of that persona. When he expresses his simplistic and childish ideas about Judaism, Torah, and the world, and reminds us that he is merely articulating the accepted views of his leaders and his community it helps undermine that fictitious notion that they are in any way a genuine expression of any Divine truth. Seeing that so called "Torah True Judaism" in all it's glaring imbecility is the most effective remedy for what afflicts my mind.

How did this notion come to have such an extreme grip on my psyche? It's hold was formed over many years of repeatedly being taught a fundamental precept of chareidi ideology, spelled out in unambiguous, black and white terms: "Our way (however you want to call it - the life of a chareidi, yeshivish, ben torah person) is the only truly proper way to live as a frum Jew. Everything else, no matter what it is, no matter what they call themselves - Modern Orthodoxy, Zionist Orthodoxy, Torah U'Mada, Torah im Derech Eretz, cultural Judaism, Conservative, Reform, whatever, it's all just a sad and distorted misrepresentation of how God really wants Jews to live - as proper, gemara learning, black hat wearing, kollel studying, da'as torah believing, gadol trusting, chumra seeking, gender separating, badatz eating, college avoiding, Degel voting, chareidi Jews. That's what being a Jew is really about!"

That is what they told me was the way to be a proper Jew. I believed them for many years. I even heeded their advice (to some extent) for a long time, but now, after many years, I have come to know myself that I can not live (nor believe) as a chareidi Jew. One would then think, I should become MO. That would work for me. I agree, it would seem to be a good match (to a certain degree). Yet, because in my mind, I still retain that belief that "Chareidism is the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", I can not adopt such a lifestyle. It appeals to me, yet I can not bring myself to genuinely embrace it. My educators have successfully turned me off to any forms of Judaism which are not theirs, and theirs is altogether objectionable on so many levels. As I see it, I am left with only one course of action in this regard: to completely leave behind the religious life.

This is how chareidi black and white thinking has affected me, how it has turned me off totally. (Well, there are more ways, but this is one very prominent way.) Maybe one day, some time far in the future, when I can expunge from my heart the insidious notion that "Chareidism is the only truly proper way to live as a Jew", and I can bring myself to accept the validity of other forms of Judaism, I may, in some way, be able to assume the lifestyle of a religious Jew once again.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My Rude Awakening

When I was in high school, I had a rebbe (actually had a few who did this) who would fine the students when they came late to shachris davening (the morning prayer services). 10 minutes late was a 50 cent charge, 20 minutes or more, $1. I suppose that for many students it was an effective deterrent, but many others felt it was a small price to pay to be able to spend a few more minutes under the precious warmth of the blankets, and they willingly ponied up the cash each morning they had overslept. In any case, at that age, we all got our allowances from our parents, so any k'nas (as the fine was called) really was affecting our dear patrons more than ourselves.

That took place in the closed and controlled universe of the yeshiva, where the rabbeim are the supreme rulers who can make up the rules and penalties of their world as they see fit, but I imagine that if our religious authorities would be able to impose penalties on any and all halachic infractions or violations of their religious standards, they would be more than happy to do so. Skipped bentching? $5 fine! Skirt's not long enough? $50! Caught eyeing that cutie from down the block? $100! Eating at an establishment without the proper kashrut certification? $100! Not wearing your hat and jacket when we say you should? $20! (I actually got reprimanded in high school for this - someone had spotted me walking down the street without my H&J, and reported it to my rabbi.)

The truth is that in many religious people's minds, such a system is actually already in place. Many people believe that in addition to the day-to-day affairs of maintaining the universe, one of God's lesser known duties is that of divine scorekeeper. He is closely monitoring every detail of our lives, irrespective of how mundane any detail may seem (which hand did I hold the washing cup in?), and dutifully recording our numerous transgressions, which when we arrive at the pearly gates for our final reckoning, he will hold us accountable for. For those who subscribe to such a view, enforcing a penalty for any breaches of halachic protocol, however minor, is merely an expression of the Divine will, and an entirely appropriate one at that.

Needless to say, I'm quite relieved that I don't live in such a society. In the world I live in, there are rules that must be followed, but these laws are usually of a different sort, and punishments for misconduct are usually only applied when the infraction is of a certain severity. Or so I thought. Last night I was introduced to what life is like when authorities have the power to penalize people for minor and trivial things, far beyond the significance of the offense.

It was late, around 1:30 AM. I was on my way home, taking the subway back from the city. As it usually is at that hour, the subway car was mostly empty, so I grabbed the corner seat, bundled myself up in my coat, and closed my eyes to try to catch a few zzz's. Somewhere along the ride, after I find myself repeatedly tipping over into the adjoining seat, I turn myself sideways, and lift my feet up onto the seat to try to get more comfortable. I'm squished into two seats like a contortionist, but it works. I doze off again.

All of a sudden, I hear a voice nearby. "Sir, can you please come with me?"

Huh? I open my eyes, and see a policeman standing over me. He repeats his demand. "Sir, can you please step out of the train car?"

What the hell is going on? I figure there's some security issue or something going on, so I get up, try to shake off the drowsiness, and step off the train.

"What's the matter, Officer?", I inquire.

"Sir, your feet were up on the bench. You were taking up two seats. That's a violation of subway regulations."

I look at him in amazement. This has got to be some sort of joke. "You're kidding, right? The car is three quarters empty. There's tons of empty seats! I wasn't preventing anyone from sitting down!"

"Sir, that doesn't matter," he insists gravely. "Now, have you ever been arrested?"

Arrested?! Is this guy serious? After assuring him of my pristine record, he asks for identification. I fish out my wallet and give him my drivers license. He hands me a subway flyer with a bunch of rules and regulations and asks me to sit down and read it while he contacts the station to check my ID and record.

While waiting for the station manager to report back to him, he (and another officer who pulled out somebody else) ask us a bunch of questions: Where do you live? Where are you coming from? How do you spell your name? My fellow offender and I look at each other in stunned bewilderment, amazed this is actually happening. Are they actually interrogating us as if we were suspected criminals because we had our feet on a bench?! It was just too outrageous!

Finally, the report comes back from the police station that everything checks out. Then he turns to me, and says in all seriousness, "Ok, now I'm going to have to write you out a ticket. "

Ok, now this joke has gone just a little too far, don't you think? I get that you want people to not dirty up the seats or cause any disruption of any sort, or whatever reason you may have for having such a rule. Ok, I can understand that. So you inconvenience me a bit, intimidate me a bit more, make me regret that I did such a terrible thing, and now I promise never to do it again.

But you're actually going to give me a ticket?!!!

I was just stunned. This whole experience was just surreal. He finishes writing it up, hands me the ticket for $50 and explains that I need to call a number on the back and I'll get details for how to pay it. He then wishes me a good night and goes along his merry way.

It was all just so preposterous I wasn't sure it had actually happened. But it did. I was holding a ticket in my hand proving it.

The entire ordeal was not all that unpleasant. The officers were courteous, although a bit too serious about the whole thing, but even still it was a very awful feeling that I had throughout it all. I felt like I was being treated like a criminal. What did I do to deserve that? I suppose I should be thankful they didn't frisk me and ask to search my bag. It would be one thing to just slap me with a fine, but to make us undergo that questioning was an entirely different experience. Because it was 1:30 AM, the area was deserted, but if it had occurred during normal hours, it would have been most humiliating. I really don't see the justification for such an approach. It did occur to me that this must be what many Arabs feel like in Israel when they are stopped randomly on the street for no other reason than the fact that they appear Arab, and are then forced to undergo an impromptu interrogation from the police. (Not that I think the two situations are the same. But the feeling of resentment it engenders is probably not at all dissimilar.) More significantly, it made me realize how bad my life could really be if the authorities were able to penalize me for every little thing in my life that I've ever been told not to do (or to do). Wouldn't those rabbis be thrilled? I'm sure my mother would've loved it if back in the day she had had a way to enforce my bed being made, the dishes being washed, not letting my shoes be left in the living room, and being home by 11!

I sincerely hope this incident wasn't a sign of the new world order. If it is, we're all in big trouble. (Then again, that's what I was told in yeshiva would happen one day. Such a future is exactly what the world will be like when moshiach comes. I can't wait!)


After researching it a bit online, I came up with some related articles on the issue, listed below for your perusal.

Mayor Turns New York Into the Forbidden Apple
(don't miss the story about the Israeli tourist)

Nickel-and-dimed on the IRT

Transit Authority eyes subway car-hopping fine

Gothamist: Subway House Rules

Official Transit Authority Rules Of Conduct

I'd thought I'd share with you what the ticket looks like. Below is a JPEG of my ticket, so you can see the details of my offense (click it for an enlarged version). Any lawyers want to take up my case and dispute the ticket for me?

Update: I went down to the Transit Court, disputed it, and got the ticket dismissed! See the dismissal here.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Meeting Elijah

Like every other frum kid, I grew up hearing many stories about how Elijah the Prophet periodically comes down from Heaven to perform some important heavenly task, usually while in disguise as a poor beggar. It's not unlike all the magical stories of elves that make their brief appearances every so often to also do some mysterious job (like hiding socks).

Well, yesterday, I was in SOHO, making my way to the Apple Store to buy myself an iPod and I decided to make a quick detour at Starbucks. As I was waiting at the pick-up counter, I glanced around the store a bit checking out the customers, when I noticed that standing right behind me was someone who looked just like Elijah. He also looked a lot like a certain character from Lord Of The Rings. I turned to a fellow standing near me, to confirm if the mystery prophet was who I thought he was, and he nodded in agreement. It was him! Frodo Baggins! AKA Elijah Wood! Holding some wierd Santa lawn ornament (I think it was just like the the one from the french film Amelie). And the most amazing thing was what he was wearing on his head: He had on a classic yeshivish black hat. It was a bit out of date, with a small brim, and probably not a Borsalino, but if I recall correctly, I think my 3rd grade rebbe wore something just like it. He was also talking to an attractive Asian woman, which I do not recall my 3rd grade rebbe doing very often. I was really dying to go over to him and say something, but I so didn't want to be one of those annoying fans who harass actors all the time. Also, unfortunately, I couldn't recall his name at the time, so it would have been a bit awkward. Anyway, I'm not such a LOTR fan anyway, so what would I have said?

But doesn't New York rock?

(This useless (but 100% true) post was specially composed for all my readers that insist on me writing more frequently. I'll try to keep you happy, but I'll have to resort to filler every so often.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006


A while ago I wrote about my dilemma regarding sharing the events and experiences of my life with my family. Not much has changed in that regard, and although I have dropped numerous hints, I haven't come out openly about anything too blatantly. At times, I think they kind of understand how I'm changing, but every once in a while someone will say something to me that indicates that they really have no inkling whatsoever of how far I am from where they believe me to be.* Despite my desire to be open and honest with them, I still feel that they prefer a state of plausible deniability, and therefore I've refrained from revealing any specific details about my secret (and oh, so sordid) life.

It occurred to me that the situation is pretty ironic in a way. In most (or many) situations where a child is drastically changing or behaving in a way that the rest of the family is disapproving of, one often hears the following lament from the parents: "I don't know what's happening to him. He doesn't talk to me at all. I don't know what's going on in his life. Every time I try to reach out to him, he just clams up and doesn't share anything. I wish he would just tell us a little bit what's going on."

However, in my situation it's the absolute opposite. I'm more than willing to share, to explain, to discuss (as evidenced by my discussions with Earnest Yeshiva Guy). But no one (ok, very few people) from my family is interested in hearing anything about my life. They prefer to remain in the dark, blissfully unaware of how I'm changing or why. Kind of funny, no?

Recently, I was talking to a close family friend who told me that one of my family members had called them up distraught, saying they were afraid I was really "going off", and wanted to know what to do about it. The family friend plainly told them there was nothing they really could do, except daven. "He's not a kid anymore. You can't change him. The only thing left for you to do is daven."

Putting aside the dubious efficacy of such a suggestion, what really boggles my mind is how the most obvious and simple course of action escapes them (both the relative and the advisor). It would seem to me that if you want to effect a change in someone's behavior, at the very least, the most basic thing you need to do is know why they have chosen their current route. You need to understand them. To see what's motivating them and effecting them to behave in the way they are. So if this person really wants to do something, why don't they start by taking the most simple and sensible step, and talk to me? To discover why I have chosen this path? I'll admit that I don't think they will achieve their desired goal, but it does seem to be the most appropriate tack to proceed with.

My poor family. I kind of feel sorry for them in a way. They want to help. But they just can't seem to allow themselves to.


* For example, my brother recently shared with me how he may shortly be joining a promising new kiruv program, and how excited he is about it, to be able to make such an important difference in people's lives. I was listening to him politely, nodding along, making the requisite complimentary remark, and all along thinking to myself, "Is this for real? Does he actually think I care for any of this? Doesn't he have any idea what I really think about the notion of a bunch of kollel drop-out's brainwashing kids into becoming frum?"

Evidently not. Now just keep nodding along. There you go... smile politely...