Leaving the Fold and Returning to It: Two Tales of Adjustment
I did something recently that I said I wasn’t going to do anymore: I read an online essay by a woman who left the “ultra-Orthodox” fold. At first, I skimmed it just enough to glean that the writer had been brought up being told what to think, and that the Internet led her to freedom, albeit at the cost of her marriage, her family and her community.
I try to avoid these tell-alls, but they’re hard to resist. (It’s worth pondering why tales of “how-I-left-my-religious- upbringing” garner mainstream appeal, while stories of people’s return to Jewish observance never get past Jewish book stores.)
I could relate to some of the writer’s feelings, though. I also grew up feeling slightly uncomfortable in the world I was born into. When I started to learn about Torah Judaism, I discovered there was more to my religion than tradition. Eventually, the evidence supporting G-d’s revelation to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai became hard to ignore. It was also hard to embrace.
Only G-d knows why I chose to climb this difficult mountain of Torah life, somehow trusting that every bodily mitzvah would condition me for my daunting spiritual tasks, among them — to love all Jews unequivocally, to put others’ needs before my own, to forgive when I preferred to be angry. When I look down, I see how far I’ve climbed; I also know I have a way to go.
I also appreciate the writer’s zeal for her new outlook on life, but I question her judgment in sharing so quickly her disdain for her past. If she didn’t want to shave her head, she could have easily found one of the hundreds of observant Jewish communities where women don’t do this. If her parents were unenlightened, or even awful, she’s still here because of them. She’s rushed to judgment so quickly. How does she know that she made the right decision?
It took almost 30 years to know that I made the right decision to return to Jewish observance. There was and still is some pain surrounding my upbringing, but I try to be discreet about sharing the details. My posts may not go viral, but being sensitive to others is what Judaism is all about.
I know how challenging it was for me as an adult to completely change the way I thought. Fortunately for me, the Lubavitcher Rebbe elucidates Torah concepts in terms that make “thinking like a Jew” accessible in all aspects of life, everywhere. In fact, Lubavitcher Chassidim are encouraged to live outside ultra-Orthodox enclaves because the entire world is viewed as a receptacle for G-dliness — not an impediment to it. Relationships, especially sacred ones like family and lifelong friends, are potential encounters with the divine as well. It can be challenging to handle everyone with G-dly care, but I made the decision to try. And the most important thing is to try to keep people close, especially when it comes to sharing simchas, which is what I try to do.