Sunday, January 24, 2010

Modesty is not about stockings…or wigs…or skirts… (by Lily)

Sheitel (

Ah, tznius (modesty) – one of the frum world’s most-talked-about topics, of unique obsession to Ba’alei Teshuva. It is one of those observances that can encompass myriad chumras - more than a new recruit can even keep up with at first. Coupled with the often-publicized notion that improper observance of tznius by the Jewish women is to blame for a number of the communities’ tragedies, the topic of tznius is overwhelming for the newly religious (and a great challenge to undo for the formerly frum).

I’ll preface this post with a little information about myself,now and pre-Lubavitch. I have always been a pretty quiet person. I like to read, have coffee with friends, shop, and go for long walks on the beach (ok, the last one is a dream, but you get the idea). With the exception of some trendy outfits as a teenager, I’ve always dressed fairly conservatively – jeans, pretty tops, low heels. When I started making the transition into Orthodoxy, however, my perception of modesty was altered and corrupted – to the detriment of my self-image and confidence.

In my early stages of becoming frum, one of the most profound aspects of frum life was tznius. I was absolutely fascinated by the glamorous, silky, stylish sheitels of the rebbetzins I met. The swish-swish sound of the floor-skimming denim skirts the “girls” wore during the week was captivating. On Shabbos, all the women at the Chabad house looked like models. Their barely-covering-the-knee skirts, knee-high leather boots with heels and stunning jewelry were high-fashion. I started to change my style of dress slowly, and within a month or two, I had purged my closet of all the jeans, open-toed shoes, short-sleeved tops, and anything else immodest. All of these items were replaced with long skirts I purchased at Goodwill, crew-necked long-sleeved shirts and a collection of stockings and knee-high socks. I never quite mastered the “Hot Chanie” look, but I was pretty satisfied with my progress. I wanted acceptance, and the community seemed to be responding favorably (my barometer was all of the phone calls, Shabbos invitations and whatnot). All was well. I was adapting very nicely to the tznius rules…in my city, anyway.
When I got to the yeshiva, however, I was in for a surprise. The second day I was in Brooklyn, I selected a just-below-the-knee, pink and white paisley skirt, a white, long-sleeved button-down blouse, sheer stockings and a pair of black flats. I went out to do my errands on Kingston – but didn’t make it too far. Blocks from my basement apartment, a lady stood on the corner. As I came into her view, she called me over and harshly reprimanded me for my immodest clothing. According to her, the reason I hadn’t found a shidduch yet and started a Jewish home was because of my lack of tznius. I went home and cried. Because I was in such a fragile and easily-influenced state of mind (we’ll talk more about this during book club discussions!), I really took her words to heart. I became obsessed with tznius.
There’s a bus in Crown Heights that takes you to the heart of Boro Park, where you can shop to your heart’s content for anything and everything Jewish, frum, and Kosher. Along the lengthy blocks, one can find Chassidim of all backgrounds. Walking from store to store, I attracted less-than-kind looks from the Chassidish women. I quickly realized that my dress was to blame. Dressed in a deliciously swish-swishy denim skirt, long-sleeved tee and a hoodie, I was not in uniform for Boro Park. The ladies there were decked out in fancy skirt suits, dripping in diamonds, and wearing vintage-looking stockings with seams running up the backs. Their sheitels were simple, and many wore an additional headcovering on top of the wigs. I was sold. This, I thought, is modesty. They look so elegant. “We are meant to dress like daughters of the King,” I remembered hearing. These women look like that!
And so, I began to emulate the modesty in dress of the Chassidim. I received accolades from many in my Lubavitch circle of friends in Crown Heights and elsewhere. “Leah, you’re amazing! Such an eishes chayil!” I came to enjoy the attention and the now-sickening notion of “out-frumming” others. It was a spiritual high that came at the cost of others’ self-image. I was doing to others what the Tznius Police lady on Kingston had done to me. Blinded by my pursuit of holiness, however, I kept going. Sheer knee-hi’s became stockings, which became opaque, which became full tights. Skirts had kick-pleats; denim was out. Pajama pants were definitely gone, too, and replaced by matronly robes.

The height of my obsession with modesty came when I received the book pictured at left, Modesty – An Adornment for Life. I joined an online study group that helped me navigate the expansive tome, which even included quizzes. This book, authored by the famed Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk of Gateshead, UK, covered every conceivable minutia of tznius. It was terrifying fodder for the constantly-racing mind of the Ba’alat Teshuva. I made it my goal to adopt as many of the chumras in the book as possible. I became very, very plain, very quickly – and extremely quiet, to avoid immodest speech. I went above and beyond the book in many areas, including shaving my head a la Satmar to ensure total immersion in the waters of the mikvah, and to prevent myself further from exposing my hair to anyone, even my husband.

I felt accomplished, but at the same time, I experienced twinges of sadness at times as I gazed at the nearly-bald person in the mirror each day. On the road off the derech, I let go of a lot of my tznius chumras before totally frei-ing out. I did my very best to become a Hot Chanie, but I just couldn’t handle those boots – and I felt kind of stupid in a Jessica Simpson-style, expensive, flippy, silky, long, shiny, one-eye-covering (you know what I mean…see the pic below right for example of hairstyle) sheitel at the grocery store. It just wasn’t me – and neither was the concept of modesty in the Orthodox world.
The hardest part of phasing back into wearing pants/short sleeves/open toes/you name it was coming to terms with the idea that you can dress normally without looking like a lady of the evening, euphemistically speaking. Like so many things in the frum world, tznius is all or nothing. You’re either with us, or against us (literally, as community tragedies are so often blamed on a lack of female modesty). For about a year, I experimented with my clothing and accessories. At times, it was too much. In jeans and a sweater, I felt horribly exposed. I had been taught that leg contours in pants were extremely provocative. Wearing a baseball cap instead of a wig or a scarf, I felt like a traitor. But as time went on, I became comfortable being myself. It became fun to go to a store and have the choice of buying whatever clothing I felt like. I looked attractive, conservative and modest by my own standards. Little by little, my Old Navy style came back. I became more confident, too – two weeks ago, I ditched the sheitel for good. My hair is still growing out from the final buzz cut over a year ago. It’s not a hairstyle yet (more like lots of bobby pins and a can of hairspray), but I’m proud of it. It’s a tiny ponytail, yes, but it’s mine.
I’ve come up with my own definition of modesty. It’s not about stockings, or wigs, or skirts – it’s about valuing oneself enough to dress and conduct herself in a way befitting a human being worthy of respect. It doesn’t matter what color your nail polish is, or what kind of shoes you’re wearing, or whose head your sheitel’s hair came from – it’s about fostering a healthy sense of self-worth. Showing off every inch of one’s body doesn’t work with this philosophy, and neither does covering up from head to toe. What are your thoughts about tznius? Have you ever had an encounter with the Tznius Police? How have your views evolved or changed?
With love,

But Fear Itself (by Mimi)

This site has, thus far, been an immense source of strength and learning for all of us; writers, readers, onlookers. As we read eachother’s stories, we suddenly don’t feel as alone- and it broadens our myopic horizons to see that others went through what we did but in different shades of color, in different sounds, textures, and backdrops.

One think that is really striking me as both a writer of this blog and as a member of our little community is the prevalence among us of an omnipresent, omnipotent, and debilitating FEAR. Its almost as though years later, while we have left the very lifestyle that imposed certain restraints and obstructions to freedom upon us, many of us are still imprisoned by a (either real or perceived) force of fear and paranoia that it makes one think that we may have left one prison, only to enter another.

And I, dear readers, am not immune from it myself. Recently, some comments from an onlooker really struck me at the core. Some people may perceive this site to be anti-semitic; conducive to anti-semitism; and a disservice to klal Yisroel in general because it “says negative things about Jews.” I realized, and was able to see and understand that this very sort of backlash is what keeps so many of us “in the closet,” because sometimes, ANY kind of challenge to orthodoxy is seen and interpreted as a challenge to the very fabric of Judaism itself.

While I, nor any of you, can immediately change the fact that speaking out may threaten and fuel this sort of nonsensical backlash, these comments did get me thinking, and brought me to realize that in fact, the very instances that hurt me and traumatized me were wholly UNJEWISH in nature; that the very purpose of this site is, in one respect, to help those of us who wish to maintain a productive and healthy relationship with Judaism to be able to do so without painful stabs of guilt, paranoia, fear, or hurt.

One such instance is the presence of Ruth in the Torah (as seen in this portrait). Ruth was a righteous convert. The mother of King David was herself a convert. And many, many passages of the Torah remind us that “we were all strangers in Sinai.” Where, then, does the distrust and abuse of converts in some Orthodox communities come from? The answer to that question is not easy to answer. Some say it is because of the many “ingenuine” conversions and intermarriages, and sometimes its just plain bigotry. The point is that the image of the convert in true Judaism is one that is heralded, respectful, and a times superior to that of a Jew who was born Jewish.

Many of the minhagim, or “traditions” we see now (sheitels, long skirts, etc) are semblances of norms in centuries past that have carried over to communities now. One intellectually challenging study might be: Why are modern Hassidic communities in the west following the lifestyle, dress, culinary and other strictures of a city in Russia, 200 or more years ago? This is also not an easy question to answer, as persecution of Jews, and the lack of a homeland, has led to a strict embracing of a way of life because it is one thing that can be controlled; one thing that, if followed closely, can maintain its population. That is perhaps one explanation. While I am not a Judaic studies scholar, that seems like a logical explanation for why certain ”norms” are so dutifully obeyed.

Others who are more versed in cultic studies might suggest that these are tactics used to promote homogeneity and to ensure that members will not leave. The point here is: how do we maintain our challenge to, and recognition of, the hurt and abuse we endured, while maintaining a neutrality and healthy sense of identity? As Judaism is undoubtedly an unshakeable and permanent infusion to our identities, how do we make peace with it? Love it?

I have recently been made aware of “alternative” shuls, gatherings, and Jewish communities that encourage freedom of expression, dialogue, and peace. One goal I have is to visit some of these places and write to you all about them. I honestly believe that common ground and discussion will heal us: we can’t do it alone. So why not forge our own way? There is so much brilliance and wisdom in Jewish history and thought. This site is NOT about discrediting that.

I’m kind of putting this all out there to get a sense of what you all hope to achieve; what you are all looking for in a community of the formerly frum. Please let me know!

Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach (by Lily)

Last week, one of our readers asked us if we might post our experiences with the Messianic madness of Chabad-Lubavitch, and particularly about Meshichism, or the belief that the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, or simply “The Rebbe”) is the Messiah. Wow…where to even start with this one?

Menachem M. Schneerson

When I was first becoming religious, I didn’t have a clue about the Jewish idea of the Messiah. Growing up, I had never heard the word “Messiah” uttered in conjunction with anything except Christianity. Little by little, though, as I became more and more immersed in Lubavitch, I started to notice “Moshiach” popping up as a prominent theme. In fact, the rabbi who started me on the whole journey instructed me to proclaim “Moshiach NOW!” each night before I fell asleep.

A "Moshiach Flag"

You may recall that in my “Lily’s Story”post, I mentioned “yellow posters with crowns and pictures of the Rebbe, with Hebrew letters beneath.” These signs, which I could not read at the time for lack of Hebrew skills, boldly proclaimed, “Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’Olam Va’ed,” which translates to “Long live our Master, our Teacher and Our Rebbe, King Moshiach, Forever and Ever!!” There were also myriad yellow flags bearing simple blue crown insignias and the Hebrew letters Mem-Shin-Yud-Ches, reading “Moshiach.” Lots of rather scraggly yeshiva students (many of whom were from Safed, Israel and known to their not-so-adoring Crown Heights hosts as the “Tzfati Bochurim”) wore the flag on their regulation black jackets as lapel pins. The yeshiva that Mimi and I attended is staunchly Meshichist, although certainly not marketed as such by the shluchim who send new recruits there. Mimi and I were in for a slew of surprises as we entered the world of Chabad meshichists.

“Ok…so…explain this to me,” I asked a friend over some Kingston Pizza one day in yeshiva, “The Rebbe…was…the Messiah?” “Is, Leah, is!” she spewed (we’ll call her Rochel), at once frustrated and excited. “He is Moshiach!” Rochel proceeded to rattle off a list of why the Rebbe “is” the messiah, as I tried to make sense of it all. Many of the “proofs” commonly cited can be found here. It never quite sat well with me that day, but like so many other things at the yeshiva, with time and calculated indoctrination, it eventually sank in and “made sense.” After having my own opinions and thoughts shot down during Moshiach chats with friends and madrichot, I came to the conclusion that the Rebbe hadto be Moshiach, really. Was there anyone more worthy in our generation? No. Not at that yeshiva, anyway.

A volume of the Rebbe's letters, translated into English

One afternoon, I came back to the yeshiva dormitory to find another fellow student in tears on the floor of the dining area, frantically and feverishly flipping through a set of books. “You okay, Nechama?” I asked her. She looked up at me with tears in her glassy green eyes. “I just lost the most important letter that the Rebbe ever sent to me!!!” I stopped for a second, totally confused. I knew that weeks before, Nechama’s name was not Nechama, that months before, she was probably not terribly religious and that the Rebbe had died, or disappeared for our sight, or didn’t die, orwhatever, when we were literally young children. Oops. Shouldn’t have asked that. Nechama became hysterical. It was then that I learned about custom of placing a note in a volume of the Rebbe’s letters to other people, or “Igros Kodesh.” According to popular thought, the page you open to contains King Moshiach’s answer TO YOU. Some have the custom to chant “Yechi Adoneinu…” before they open the book, others select a volume at random, insert the note, give some time, then open it. Some interpret the answers alone, others consult with a mashpia (personal spiritual counselor). The customs vary, but where we were, the very frequency was disturbing. Many girls asked the Rebbe advice on totally mundane topics, completely dependent on other people’s mail from a departed rabbi for decision-making. It was very, very sad.

One final, rather comical example of the potent meshichist influence at our yeshiva is that of “Devorah,” a girl in her early twenties who was perhaps the most indoctrinated of the lot. Devorah once told Mimi and me that she would no longer be davening for ANYTHING except the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. All the world really needed, she explained, was to be reunited in a physical sense with the Rebbe. Oy vey.


On another occasion, she told us that she couldn’t wait to taste giraffe meat. (Are you wrinkling up your forehead at that one? Scratching your head mayhaps? Don’t worry, we did, too. Tactfully, of course.) When one of us asked the inevitable, “Huh?” Devorah responded that until the days of Moshiach, we will never really know how to properlyshecht (slaughter) the giraffe – it’s very complicated because of the long neck. Oy vey.

Clearly, Mimi and I had our share of experience with Chabad Messianism. Thankfully, we are no longer yellow-flag carrying members of the group, but many, many people are (and become so) all the time. The Rebbe as Moshiach is one of the most striking examples of the cultic nature of Chabad-Lubavitch. We’ll revisit the idea when we start our book club discussion later this month.

What are your thoughts on the issue of Moshiach in ultra-Orthodoxy? Have you had any interesting experiences with it? How have your views evolved or changed?

With Love,


A Stranger Among Us

So, it’s natural for us to think we are alone in this. I mean, when I start thinking about my struggle with frumkeit, and my experiences with it, I am so drowned in my own feelings that it’s hard to even imagine someone else going through the same thing. But this weekend, a friend of mine invited me to the Brooklyn Museum for First Saturday, an event that, on the first saturday of the month, the entire museum is open to the public and there is dancing, live music, and food. But most interestingly, is the crowd it draws. Perched in a gorgeous Athenian style building on Eastern Parkway, half way between 770 (Lubavitcher central) and Park Slope (hip neighborhood) and also within blocks of myriad Jamaican and Haitian neighborhoods, the crowd at the event was anything but homogenous. As I walked around, a little antsy at being so close to Crown Heights (I tent to stay as far away as possible), I noticed that walking in between the various artsy crowds were a few yamalkas. And peyes. And long skirts. Incognito, of course; one undercover Lubi was wearing a denim jacket and had his bright red hair combed over in a neo-60s hair do in an attempt to “mesh” his Peyot. All the undercover frummies had the same look on their faces, and about their eyes: A sort of lost wander, a drunken submission to curiosity and otherness. It was really wild. They were young, and walking around alone. A few frum girls had come together. They stood at the edges of the dancefloor, and looked on in amazement. I wondered where their parents thought they were. At a shiur? A friends house? Given the fact that these people grew up in frum homes, I considered it a major step for them to come to the event. It was a reaching out, a grasping for air. It was written all over their faces: There is a world outside of this frum world that I want to be in. I want to dip my toes into the water. I want to live. There was also the desire to express themselves as individuals- they were all dressed, refreshingly, in artful and non-conservative clothing. The girls had on short sleeves and makeup. The boys were all wearing jeans and colorful shirts. But they also looked lost, scared, and very, very, alone.

As I was walking, I ran almost face first into this painting: Larger than life, and spanning

nearly floor to ceiling, was “Jacob Wrestle’s With the Angel.” Of course, I immediately remembered the Melville poem,

Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity — reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel.

Printed beneath the painting was a little blurb about the theme of the Angel, representing man’s endless struggle with religion, mysticism, the metaphysical, art–all that transcends our mortality. But the painting, speaks words because the angel and Jacob wrestling are so small; they are but a little twisted ball of bodies against an enormous backdrop of what appears to be a tree, but perhaps represents nature. Nature stands unrelenting, dark, bark against light; unassuming; not judging; devoid of logic or fairness.

I think our desire to fit in, our need for what orthodoxy represents, is that Angel. Something otherworldly that we can aspire to, that holds us together, that unlike the mortal, it can never be broken. But nature reigns and rages in us, bleating with passion, desire, the love of freedom, of self, of lust, or expression. We have tried to label it’s urges for centuries as good and evil; and each generation has crushed and redefined the morals and thoughts of the past. The very insulated resurrection of ancient European Hassidic traditions that these communities are attempting to preserve and replicate is threatened when the youth wander over to a party at the Brooklyn Museum. I guess its sort of like, the times, they are a changin’. In the meantime, there are many faces and hearts out there are are trying to break free and experiment. It is all of our responsibilities, no matter where we are in our transition phase, to help one another. Lily and I are trying to add more interactive elements to Formerly Frum so that we can build a real community and grow together. But for now, dear readers, I suggest that you learn, learn, learn! Challenge yourself relentlessly. And write to us about it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

When Mimi and I started this blog, we wondered if anyone would read it. I remember contacting her several weeks ago and asking her, “I know it’s been years since we left Crown Heights and frumkeit behind, but do you still hurt from it? Do you still feel frustrated, confused, betrayed, even angered about it?” Mimi told me that no matter what other wonderful successes have happened in her life, she, like me, is still haunted by our time as frum Jews, and the way we were treated. We experience a wide spectrum of emotions running thr gamut from being upset with ourselves for being taken for a ride to pride in the freedom we’ve attained to confusion about how to experience Judaism in a meaningful way. Since we both love to write, we decided that keeping a blog would be a healing way to express the countless emotions that come along with being “formerly frum.” We felt that if even one person read it and got something out of it, it would be amazing. We also hoped to make new friends and form a circle of support as we continue our journey back into the world, and back to emotional health and well-being.

Weeks later, we owe you all a debt of gratitude. Thank you, readers, for the gift that you have been to us. Your comments, site visits, Facebook fan-ings (there must be a word for that…:)) and friendship have shown us that we are not alone. Mimi and I never realized just how many formerly frum men and women there are out there! Over the past few weeks, many of you have graciously and lovingly allowed us into your lives and shared your own stories with us. We are beyond grateful for those precious gifts.

Last night, I went out for coffee with a religious friend of mine. She shared a lot of her own doubts and questions with me…so many of which I remember having at the very beginning of my formerlyfrum journey two years ago. I listened patiently and did my best not to try and sway her – I think it’s vitally important to allow people time to process their own thoughts (something I was not afforded at our illustrious yeshiva). Still, it was heart-wrenching to see a friend going through the same torrent of emotions I did without much support. The necessity of that support system during the process of “frei-ing out” is precisely why OTDers are banding together on blogs and in online communities. Going off the frum derech is a tremendous challenge, and it can’t be done alone.

As we begin a new year, look for exciting new changes here at FormerlyFrum. We’ll be expanding to a full website with many exciting features and events. Special thanks to our friend Undercover Kofer for his help and creative vision as we grow toward our goal of reaching out with love, compassion and support to those leaving (or questioning) Orthodox Judaism.

“Leah,” my friend told me as we sipped our lattes (she still calls me by my Hebrew name), “I admire you. You are so, so brave to be doing what you’re doing. It sounds amazing. Hard, but amazing.” To each of you – what you are doing is truly amazing. As we all know, going from frum to formerly frum is no easy task. It takes resolve, bravery, and yes,chutzpah. It’s a feat, but not an insurmountable one – if we face the challenge together.

I am going to take the liberty of starting a new tradition – the FormerlyFrum New Year’s Resolution thread. In 2010, I am going to try and rise above the damage done to my self-esteem by my years in Chabad. I will strive to see myself in a new light – as someone whose views and goals are as important as others’ are, and who is worthy of respect and love. What is your FormerlyFrum resolution for 2010? How can you make this your best year yet?

With love and hope for a truly amazing 2010,


Monday, December 28, 2009

FormerlyFrum Book Club Begins January 28th!

The first FormerlyFrum Book Club selection will be Captive Hearts, Captive Mindsby Madeleine Landau Tobias, Dr. Janja Lalich, Ph.D., and Michael Langone! This book offers support to people who have been members of religious and other cults and is full of honest, helpful advice for reintegrating into the secular world and healing emotional wounds. Each week, we’ll tackle one chapter and discuss our individual perspectives on it. Though we’re not therapists or counselors, we’re firm believers in supporting one another as we make the transition from the frum world into (or back into) mainstream society. Click here to purchase the book from

This book was tremendously helpful to me as I transitioned back into secular living after years in Chabad. It validated so many of the feelings I was experiencing and gave words to my emotions. I recommend it highly and am certain you will gain insights and peace from it. Please make plans to have your books ready by January 28th, when we will begin our discussion over the first chapter.

Looking forward to this journey with you -

With love,


Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's That Time Of Year Again

Many people ask me about my experience with Chabad as though I were mysteriously and irreverently drawn into a cult; as though I were a typical southern California valley girl one day, and a long skirt wearing, Moshiach-spouting vessel the next. But as with most stories, and most of our collective lives, it's never that simple, is it.

It all began with a trip to Israel in my formative teen years with a summer youth group. It was innocent and full of wonder, replete with nights spent sleeping on the shores of the Kinneret; wandering the mystical Old City of Jerusalem; floating over the limestone by the Kotel like an angel finally anchored to heaven. I was 16, and somewhere in that summer, for the first time I began to feel something. Before that, Judaism had been tedious- I was forced to go to Hebrew school and often skipped classes because I couldn't stand the snobby, over-fed, spoiled Reform kids. I had a Bat Mitzvah and focued on the after-party, and impressing my friends. It never really meant anything, until I went to Israel. Everything made sense in Israel; the sand, sea, golden sunlight, olive trees, the Kibbutz, and the feeling I had when i was around a large group of Jews was unlike any other; I felt present and aware of the moment unlike any other time in my life. The energy, purpose, and history came together like an unshakeable trifecta of human identity and motion; and I was on the Ride, never to look back again. And sure enough, when I came home from Israel, symptoms of withdrawal shook me to my core and left everything plain, unmeaningful, unholy. So I tried, as hard as I could, to recreate Israel at home.

My opportunity to do so didn't arise until college. I remember sitting in a literary theory class, listening to a lecture on Nietzche by a rather frenzied and impatient Lit professor. "The Jews." He began, stopping for a moment, perhaps pondering how to proceed without making himself liability, or rendering himself politically incorrect, to any faction. "Nietzche was preoccuppied- rather,obsessed, if you will, by the Jews. He wrote endlessly of them; famously, he was considered an anti-semitic. But in reality, he was in awe of them, dumbfounded by their resilience and alienation of the nihilism that plagued him. And this was never more apparent than when he said: " The professor stopped short, as though gripped by the very obsession that possessed his subject. "Nietzche wrote that in history, it was not the Romans, as history believes, that won the War against the Hebrews. But rather, if one walks into any Cathedral in Rome, one is surrounded by Images of a Jew: Jesus. And all of Rome worships him, and prays to him as their Lord. Now you, dear citizens, tell me who won the war." I felt that feeling again when I heard this- the old feeling of longing for a home written in limestone, of longing for voices and faces recycled from those at Mt. Sinai. That collective, thing. Perhaps it was this feeling that drove me to Chabad on friday evenings, when Hillel failed to interest me (I wasn't interested in a meatmarket: I wanted to unlock the secret behind being Jewish.) And at one Chabad friday night dinner, the Rabbi, a young mystic and former Grateful Dead follower, saw right through me. "That thing," he began, "That fire, is called Pintele Yid." What's that? I asked, silently happy that someone could finally put it into words. "It's that spark inside a Jew that makes him different from everyone else, makes him shine. And it's what draws Jews to other Jews."

Of course, that was before Crown Heights; that was before the feelings of inferiority, outcast, and self-loathing; that was before. But tonight, as I dutifully sat through a friend's Christmas Eve dinner, my mind wandered over to that feeling again. That feeling, in isolation of all the nastiness, the judgment, the revenge, the minefield of guilt- there was an image of Judaism I fell in love with. Perhaps that image, that true spirit and learning and wisdom that really does separate Jewishness from other faiths, can exist. Perhaps it is so powerful, so intoxicating, that, like a drug, it can be used for the wrong purpose. Perhaps those people in Crown Heights, or any other insulated ultra-Orthodox community, misuse and abuse that powerful antidote, get high from it, and hurt themselves and eachother by interpreting and using it the wrong way. A drug can save lives; it can also kill. I'm not so sure I am ready to give up on that image, that "truth", that perhaps, on it's own two legs, would never have caused me pain for being a convert, or any of the pain any one of us has felt. I am still in awe of it, though- fascinated by the grasp it has over the human psyche, and the still trembling origins of its verse. Please, dear readers, give me your thoughts? Love, Mimi