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!