Sunday, January 24, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. When I read your comments Im reminded of my journey the other way. life as a secular person was so devoid of meaning, of content, of direction. It was boring.
    When I experienced frumkeit, I felt just what you express about leaving frumkeit. Excitement, contect, meaning and most importantly, freedom.
    I have never lost that freedom. to me Judasim regulates the mundane, and leaves free the higher realms of being a person, ie the ability to think, decide, create, and to be. I would much rather wear a skirt and be free to think, than wear tight pants and be fooled into thinking that I can never understand anything becasue everything is relative.
    i write to you in friendship and respect.