Well, my job is done here. I’m leaving new york in twelve days and when I look back I think I learned a few life lessons. And all it cost me was $4,000 and my soul. I don’t regret it, though. I am going to regret, however, all the questions when I get back. “So, how was it?” “Why did you come back?” “How are you going to be Jewish now?” That last one is the one I’m looking forward to the least. How to even begin?
Luckily, these will be polite southerners asking and not nosy new yorkers, so hopefully it won’t be too bad but in any case I’ll have to–solely with my wit–counteract their thinking that I left because I hate orthodoxy. Oh, they’d like that wouldn’t they? I’m going to begin every conversation with “I love orthodoxy even more now” just to make sure the thought doesn’t even cross their mind.
I’m not about to tell them the real reason. Not really because it’s complicated so much as I know how simplistic their proposed solution will be–“Why can’t you just be conservative/recon? There’s a conservative/recon shul right here!” One thing I won’t miss about flatbush is uptightness and the mitzvah police, but at the same time I have never seen a liberal replication of the community that orthodoxy makes (except maybe hadar).
I think new york did something to me. I feel more intolerant of gentiles who are amused by judaism and while before I could have been at least a little amused with them, now it’s just becoming an irritant. For instance, one of my friends posted this picture from Humans of New York on my fb wall:
He said he saw it and it made him think of me.
Now, I love my friend and he is cool and nice and awesome. But a lot of my friends do this. They see a picture of a menorah or something and it makes them “think of me” cause it’s virginia and I’m the token etc. I mean, it’s cute that they care and stuff, but it’s just like “guys, this is my life, why are you so amused by a lulav.” One thing I’ll miss about new york is not having to be “the jew” or feeling like you’re such a frummy for being the trader joe’s passover section’s only patron. Living here for four months made me forget, if only for a moment, what I’m going to deal with when I come back home.
OK, so that’s the negative character trait I developed. The positive one, I think you’ll enjoy this, is that I feel a bit less judgmental of other jews. This, I’m certain, is something that wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed in virginia. I think I had to see what it’s like to be the renegade living in hiding to understand how other people could feel “bullied by the orthodox.” I still think that wording is a bit strong, but now I can feel what it’s like to do things you wouldn’t normally do alone, by rote, just cause you’re expected to in polite company. I wouldn’t say I was “bullied,” but I could see how someone might feel cornered. Boxed in.
You should know by now that I am a highly acclaimed sociologist. So I like to be in a position to be as empathetic to as many groups as possible. I’m not naturally empathetic, in case you haven’t noticed. And I don’t pretend to “see others’ points of view” when I don’t actually see them. But, going through this whole thing–i.e. becoming a armchair philosopher, becoming religious, becoming highly religious, becoming non-religious, becoming someone who hates aish and chabad.org, becoming someone who reads aish and chabad.org, becoming an anti-skeptic, becoming a skeptic, becoming incredibly close to the subject, becoming distant from the subject–has made me appreciate why people sometimes are the way they are.
Before, I didn’t understand what it was to not believe in Judaism religiously but to still be unable/unwilling to leave the culture. Now I understand it. Before, I didn’t understand how orthodox women wouldn’t want to be feminist, now I kinda understand. And finally being in an orthodox community and not having to be on the defensive for orthodoxy all the time, I can understand why liberal jews choose to be liberal. I wish they’d understand how I can want to be feminist and still orthodox, but you can’t have everything now, can you?