what to expect when you’re expecting (to leave nyc)

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?

3 thoughts on “what to expect when you’re expecting (to leave nyc)

  1. “I love orthodoxy even more now”

    Google ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

    …Relax, I’m kidding. But on a more serious note, just because you haven’t experienced a close knit and enthusiastic liberal community doesn’t mean they don’t exist, because they definitely do (although the barriers to entry are probably different/less straightforward in some). Of course there are things you can kind in an orthodox community that you wouldn’t find in a liberal one, but I think it’s fair to say that the same holds true in reverse. And imo diversity isn’t a bad thing as long as people remember that their community/movement isn’t superior in every way. (and again, this applies in both directions)

    We were talking about the lack of Jews in the region at Shabbat dinner a few weeks ago (in the context of how weird it is to have to go from store to store searching for challah on a Friday), so I also think you may have more in common with the liberal Jews of eastern VA than you think. Many of them are transplants from NJ/NY, and even though a lot of my Jewish friends here are not religiously observant there are still moments when we all feel out of place. It bothers me less than most, but I guess part of that is because i’ve moved around a lot (so I don’t really have a ‘home base’) and have always been slightly eccentric (for lack of a better word) so I probably don’t notice when people are stereotyping me or making assumptions about me. The way I see it, it’s not my problem what other people think of me if i’m happy with myself and my choices.

    “I wish they’d understand how I can want to be feminist and still orthodox”

    Well, there is as much diversity outside of orthodoxy as inside of it as i’m sure you know, so you can’t expect everyone to be a great representative for their movement (or Judaism, or humanity in general). From my perspective I have to admit that I do find the idea of ‘feminist orthodoxy’ to be problematic, if by ‘orthodoxy’ we mean the establishment/s. (I don’t consider ‘orthodox’ and ‘traditional’ to be synonymous – certainly the orthodox are traditional, but I don’t think all traditional Jews could be correctly called orthodox)

    Keep in mind that I am a marxist, so i’m looking at this marxist-ly: there are superstructural issues which prevent real gains from being made, and will continue to prevent them, because they are part of the frame that holds the current system together. Minor concessions may be made here and there but a house built of an unstable foundation will always be in danger of collapsing. It is very possible that the only way to effectively combat misogyny and female exclusion is to learn new ways of thinking about what it means to be a Jewish woman (or a man, or any gender for that matter) – in other words, anything short of a paradigm shift on this issue is only counterproductively delaying what is inevitably necessary to realize female equality. So yes, I think it is possible that many feminists have abandoned the orthodox establishment as a lost cause, but that doesn’t necessarily equal being entirely happy with the alternatives. We can always become the change we want to see while respecting the choices of others who see things differently, including women who choose to remain within orthodoxy. I can only speak for myself, but it’s a purely political/philosophical decision for me and not an attack on the characters of individual orthodox women (or men). (viewing an establishment as hostile to one’s goals doesn’t mean one must necessarily view individual members of the establishment as hostile/bad people/any other negative descript

  2. And imo diversity isn’t a bad thing as long as people remember that their community/movement isn’t superior in every way

    I remember when I first came to nyc someone said she wished that we could all just get along whether you were ortho or secular or in between. I thought that was stupid at the time but I’ve seen different varieties of orthodox here get along just fine, and I would like to see everyone get along despite the stupid labels.

    Not that liberal jews aren’t allowed to have a community, but seriously living within walking distance of each other and doing things OUTSIDE OF SHUL SOMETIMES really does something to facilitate that.

    I guess part of that is because i’ve moved around a lot

    Me too! ftw

    I have to admit that I do find the idea of ‘feminist orthodoxy’ to be problematic, if by ‘orthodoxy’ we mean the establishment/s

    Obviously. I don’t like “the establishment” anything, and if I wasn’t converting I would probably opt to not be a part of the “establishment” at all. And I’m not going to gravitate toward the kind of people who would throw up if I say the word “feminist.” (And I think those people know intuitively to stay away from me!) I’ve met people who make it work on the micro level. I don’t care about the macro/establishment level so much these days.

  3. “living within walking distance of each other and doing things OUTSIDE OF SHUL SOMETIMES really does something to facilitate that”

    I totally agree. In rural areas this is obviously difficult because of the distance between houses, and in the suburbs everyone could in theory walk to each other but everyone has their nice picket fences so if they want to be community oriented they have to actually make an effort. But in my experience most communities in a large city don’t have this problem because everyone lives practically on top of each other and you don’t need a car to get around – and this seems to be a cross-cultural phenomenon. My dad’s family is Italian and grew up in South Philadelphia – in the same house my dad grew up in, where everyone knew each other, and I was friends with the children of my dad’s friends. I even went to the same private school as my dad and two of my teachers had him as a student…And of course everyone walked everywhere and went to each others houses all the time, had parties in the street, celebrated holidays together, etc. And these were mostly Italian Catholics.

    I think something about living in close physical proximity facilitates a much more social lifestyle, and in ethnic neighborhoods people tend to be third or fourth generation living in the same place so you have deep roots before you are even born. I know from experience how appealing it is to be part of a community like that, but also how suffocating it can be at times. But also how nowhere else ever really feels like home if you leave. :/


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