Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stressing Already

A guest post by TikunOlam

So it is that time again. Mom sent me the email asking for food requests – officially time to stress about Pesach. And it’s not at all what you might think. I am not stressing about cooking and cleaning. I am stressed about spending a three day Yom Tov in my parents’ Orthodox community. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. Just, since leaving Orthodoxy, I prefer when the time spent is on Sundays at the science museum, a ball game or barbequing. It is tough to go back to my childhood home for Yom Tov. I feel like I don’t have the right clothes or the right hat. I feel like my kids stick out as out of place because they don’t have fancy Shabbat coats as they are not the custom at my (non-Orthodox, non-New York based) shul. So when I am there, I feel like I am going to jump out of my skin. And I feel this way in part because my lack of frumkeit is a taboo subject much like the pink elephant in the room at my parents house. And I don’t enjoy the awkwardness this brings to me or my family. And it still hurts when I wonder if my family is embarrassed of me.

And also, it is because, even after being out of the Orthodox community for 15 years, I still dread the conversations that tend to go something like this:

Friend of my Parents: Gut Yontif (my name)!
Me: Chag Sameach, it is nice to see you.
FOMP: You too, you’re children are getting so big! So where are you living now?
Me: We live in (my town)
FOMP: Oh, that’s nice – you must know (insert Orthodox person in their 30s name here)
Me: No, sorry I don’t
FOMP: Oh, I’m surprised. So where do you daven? (oh, here it comes, the awkward conversation that gets repeated every time I visit.)
Me: (wishing I could say, I don’t daven cause I am an atheist) I belong to (my non-Orthodox shul’s name)
FOMP: Oh, is that a new shul there?
Me: No, it is a (non-Orthodox denomination shul)
FOMP: Oh. (inevitable awkward silence) That’s. Nice.

Or it goes something like this:

FOMP: Your kids are getting so big, you still live in (my town) right? So your kids go to (name of local Orthodox school)?
Me: No actually. They go to (name of non-Orthodox school).
FOMP: Oh. (inevitable awkward silence) Are. . .you. . . ummm, happy with (name of non-Orthodox school)?
Me: Yes, thanks. The kids are doing very well there.

Why do I dread this so much? Because I wonder what people are thinking as I answer these questions. And call me a paranoid freak if you want to – but since I have been openly criticized, yelled at and outright abandoned by some from my former life, these conversations still make me cringe. Because I know what some want to know. How do I know? Because these have been questions that have been posed to me or people in my life many times before:

What happened to her? (Nothing! I just need to live a life consistent with my beliefs)
What did her parents do wrong? (Nothing! In fact, all of their other children are fine Orthodox Jews)
Is it because she went to that (secular college)? (you get the idea)

So I dread it. so why do I go? Because I want to share Yom Tov with my family – whatever the terms. I want my children to have a relationship with their grandparents. But I wish it didn’t have to come with so much discomfort.

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