Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Stepping off the derech: the role of independence

Last entry I talked about the role of community in helping me step off the derech- the lack of community ties among orthodox judaism, and the new community I built for myself.

Now I guess I want to talk about the role of independence. I'm reading this book for an exam I'm taking on the sociology of the family, and it's about the rise of this time period between youth and adulthood when individuals don't live in their family of origin, but aren't married yet either. The author traces this phenomenon to the rise of interracial and same-sex relationships, since children are no longer under their parent's rule while choosing their future partners. He also connects it to the rise of activist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, since there was this new group of individuals who weren't being controlled by parents, and who had little or nothing to lose, since they weren't married.

I almost didn't have such a time period in my life. No matter how much I begged them, my parents wouldn't let me move away from college, which is why, for the first two years of college i communted almost 4 hours each day (2 hours each way) to get from my parents house in new jersey to my college in new york city. They finally let me start dorming when I was 20 years old...not because they were all of a sudden happy about me being on my own, but becuase i proved that it was financially cheaper for me to dorm (the dorms cost $250 a month and transportation cost almost as much...plus I would be paying for everything apart from my dorm and tuition with the help of 1 or 3 part time jobs). Also, as my dad so elequently put it, "he could trust me not to sleep around becuase I had a boyfriend at home." At that point I had been dating my ex about 3 years, and even though we weren't engaged yet, my parents knew we would be soon. And (coincidentally?) my ex had just moved into my parent's neighborhood, about 4 blocks away from my parents and into his own apartment- so my parents probably figured I wouldn't be around him as much if they let me leave to go to a dorm.

It wasn't all independence then though- even though i wasn't home during the week, my parents would only pay for my dorm on the condition that I would come home every weekend for shabbas. They knew I probably wouldn't really be keeping shabbas if I lived in a dorm.

But they were safe in the knowledge that I would soon be married to someone who was jewish (and they had at that point resigned themselves to the fact that he had converted). A year later we got engaged, and we set the wedding date for a few weeks after I would be graduating college. And to me, the fact that I wouldn't have to move back into my parents house after graduating college was a major plus for me when I was thinking about getting married.

Of course, that all went to hell when we broke up. But i had already been applying for graduate programs, on the assumption that my ex and I would move somewhere when I graduated, so that I could go to graduate school. We broke up (in part, i think, becuase he didn't want to follow my career), and a few months later the acceptences started rolling in.

A little known fact about PhD programs is that many of the good programs completely fund their students- not only are students given free tuition, they also get stipends that are presumably high enough to live off of, and health insurence. It's not a huge amount of money (my first year the stipend was around $15k a year- now it's at $18k a year, but I get more money for teaching and working over the summer), but it was definitely enough to live off of.

So that brings me where I am today. I'm compeltely financially independent from my parents. They don't give me a dime, I'm not on their health insurence plan. THey helped me get set up as a graduation present- in that they paid for moving expenses and a bed and a few basic peices of furniture (futon couch, some bookcases, a desk) when I moved to graduate school, but that was over 3 years ago, and they haven't given me anything since. Actually, that's not true- the only money they give me is when I take the train home to their house, since it's expensive, and they know if I had to pay for it myself I would never come.

Now that I have that complete independence, i'm in that place in life where I don't depend on my parents, but I'm not married yet. IF i needed my parents for any money, or even if I lived closer to them than I do now, I doubt I would have the courage or even the ability to date someone not jewish. I would have too much to lose. Even for the first 3 years I lived on my own, I didn't date anyone not jewish- becuase there was still stuff to lose. But given my already strained relationship with my parents, and my financial independence of them, i am able to date someone I want, no matter what his religion.

I know that parents (or my parents) are afraid that if they let their children leave for college they will "become assimilated" and change their values and leave the jewish faith. But I had already left the faith in my head...i just wasn't able to in practice until I was financially independent. I remember when I was 15, counting the days till I was 18 and could move out of my parents house (so I thought). It took a little bit longer for me to be able to support myself compeletely, but once I did, i didn't "assimilate" into contemporary culture...i wasn't influenced by outside people. I was finally able to live the way I wanted to, outside of my parent's control.


  1. I wrote a post here which makes this very point, that there are two ways of answering the question of "what made you become non-religious?"

    The first way to answer it is to say the things that made you want to leave. The second way is to describe the things that gave you the opportunity to leave. Most frum people, when concerning themselves with how to deal with this issue, only address the second aspect, and, like your parents did, try to limit interactions and experiences that they know can open the door to get out of the community. But in reality, the person has actually left already, and the real issues that caused them to leave are hardly considered.

  2. In addition to limiting access to outside influenced, another strategy for preventing young people from going off is to a) encourage them to marry early and b) encourage them to have children early and often.

  3. Are you still single? You sound like a woman whom I would like to date.

    I am also 25, male, and racially Jewish (though technically paternally non-Jewish). I'm nice-looking and very intelligent. Which is why you sound like someone I would like to date. I need a woman with intelligence in my life with whom I can converse about anything. (If it sounds like I have a pole up my XXX, that's just my appreciation for good grammar.)

    Over the years I have become not just a "skeptic," but a philosopher in my own right. I am in pursuit of Ph.D. in philosophy, but I took 5 years from school just to focus on my own philosophy or, as I like to say, to take courses taught by God.

    I had my own blog for two years, but I deleted all my old posts to start afresh. It's a long story.

    Anyway, even if you aren't interested, it's good to hear there are some women out there who think for themselves. Also, maybe I can send you a copy of my book on philosophy.

  4. Patrick- i'm flattered, but if you read further in my blog, you'll see i'm already happilly in a relationship. Also, there are plenty of women out there who think for themselves :) (and blanket statements about how they don't might be a turn off to those who do..)

  5. Patrick, are you interested in romantic homosexual relationships, because I love Philosophy?


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