Wednesday, October 3, 2007

stepping off the derech: the role of community

One of the things i've noticed (at least in the blogger world) is that people who no longer believe in the jewish faith, and yet don't stop following it, are doing so because of "community". That is, they don't want to give up the community ties given to them through their faith.

I was never part of the mainstream jewish community. I was kinda the weird kid in high school who didn't really have a lot of friends in my school (with the exception of the one satmer girl in my school who also was ostrasized for being TOO religious, oddly enough). I never really fit the mold of what jewish girls should look like...i didn't shop at the right stores, I didn't know how to do my hair in the right way, and I certainly didn't know how to not stop questioning pretty much everything that struck me as ridiculous.

However, i was part of A jewish community, which I remain a part of to this day. I was friends with all the other people who didn't quite fit in. They didn't actually go to my high school (for the most part); mostly we found each other because we were the ones hanging out outside of NCSY instead of actually going to hear speeches. We were the ones who were most likely to be kicked out of ncsy all together. and quite a few of my friends were. I remain friends with many of those people to this day.

When I got to college, I found a built in community of jewish people. They weren't all religious...actually most weren't. But there was a pre-made community that I could easily step into, based on mutual faith that I didn't really believe in. It was comforting, and easy to make friends at, even though I (in general) wasn't really good at the whole talking to new people thing until the end of college. I even was the vice president of Hillel for one semester, and was on their executive planning committee for a year or two.

However, towards the end of college was when I started havivng a personal crisis with judaism, and started staying away from hillel. IN fact, my entire senior year of college i maybe went to 1 hillel event. At the same time I was eating non kosher chicken, and then beef for the first time, I had for years not kept shabbas, and I was "coming out" to my parents as not being religious.

At the same time, however, I found a new pre-made community of people. I'm not going to go into the details cause it's not really relevent, but basically i found a group of people who listened to the same kind of music and met up at shows and festivals and stuff. As I became more and more entrenched in this group of people, it became easier and easier to leave the jewish community behind.

I think community IS important, and it plays a very important role in individual's lives. If i didn't have that new (non jewish for the most part) community of people who were there to talk to and hang out with, I don't think it would have been as easy for me to give up the jewish community. And I still am friends with a lot of my (mostly not religious) jewish friends I've met over the years. I just no longer go to organized community driven activities that have to with judiams specifically anymore. Now the only "organized" community-like activities I go to are music shows and music festivals (and parties thrown. by my music friends)

Of course, after college I started grad school, and I went right back to the jewish community again (for a while anyway). Moving to a new city where I knew 1 person was kinda scary, and even though I kept in touch with my music friends through the internet, it was hard not really knowing anyone in a new city. The weekend after I moved here i went to a grad student jewish shabbat dinner, and met up with my friend E, who introduced me to a bunch of other people, and i was once again sucked into the jewish community. That is, until 2006, when I started to again spend most of my free time with thsoe musically inclined folk. Once again, I didn't really need the jewish community, and given a choice between hanging out with my music friends, and hanging out with the jewish community, i picked the music.

So the jewish community has served as a "back up" community to me even as i move farther and farther away from the jewish faith. I went to a jewish event at the begining of last (academic) year..although it wasn't actually faith based, it was a jewish open mike night for grad students. But i once again felt like I did in high I just didn't fit in with the type of people who were going there. The only thing we had in common was that we were born jewish, and once again i found it hard to talk to people with no similarity besides the jewish faith, especially when I didn't share that faith anymore. I literally had nothing to say to these people. I guess the other thing we had in common was that most of us were in grad school, but I don't really like to bitch about grad school all the time, which is really the only thing people in different grad programs do when they meet up with each other. Plus most of the jewish grad students are business students or law students or dental students or med students...and I'm a sociology and demography phd student. Not a lot in common there either.


  1. Thank you for your story, I find it quite interesting to read how you built up your own community and friendships. I'm glad that you have found your place :)

  2. Glad you found your new community. Mine is coming along, but too slowly.

  3. what kind of music do you like?

  4. I come from a different angle. I wasn't on the outside. While not the most popular person, I was usually fairly 'in' at all the schools/yeshivas that I attended. I am very outgoing, so I have lots of friends.

    For this reason, I am very very comfortable within the 'frum' community. So dispite my lack of faith, i see no reason to abandon family, friends and community. In my situation, it would make no sense.

    I am quite amazed that I can still maintain relationships that are not shallow with friends who believe and believe deeply. If only I can do the same with my wife....

    Even my idealistic religious friends - I enjoy the warmth of their idealism. True idealism - as long as it is not intolerant - is exciting to be around - whether you subscribe to that ideal or not.

    But I totally understand your looking outward for a new community.

  5. spinoza-

    jam band music, most of my friends are deadheads :)

  6. I was sort of a deadhead in high school. I saw the dead play in 94 a year before Garcia died

    you may enjoy this post from my old blog:


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