Monday, November 19, 2007

Dreading Thanksgiving

So this thursday I will see my family for the first time since my grandmother's funeral. In addition to my parents and one of my brothers (the other one is in israel for his post-high school year), we'll be joined by my counsin from Israel who barely speaks english and is super orthodox, my cousins from America with their 3 kids who are also super religious, my senile grandfather (husband to the deceased grandmother), and my cousin's wife's parents from georgia, who are up in the area because my cousin with 3 kids just had the third one last week and they are helping out. Who are also super religious. Oh and possibly my other grandparents, who every time they see me tell me I need to improve my life, because even though I almost have a phd from an ivy league university, am teaching my own course at said ivy league university, am financially independent and pretty happy in my life, all that means nothing because I'm not religious.

Can you imagine why I might be dreading this trip?

Every time I've seen my parents since I started dating B, I wonder if this is the last time I will see them. If this is the last time I will be in the home I grew up in. If this is the last time I will celebrate a holiday with them. I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing my parents later this year in December, at my brother's graduation. But this may in fact be the last Thanksgiving I spend at home. Next year me and B plan on moving in together, and my mom has straight out told me that the only thing I could do that would be worse than marrying a "goy" would be to live with one and not be married. Actually, she said the only thing worse than that would be being a lesbian. Also if I had a kid out of wedlock. There's lots of things that are the "worst thing I could ever do" apparently. I wonder what would happen if I moved in with a goyish lesbian and had her baby? :)

Ok, so the entire trip probably won't be horrible. With so many people around, it won't be too hard to escape notice, and I can probably spend the majority of my time hanging with my little brother, who is also not religious- although he still lives with my parents, so he's a lot less open about it. And I'm kinda looking forward to talking to my dad on the ride to and from the train station-> the train station is around half an hour away from my parents house, so we have about an hour (total) of talking time during the trip which is when we catch up. I really want to ask my Dad if he really beleives that god wrote the torah, and if he believes that god wants people to follow all the minutia of orthodoxy. I've never really asked him that before, and I'm curious as to what he believes- or what he will profess to believe.

Maybe it won't be horrible if I never go to my parents for Thanksgiving again after this year. In reality, I hate these trips back to my parents house. I'm going for as short a time as possible- taking the train there on Thursday morning, and coming back Friday morning. My cats (and B's cats which i'll be taking care of while he's away by his family) are a great excuse for that (my parents don't realize you can leave a cat alone for longer than a day or two, and that as long as you leave plenty of food around they will be fine)(actually they might know that, but that's my standard excuse for not staying long, and they standardly accept it).

In reality, I don't want to spend shabbas at their home, and I've succesfully avoided doing so since moving away for grad school. Apart from the religious thing, the longer I stay at home, the angrier I generally get..angry becuase my mom refuses to talk to me about anything real in my life since it doesn't fit into her notions of what a proper life should be, and angry at my dad for saying more and more obnoxious things the longer I talk to him, also revolving around religion. Also, everytime I go there I feel like I'm transported back into my immature teenager hateful state of mind. I think it's just the environment...staying in the room that I haven't lived in since I was a teenager, talking to people I haven't seen on a daily basis since I was a teenager, it fucks with my mind, and I really feel like I lose years of maturity when I'm staying there, which kind of sucks. I also get all emotional (like when I was a teenager)...somehow the things that don't affect me much when I'm not there seem super important when I am there.

I kinda got slammed in my halloween post about looking forward to christmas. But really, at this point, I'd rather spend all holiday's with B's parents...just becuase they are what my ideal of a family is. All hanging out and joking with each other, telling stories about days past, making fun of each other a little, but in a congenial manner, bullshitting. It's just nice! And maybe it was different becuase I was there, but according to B it was a pretty typical visit.

All my family occasions are covered with this cloud of tension becuase of religous differences. I can't remember a single family occasion since moving to grad school that was not covered with these tensions, and where the issue didn't come up.

Hmm, so maybe instead of questioning why my dad believes in what is clearly (to me) bullshit, I'll make an appeal that despite our differences, we should all try and get along, and that I'm tired of all this fighting and tension because I'm dating someone not jewish, and becuase I'm not religious, and that maybe we can agree to disagree on that and move on with our lives and have a meaningful family relationship. Because, despite all the hurtful things my parents have put me through, the thing I want most in the world is to be able to get along with them. Well, not most in the world, obviously not more than my need to not follow orthodox law, and not more than wanting to date B. But that's really what I want in my relationship with my parents. A relationship that's not covered in tension becuase of religious difference. I'm not sure if it's possible, but I'm going to give it a try. Once again.


  1. You're really so brave. I wish I could be more like you. I can't even broach these discussions with my parents. I guess it's not as pressing b/c I'm dating a Jew... but I really wish I could be completely honest with them.

  2. Thanks for the link.

    Two thoughts:

    1. I can definitely empathize. Though I am still frum and have not even spoken to my parents about my atheism, I know how they would react if I did (which is why I haven’t told them) and I totally understand where you are coming from. On the other hand, they are still family. You only get one chance at having a family and why would you want to loose it? Family is a very unique thing. They are the only people that will be there for you through thick and then, the only people who really care about you.

    I am sure your parents have your best interest in mind. Parents always do. Are they wrong? Of course. Is it intolerant of them? Of course. But, part of a relationship is trying to work through issues, however difficult.

    One thing I realized when I became an atheist was that religion was not that important. Family though is. Why would you want to let a fight over something as insignificant as religion ruin something as precious as family?

    2. Have you considered trying to reason with your parents instead of making it into an emotional battle? What if you said to them, “OK, I’ll agree to marry a Jew and to be frum, as long as you can give me a good rational reason why I should.” What if you had the conversation with them? Ultimately, they will be unable to give you a good rational reason. And, that for two reasons:

    A. None exists. There simply is not one good reason.

    B. Even if your parents think one does exist, they ultimately have to realize that it is your choice. You can not live your life based on what other people say. Would your parents want you to be suicide bomber just because someone else told you to do it? It’s absurd to suggest you need to do something just because someone else thinks it’s a good idea. And, as long as you think OJ is not a good idea, there’s no reason you should have to do it. Obviously, they are your parents and have a greater say on the matter, but they need to realize that the ultimate decision is yours.

    Maybe if you tried explaining this to them they would understand.

  3. on her own- it took me a long time getting here, believe me. :) Ultimately though, living a double life (one where i'm religious to my parents but not to anyone else) was kinda impossible for me, i'm just not built to lie to that extent for that long.

    LF- Yeah that thing about being there through thick and think that, until you get disowned. And I know more than one people who have broken ties with thier family for one reason or another, and you know what? Their families arn't there for them ever. THat's just a myth we tell ourselves.

    Religion may be insignificant to you and me, but to many people, my parents included, it's something that dictates their entire life. This sociologist once said "things that appear to be real are real in their consequences"; that is, even if religion is totally wrong, if people believe in it, it will still affect the way they live. For my parents, religion pretty much affects everything they do. Even their dad just got smicha, and even though he isn't a rabbi professionally, his career is one in which he interacts with jews all the time, and my mom has a business that specifically is about jewish education. I don't think it will ever be insignificant to fact it is even more significant then family apparently, since they are willing to break ties with me over religious issues (or so they say, it hasnt' actually happened yet).

    Finally, they do realize that it's my choice and that they can't control my life..but as my mom says, I can do whatever I choose, but those choices have consequences. And they believe that if I marry someone not jewish, they wil be "forced" to disown me. I guess they don't see that as a choice..and given their place in the jewish community, and the friends they have, I guess they woudl be forced to disown me if they wanted to keep that place in their community.

  4. I hear you. I can relate very much to your views. I feel the same way in my own life. I know enough not to tell my parents I am an atheist. But, I sometimes get heat from them for the little laxity of religion I strategically allow them to see and I feel much the same way as you about it. It’s my life, not theirs. And, besides, religion is dumb anyway, so why should I listen?

    Parenthetically, to me, that’s always been one of the major problems I have with religion. Jews often argue that while other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, have committed atrocities in the name of their gods, Judaism has largely been benign. I’ve always thought that the way religion seeks to force itself on people is immoral irrespective of whether its teachings are moral or not.

    But, anyway, I digress. Here’s the way I look at it with my folks, or at least try to look at it, though sometimes it’s hard. I still think it’s in my interest to do the best I can to try to reconcile with them.

    It may not be possible. In that case, yes, as you say, you have no choice but to move on. Sometimes with relationships, the hardest part is knowing if you even have a chance. Since relationships are two way, sometimes, yes, there is simply nothing you can do because there is another party involved who doesn’t’ see it the way you do. In those cases, continuing to try generally accomplishes nothing and only brings you aggravation and often further estranges you from your parents since you keep bringing it up.

    On the other hand, they are your parents. They do and always will love you. Even if they are upset over this issue, I think they still do love you and therefore there is a chance that at some time they will come around .

    I always like to think of parents as the sort of people who yell at you and tell you not to do XYZ, but when you go and do it anyway and get into trouble for it, they come bail you out instead of saying “I told you so” because ultimately they honestly have your best interests in mind.

  5. the issue I have with frum people is that they are so ortho-centric and fail to see beyond their noses that other people can live happy Jewish lives without being observant!

  6. LF- sadly my parents have said "i told you so" on numerous occasions. And they haven't bailed me out on anything since high school.

  7. I applaud your decision to try to reconcile with your parents. I’m optimistic about your family reconciling because of your determination for the story to end on a happy note.

    The main barrier is convincing your parents that you really do sympathize with them. Of course, you realize the pain your decisions have caused them, and you are sorry for that (I don’t think it’s your fault, but you probably are sorry that it causes them pain). Help them realize that you too would do all you could to dissuade a loved one from making a life-devastating decision. You understand their predicament, why they are reacting as they are – it is to protect you because they love you.

    Without putting them too much on the defensive, ask them whether their hostility is caused by the embarrassment they feel that their daughter is dating a goy and that they are failures in their roles as good Jews and parents. Remind them that they did a great job in raising you with a beautiful Jewish tradition, and that you really are grateful for that (although I’m no fan of halacha, I think we can benefit from Jewish traditions). They are not failures. They haven’t failed their religious mission in life. They are still honorable members of their religious community. Great rabbis have seen their children go off the derech, and nobody ever thought of them as failures for that. About what the neighbors think, ask them to honestly consider which is more important to them – your relationship which you really, really want to work out, or the neighbors.

    Good luck and try to enjoy the holiday break.

  8. There is always a great deal of sadness in realizing that the people we counted on the most have never really been there for us. They are merely using us as props in their lives. They love you???? Who defines love as hurtful, damaging, demanding????

    People will make excuses for your family forever -- but there is no excuse for threats and bullying in lieu of open, honest communication. Communication that involves LISTENING as well as talking, and is respectful, not controlling.

    If you accept the fact that no one -- not even your parents -- have the right to bully and abuse you, the path will be much clearer.

    That said, I would also caution you to be very careful -- as a child of abuse (and this IS abuse) you are more likely to be in an abusive relationship and to abuse your children. (Emotional manipulation, bullying, etc IS abuse.) You have been told that you are not worth anything unless you are [fill in the blank] or do [fill in the blank]. Please make sure that you know -- in your deepest heart of hearts -- that is NOT true. That is what makes it possible to heal -- and to make a life that celebrates YOU!


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