Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thoughts on my parent's religous history.

I noticed while going to post this that my last post was my 200th post on this blog. So yay 200 postaversary!

I've been thinking about my parents a bit lately, and about their religious situations growing up, and their lives now.

My dad grew up the children of holocaust survivors. His parents were Gerer Hassidic when they lived in Poland before the war. After the war, my grandparents level of religiosity went down considerably, to something I can't even label. Maybe "traditional?" They drive to a mixed seating conservative Shul on Shabbat (rather 'drove', my grandmother is dead and my grandfather is senile and living with my parents now), kept traditional kosher (didn't look at hechsher's, but also didn't eat pork products or shellfish) and celebrated holidays in a subdued way (my dad said they never let him put up a sukkah as a child becuase they were afraid people would come after them for being jewish).

They also sent my dad to yeshiva for high school, since the public schools in their inner city immigrant neighborhood were terrible. My dad became a lot more religious in high school. He would probably call himself a ba'al tshuvah.

My mom on the other hand grew up in a charedi family. Her parents had a Tv, but that was before the days when charedi people didn't have a Tv. Covered hair, didn't wear pants, kept much stricter laws then I did growing up, my grandfather constantly says tehillim and learns all the time, etc.

Then my parents got married, and at first they lived in Brooklyn (in Midwood). But about a year and a half after I was born, they moved 'out of town.' As it was told to me, they didn't like the way everyone else was always breathing down their necks and always were all up in their business, and crime was going up in Brooklyn in the early 80's (as it was everywhere).

So my mother, to some extent, became less religious than her parents. When my parents first got married, my mom did not cover her hair, wore pants all the time, and we lived a pretty modern life. We still kept strict kosher and shabbat at all times, but were able to watch some tv and movies, I had a computer and internet since there WAS an internet, etc.

Then when I was around 12 years old, my mom started covering her hair for the first time after going to some amazing rabbi's shiur who finally was able to talk her into it. She also stopped wearing pants, and confiscated all of my pants, which I did not like at all (I hate wearing skirts to this day, and haven't worn one since the last time I visited my parents).

From what I heard growing up, my parent's parents also HATED each other (for what I got the impression were religious reasons), and were not on speaking terms, and my mom's parents hated my dad for several years and would barely talk to him.

Thinking about this as an adult, and as a skeptic, this is what I think is the real story here:

My mom was a skeptic to some extent in her 20s/30s (and she is a very skeptical person in general), and became less religious than her parents, and married someone her parents thought wasn't religious enough for their family. My grandparents hated my dad and his parents for not being religious enough. They left Brooklyn becuase of the oppressive religious atmosphere, and the inability to live a more modern lifestyle there without judgment. Eventually, with age and with the rising level of religiosity in the 'out of town' community they live in (which started off modern orthodox and now is borderline charedi), my parents became more religious. They now hold pretty much all of the same values and attitudes that my mom's parents held when they got married, and which they left Brooklyn to escape.

You might think this would make them more understanding of my beliefs, since they too went through a skeptical period, they both hold different religious beliefs than their parents, etc. I disagree, and I actually think this explains the attitudes they hold towards me.

Both my mother and my father became more religious with age, and my mother became more religious after a 'rebellious/skeptic' period in her 20s/30s when she was less religious than her parents. While I would characterize their increasing religiosity as a result of their out of town neighborhood becoming increasingly Brooklyn-like in the level of religiosity (and judgmental bullshit), my parents attribute their increasing religiosity to getting older. Which is why my parents are convinced that I am going through a rebellious 'stage' and that religion will become more important to me as I get older. It did for them, so it must be true for me!

However, there is a key difference between me and my parents; my parents believe in god, and in Judaism, and were skeptical of extremely orthodox people. They attributed the crazyness of Charedi people to a misinterpretation of the jewish religion (growing up, my parents frequently referred to Charedi people as people who were crazy, took things too far, were so far to the right they were going to fall of a cliff, etc). But they always believed in the religion itself.

Me on the other hand, I can't even remember a time when I believed Judaism was the correct religion. At a very young age I questioned the idea that Judaism was the correct religion, since every other religion also thought they were right (and they can't all be right, but what makes Judaism more right then anyone else?). I remember faking davening in first grade (moving my lips so it would look like I was praying, but not actually praying), because I decided that if I wanted to talk to god, who cares what these old rabbis said, I could talk to him however and whenever I wanted to. And davening was just a big pain in the ass and was stupid, since I didn't even understand what I was saying.

When on the night before my 15th birthday I met someone who had grown up orthodox but didn't always keep shabbat, it was a huge revelation to me; once I knew that it was possibile to grow up orthodox and not be orthodox anymore, I knew that was what I was going to do. I met that person in May, and by that summer I had started eating non-kosher vegetarian food and fish at the hospital I volunteered at, started tearing toilet paper and turning my bedroom lamp off and on on shabbas (it was on a shabbas clock, but sometimes I wanted to stay up reading later, or go to sleep earlier), and went from being shomer negiah to making out with my first ever boyfriend.

That is a totally different thing from just believing that extreme orthodox Jews are wrong, but that they are just misinterpreting what they are supposed to do. I never believed it was true. It took someone else to open up the possibility of having a life outside of orthodoxy, but once I saw that possibility I ran with it, as fast and as far as I could.


  1. That was very interesting, Eden. I agree with your assessment. But I am sure you're right in that your parents think that you will re-accept the way you were raised and there you'll be with a non-Jewish husband and oh boy, it'll be a mess.
    I hope that some sort of compromise is reached wherein they can learn to accept you as you are and accept B as your husband.
    Perhaps even MORE age will help them with that.
    Or not.
    But your life must be lived by you.

  2. After all that, I'm amazed that you bought a dress for your wedding! That will be a wonderful day for you and B.

  3. The paradox of baalei teshuvah parents having trouble with their children who do not want their belief system is amazing in it's shortsightedness.
    They way I see it, the parents acted in the exact same was as their children to their parents and a little acceptance would end this whole cycle of non-optimal family relations.
    How would you react to your children if they decided to be religious Jews?
    I imagine that the same leeway in these matters should be given to them, but it would be terribly ironic.

  4. I've been reading your blog off and on. I also have a Ph.D in molecular biology and was Baal T'shuva for a couple of years. It seems the slippery slope always starts with eating fish in restaurants. Anyway, it seems that you still have a lot of guilt about "not being Jewish" anymore. Maybe you don't like the halacha (neither do I) but it is hard for you to abandon the cultural identity and affinity with Israel and Jewish people around the world. Also, I doubt that your hardei family will shun you because in their mind, your kids will be halachically Jewish, so they'll be trying to do kiruv on you for the rest of your lfe if you let them. Hope this helps.

  5. Drop your family and move on. They will never accept the choices you have made for yourself. Stop trying to understand or rationalize them, you are wasting precious gray matter.

    If this keeps bothering you then there may be other issues at work. Have you discussed any of this with a counselor? You may want to before the wedding.

  6. Anyway, it seems that you still have a lot of guilt about "not being Jewish" anymore. Maybe you don't like the halacha (neither do I) but it is hard for you to abandon the cultural identity and affinity with Israel and Jewish people around the world.

    I have no idea where you got any of that from any of what I said. I really don't feel guilt at all, only sadness that my parents are so much a part of this cult that they don't feel they can be a part of my life. And I certainly don't do anything in my life that has anything to do with my 'cultural identity' (other than write this blog I guess), and I don't feel as if I'm missing anything.

  7. anon- I have already dropped them, i haven't spoken to my mother since October when she said if I was wanted to talk to her I could never mention B, and I haven't talked to my dad since I sent him that letter saying that N is not going to convert in the beginning of January.

    But I disagree about it being a waste of brain matter trying to understand them, since trying to understand them helps me be at peace with their decision to cut me off. Eventually I won't have to be analyzing it anymore, but this is part of my process of dealing with things, and I don't see any problem with that.

  8. I'm glad you're thinking about stuff. I've gotten along with my grandmother much better since I realized she was a product of her upbringing and environment, and there's a certain amount of box inside which she will always live, no matter what. It also helped me interact with her compassionately, rather than seeing her as a controlling feeding machine (I was about 12, when I realized this).


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