Friday, August 14, 2009

putting it out there

When I first started going 'off the derech' as they call it, or 'stopped practicing Judaism' as I call it, I was terrified that other people would find out. It was a secret part of me that I could not share with anyone. Eventually I shared it with a very select group of people, but for years at the beginning, after I had started eating at non kosher restaurants (vegetarian at first, then fish, then meat years and years later), and after I had stopped keeping shabbas, it was something only I knew about. From age 15 to age 17 I was completely in the closet about it. In college i would leave my parents house in a skirt and change into jeans at the train station- the one pair of jeans I owned, that I would wash secretly when I knew my mom was going to be running errands all day. By the time I got home I was in a skirt again.

As I got older and became more integrated into the non-jewish world, my situation reversed- now the weird thing to share with only close friends was that I had grown up orthodox jewish. It took a long time to get to here though.

Coming out to my parents as an atheist was still one of the hardest things I've gone through to date. Equally hard was telling them that I was dating someone not jewish, that we lived together, that we had gotten engaged. I guess I never told them I was married, since they had stopped talking to me by then. I anticipate more hard times in the future, when I get pregnant and will probably feel obligated to tell them, if I have a boy and won't have a bris, etc.

If it wasn't for social networking groups like facebook I probably could have gone off to live my life, and never talked to anyone I grew up with again. But facebook does exist, as does a facebook group for my old shul that no less than 5 people have invited me to join, and the people I grew up with and went to school with are all on there, sending me their friend requests. And why deny their requests? We do know each other. We grew up together. So what if we have different religious views in adulthood? My religious views are just as valid as theirs fact, I personally believe mine are more valid and that their beliefs don't hold up to any scrutiny, although I would never say that to them since they didn't ask me, so it's just rude. But I also don't think I should be forced to stay in the closet with my beliefs, and that as a member of a group that is looked down upon (off the derech people) I have a moral obligation to come out to as many people as possible so that we can not be marginalized and forgotten about the way the still-religious people would like us to be.

It's one thing to say that though, and another thing to tell people who you know will disprove and look down on you that you are an atheist, and that you have married someone not jewish. Even if you know they are wrong, and that anyone who is a judgmental asshole is..well, a judgmental asshole, it's tough to face the constant rejection, and to constantly put something out there that you know will make people think less of you.

But I feel as if I'm getting better at it, and telling people about myself no longer carries the anxiety it used to. Today I got an email from S, someone I grew up with, who is now a rabbi (what? You can be a rabbi at my age?) and who presumably got my email address from my facebook page (since we are facebook friends) and added me to his "jewish newsletter" listserve. You know, those little newsletters some rabbis send out with a weekly dvar torah (mini sermon about the weekly torah reading) and some heartwarming story or something. I didn't read it thoroughly, I admit.

But I did write back- "Hey S. Nice to hear from you. However, I am an atheist and I no longer practice judaism, so I don't have any interest in receiving dvar torahs. Please remove my email from your list."

Turns out it does get easier with time.


  1. While not Jewish it sounds like giving up being a fundamental baptist in my world was much as difficult as giving up your religion has been. I can relate to your feelings, not wanting to run into the past and other discomforts. It still bothers me all of these years later, so my hat is off to you.

  2. I think you're very brave. I'm a lapsed Catholic myself, and while I'm not lying to anyone really, I'm not really telling many people either. It's just much easier as we can do what we like and people are so laid back about their faith around here. And no one would shun me. I'm not sure if I could have handled it otherwise.

  3. I am most grateful that I was raised in the most milquetoast Christian environment possible, making it easy as hell to just say to hell with it.
    I did call a local church and tell them to take me off their mailing list. After receiving approximately 12 notices about their up-coming Easter service I was plenty well enough informed and I wasn't going to attend.
    They did it. Took me off their list.
    Things do get sticky though sometimes- such as mentioning to a woman searching my bag at the airport that traveling makes me anxious and having her ask me, "Don't you believe in god, honey?"
    What the hell are you supposed to say at that point?
    "Yeah, god always prevents planes from crashing. Thanks for searching my bag so thoroughly."

  4. This post encourages people like me who are still in the closet. I feel like it may take some time but that in the end I will be strong enough.

    Keep up writing these great and inspiring posts!

  5. "My religious views are just as valid as theirs fact, I personally believe mine are more valid and that their beliefs don't hold up to any scrutiny"

    You can't be mad at them for thinking this same thing about you when you do it too. Even if you don't express the fact that you think their beliefs are idiotic and small in words, part of your problem with people may be that your scorn for everything they believe in comes through in your tone of voice, your facial expressions or your attitude when you speak to them.

    Isn't your dogmatism about your atheism not so very different than theirs about God? (Or god, small g, if it makes you more comfortable?) Just in the way that they smugly, self-righteously, annoyingly KNOW KNOW KNOW that God exists, you seem to be equally certain that he doesn't. How do you know? Seriously? You don't. I guess I'm trying to say, who CARES if G/god exists or not? It has no bearing on your life at all.

    I am NOT NOT NOT trying to secretly get you to believe in God, or admit that God possibly exists, because I secretly think you should have God in your life, or something stupid like that. I hope after all these years you know me better than that. I'm just saying that I don't see how it makes much sense to think they're stupid and their beliefs/lives are lesser because they're so judgy and rigid, when you are also judging and are equally rigid in your belief. So, yes, absolutely, positively, what you believe is every bit as important and valid, and that, and you, should be respected. But you lose me when you say that you think your beliefs are more valid, because that's essentially what they're doing. They're not going to treat your beliefs with respect if they're busy being on the defensive.

    I am not trying to be a jerk, I swear. I've known you a long time and I like you a lot. I'm just trying to point out that maybe it would be a tinier bit easier if this wasn't a power struggle about Who Is Right About God, but more, if they want to fight about that and you just take the attitude of "Who cares? It's not part of my belief system, culture or family life, so honestly it just doesn't matter," then things will be a little better.

    Does that make sense? I'm not sure I explained it as well as I want to...

    Just a thought. I don't think you're being horrible and I think on the whole you handle things really, really well. I'm just wondering if a slightly different approach would make it better.


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