Next week my (OTD) brother and his girlfriend are coming to visit for a couple of days, after which my in laws are supposed to visit. Which means...spring cleaning! I finished the semester on Thursday (Yay, I have officially survived my first year as a professor!), so yesterday me and B spent the whole day cleaning, and we have more cleaning plans for today and tomorrow. We also have plans for the farmer's market and a poker game tonight- now that I've been here almost a year I'm starting to have a social life! Thus far it only involves other professors, but some of them aren't sociology professors, so I think that counts. :)
Meanwhile, my brother is coming to visit, and I want to post on facebook about it. I'm facebook friends with his girlfriend (although this will be my first time meeting her in person). So I feel it would be rude to post about him visiting and not mention her. But, I'm now facebook friends with my dad. And even though I find it particularly freeing that my dad can see all my pictures and facebook updates that reflect my *real* personality (or as real as I'm willing to share with colleagues and former students- but quite a few pictures of me up there in tank tops, pants, etc.), my brother is not quite as open.
He still lives at home, and has figured out some kind of weird arrangement with my parents, a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy- in which he somehow drives to work on Saturdays and has convinced my parents to be ok with it (He was always better at manipulating them than I was). So he asked me not to mention his girlfriend on facebook where our dad can see- he tells me that my mother has 'inferred' that he will be traveling with a passenger (I can just imagine my mom trying to confront him without actually confronting him- such things usually involve lots of snarky comments on my mom's end) but he doesn't want them to 'know the details.'
For all the tzures (trouble) I've gone through after 'coming out' to my parents as off the derech, it is SO WORTH not having to sneak around like that anymore. Cause I used to be the same way- having secret boyfriends I wouldn't tell my parents about. Lying about what I was up to. Hiding my true self all the time. And that double life thing is so not for me. But it took a long time to switch from the mindset that I have to hide everything from my family, to the mindset that- I'm going to be myself, if they don't like that, that's their problem and not mine. I don't think I really got to that point until I was married to someone not jewish, and felt like I had nothing left to lose by being myself.
Which is why I admire Tova so much for announcing her recent engagement to her family the way I should have announced mine- as the awesome celebratory thing it is, rather than like some secret to be ashamed of. Not surprisingly, her family did not exactly react in the way that decent human beings should behave. She emailed me to ask my advice:
I wanted to ask you a bit of advice after reading an old post of Heshy's on your relationship and subsequent marriage. This past weekend, I happily accepted my boyfriend's marriage proposal to me. I knew much of my Jewish family wouldn't be glad about the news, but one person's reaction was truly shocking. He had informed my mother (who then informed me) that he was tearing his clothes in mourning. I do not know if he is also sitting shiva for me, but it's not as though I can ask him if he is.
The shocking bit is that I always envisioned my frum family members as reasonable, Modern Orthodox people (my mother herself left the religion her parents raised her with - a liberal branch of Protestant Christianity - to become a Jew) who would never sit shiva or publicly condemn their children for "going off the derech". Sure, they are upset about it, but I was sure they'd never mourn their child's happiness.
The funny thing is that no one tore any clothing "for" my sister when she married her now ex-husband, and he was and is (by everyone's account) an unsavory individual who doesn't hold a candle to my fiance. I was advised by a few others to send a condolence card to - or "sit shiva" with - the person who claimed to be tearing clothing, but I was worried that this would be seen as a challenge instead of revealing the absurdity of mourning a relative's engagement.
Have you any advice for me, considering your similar personal history? You are free to publish this letter in its entirety on your blog, as I would like to know what your readers have to say.
So what's my advice, as I'm a week away from my 2 year wedding anniversary? I guess...don't take it personally, expect the worst of people and you will hardly ever be shocked, remember who is good to you and keep in closer touch with those people, get financially independent and out of your parent's house as soon as humanly possible, and be prepared to find out a lot of views of your family members that you didn't want to know they have.
When I got engaged, I didn't go about it the same way. I called my parents as soon as we had posted it on facebook, and then slowly told other family members over time, as I encountered them. My parents told a few people too (although they were too ashamed to tell any of their friends and most of our family). So I didn't have the initial shocked reaction of people tearing their clothes or whatever after we got engaged.
What I did have was a long engagement (almost a year). During that year, I got a number of long letters from my dad trying to reason me out of getting married (using very misinterpreted statistics in some cases- by the way if you are trying to convince a sociologist who specializes in marriage and divorce not to get married, don't misquote statistics on marriage and divorce), my dad also tried to convince me to convince B to convert, there was the infamous phone call from my little brother telling me a rabbi said if me and B got married either he would convert, we would break up, or "B would die within a year" (as I said- it's our two year anniversary a week from Tuesday, take THAT stupid rabbi who is full of shit!), my mom wrote to say that if I went through with the wedding we couldn't have a relationship anymore (and she mostly kept to that), and a cousin "just happened to be in the neighborhood" (2 hours from where he lived) and stopped by to try to convince me not to get married. After I was married, my charedi grandfather told me I wasn't married according to him and tried to get me to find a nice jewish boy at a wedding we were at.
I too was very shocked at some of these reactions. My parents are 'modern' orthodox too (although they are right wing MO). My parents also both changed religious backgrounds around my age- my mom from charedi to modern orthodox, and my dad to modern orthodox after growing up more traditional/conservative kinda (My grandparents went to a conservative shul, kept a loose version of kosher and shabbas, and celebrated holidays- but they sent my dad to an orthodox yeshiva for high school which is when he became a BT). My parents are supposedly reasonable people who talked about black hatter/charedi people as "people who have gone off the deep end." My parents even had religious drama at their own wedding, cause my paternal grandparents wanted mixed dancing and my maternal grandparents said they wouldn't go to the wedding if they had that. I always thought of my family as religious, but also reasonable people. My dad has a PhD for pete's sake.
But when it came to me getting married to someone not jewish, all that reason went out the window. The same people who were supportive when my cousin, at the age of 20, married a 40something year old Breslover guy with no job (my parents flew to Israel for that wedding! They bought my cousin an expensive mattress set! And my cousin got divorced 6 months later after the guy went through all my cousin's savings and sold all their wedding gifts-including the mattress set- for money which we think went to support a drug habit) would not even attend their own daughter's wedding for fear someone might actually think they supported me and my decision to get married in any way. To a guy who actually is my age (well a year and a half younger than me) who is perfectly awesome in every way, just not jewish. They were cool with all my cousins' arranged marriages to virtual strangers, and they are cool with the fact that some of my cousins were told by their rabbis that it's against halacha to use birth control (so my 24 year old cousin is now pregnant with her 4th child!). But marrying a non jewish guy is worse than all of that. Clearly our morals are not the same.
Not to say things were all bad. But you shouldn't be surprised by horrible things your family might do or say to convince you not to get married. I actually found that the worst reactions came from family members closest to me (my parents, my brother, my grandfather). But I was also really pleasantly surprised by the support I got from some of my extended family members, like my grandmother, who once stopped talking to me for 2 years for dating someone who was a convert when I was around 18, but after I got married called me to tell me to call her more often. An uncle of mine who lives in Israel called the morning of our wedding to say "even if we don't always agree on every decision, you are always part of our family, and we love you and we wish you the best today." One of my cousins (actually, the same one who got married/divorced to the dude 20 years her senior) even got us a wedding present.
Ok, reading that, that's kinda a pathetic excuse for "support." The only family member on my side that truly supported us was my brother (the one visiting next week- not the crazy rabbi death one) who was a witness at our wedding. So I guess another piece of advice is to lower your expectations of your family, and maybe even what your wedding will be like. Growing up MO, I'm sure you went to tons of fancy weddings where lots of family members came and had a huge celebration. By marrying someone not jewish,you won't have that. Which doesn't mean you can't have something even better- I used the fact that my family was non supportive to have the small non-traditional wedding I wanted (~20 guests) and since it was so small, we could do exactly what we wanted,and only invited people we really loved- didn't have to invite people out of obligation. We also got to have great non kosher italian food.
But you won't have that big family wedding that you grew up seeing- at least not with your side of the family. You won't have the big traditional jewish wedding that we all saw over and over again growing up. Your parents will likely not give you any money for your wedding, so you will have to rely on what your fiance's family can give + your own savings.
Your relationship with most of your family members will probably change. Some will be supportive and some will not, and you will remember which is which, and that can't help but change your relationship with those people. Remember that even though you will probably 'lose' some family members, you still are gaining a whole new family- your fiance's family. :) And my in-laws are pretty awesome, which has helped me a lot. And even the family you 'lose' will probably not be lost- I still talk to my mom at least 2 or 3 times a year even though we supposedly don't have a relationship anymore.
What helps in keeping your sanity through all this? Apart from blogging about the crazyness (which helps, because whenever something crazy happens you can be like "this will make for a great blog post!" instead of "woe is me I'm surrounded by asshole zealots!"), As a sociologist,I try to approach everything like an ethnographer. An ethnographer does 'participant observation'- they go into a strange culture and try to figure out the social arrangements, the rituals, the internal logic of that culture, etc. But while the ethnographer is participating in the culture, they are also apart from the culture, an objective outside observer.
So from my ethnographer/sociologist stance, a relative tearing their clothes is a form of community pressure to promote endogamy (marrying within a group). Your relative was socialized (or brainwashed) to tear his clothes and/or sit shiva in reaction to news of a family member marrying someone not Jewish. There will also likely be an enormous amount of community pressure on your parents(if their MO community is anything like my parents') to not give approval of your wedding. These responses are methods of preservation of their culture by promoting within-group marriages. It's sort of like a survival instinct, but for a culture rather than a person. Jewish culture has survived for thousands of years despite people trying to kill us all the time. In order for that to have happened, the community must have developed very strong norms and social sanctions against assimilation/exogamy (Marrying outside a group). These are those strong norms in action.
This isn't about you, it's about the symbolic nature of what you are doing- leaving a religious community, signaling that you will probably not raise your (theoretical) children in that religious tradition and continue to socialize your descendants into their culture. The community therefore reacts to try to prevent that in order to preserve itself, in whatever insane way possible. And family members are one of the strongest 'policers' of community social norms (in this case the norm that you should marry within your group)in part because they are closer to you and therefore have a stronger influence (one of the functions of the family is to socialize members into community norms of behavior), and also have the most to lose (because they can lose community standing) if you violate community norms.
As for how you should react to this person, that's up to you and your relationship with them. With my little brother, I laughed at him when he told me that thing about our rabbi,and on our own year anniversary I made sure to send him a message mocking him for passing on that idiotic advice. But that's based on my relationship with him, where we frequently make fun of each other. Other people might not react as well to that.
The way I see it you have 4 options:
1. Make fun of him
2. Confront him in a serious way, saying he hurt your feelings
3. Confront him in an angry way, telling him he's being a ginourmous asshole who needs to get over himself
4. Ignore the whole thing, pretend like you never heard about it, and let things blow over.
I will say that now that I've been married a couple of years,and people have had time to get used to the idea (and the idea that no, we're not getting divorced so I can marry a jew) things have settled down some with my family. The absolute worst time was when I was engaged,and people were trying to convince me not to get married, and I was constantly defending my decision to get married. But after we got married (apart from that one thing with my grandfather) it's been mostly quiet, and I even talked to that insane brother for like an hour on the phone right before pesach.
Was it all worth it? Definitely. I get to live with my husband every day, we have our own family that we hope to build in the future when we are ready to start having kids, I've found out which of my family members will be there for me no matter what, and which are insane. I can finally be open with my family about my actual level of religiosity because I have nothing left to lose. For me just getting to be with B is worth it all. But looking back I do feel like my engagement was a battle with my family(and engagements can be stressful even if your family is completely supportive), so I wish you the best of luck!
Anyways this post has gotten insanely long and I have to go to the farmer's market, but congrats again to Tova, I hope this helps, and readers- please feel free to offer your own advice as well!