Elsewhere in some of the several new facebook OTD (Off the derech - former orthodox jews) groups, people have been discussing their escape stories. How they escaped their parents. Some of these stories are incredible- people leaving home with nothing but the clothes on their back, moving across the country and staying with virtual (very kind) strangers so that they can get away.
My story is not nearly so dramatic, and took place over several years. Seven years to be exact. But I don't think I've ever fully told it in one place here. So here it is. In it's entirety. Well not exactly it's entirety, I wrote out the whole thing and it's *really* long so I've broken the story up into 6 posts which will be released over the next few weeks.
Like many OTDers, I was always a skeptic of those in authority, was always a bit of a trouble maker and rabble rouser, but I had never before turned my skepticism on religion until around my 15th birthday when I had an "out of the box" moment. Before that, everyone I interacted with regularly was an orthodox jew. I knew there were jewish people who were not religious at all, and I knew there were jewish people who were not orthodox but were part of another sect (which to us was also "not religious" since OJs love to confuse orthodoxy with religiosity), but the possibility of transitioning between these states just never occurred to me.
The weekend of my 15th birthday, which was towards the end of 9th grade, a friend from school invited me to her house for shabbas. That weekend changed my life in a number of ways. Her family being more "modern" orthodox than mine was, after dinner on friday night a bunch of her friends came over to visit- which included some young men.
So friday night after shabbas dinner all of us-a group of MO young men and women start wandering around the town, just talking and roaming around. Something that I was to repeatedly do for years afterwards- wander around on friday night talking to my friends, not really doing anything cause it was shabbas, not really going anywhere cause we had nowhere to go.
So we talked and walked. And one of the boys there, M, blew my mind with this information: He keeps shabbas, but sometimes if he comes up with a really good poem (He was writing poetry at the time as many teenage boys do) he will write it down on shabbas so he doesn't forget. Mind blowing! Here was a boy who was raised modern orthodox like me, but was actively violating a rule that I had never even considered violating! Within weeks I was tearing toilet paper on shabbas and eating vegetarian food without a hechsher at a hospital where I volunteered (the previous summer I had used my volunteer $5 lunch voucher to get horrible kosher hospital food. The non kosher food was still horrible, but much less so).
The other important thing that happened that weekend was that I met my first boyfriend, and had my first kiss, on my 15th birthday (the kiss occurred on motzei shabbas when the same group from friday night got together in someone's basement to watch a new Highlander movie that had come out). It wasn't M, it was a friend of his, let's call him "Avi" since that was his name, and it's generically jewish enough.
Avi was my first boyfriend. A few weeks after we first met and kissed, he came to my town for shabbas and stayed at the house of a boy my age who I didn't know. I told my parents I was going to visit a (girl) friend of mine and went over to visit him instead. That was my introduction to a group of people in my town who were also secretly OTD. The boy he was staying at turned the TV on when his parents went off to visit some friends on shabbas afternoon.
Throughout that summer Avi would come to some guys houses in my town for shabbas, I would go to his town for shabbas a few times, and my parents had no idea. I would tell my parents I was going to take the bus to the hospital I volunteered at, and more often than not I would take the bus the opposite way, to Avi's house, where we would make out while his parents were at work (never had sex with him though). I didn't tell my parents about my boyfriend because I knew they would not approve-they only wanted me to date for "tachlis" (marriage) and when I asked when I could start dating they said when I was 17. Since I was 15, I knew it wouldn't be a good idea to tell them. So I continued this secret relationship for a few months.
Eventually my parents caught on that something was going down and started being suspicious of my 'good friend' Avi, and in early August I went to visit my friend for shabbas, my dad made me sign some document saying Avi wouldn't be there cause he was so suspicious at this point (he was always making me sign written documents of things he wanted me to promise), Avi went to stay somewhere down the block from my friend and ate all his meals at my friend's house, my dad came to pick me up and my friend's mom was like "Oh can you take Avi home too?" So I was caught. That was a super awkward 40 minute drive home.
When I got home my parents grounded me indefinitely. No phone, no tv, no computer, no leaving the house or my room except for meals, and no volunteering either (I'm not sure if they knew I wasn't actually volunteering all the times I said I was, or if they were just trying to keep me at home). It was early August and school didn't start for another month, so the first month of what turned out to be more than 4 months of this, I was trapped in my house without even school for social contact. As you can imagine I fell into a depression and at one point towards the end of the first month when I felt like I was trapped in my room forever and I would never be able to be happy again, I ate a bunch of Tylenol to try to kill myself. I did not take enough and basically slept for 2 days and then woke up ok. As far as I know my parents didn't notice- since I was depressed and grounded, I was spending most of my days sleeping anyway.
At that time I pulled out a calendar and started adding up the days until I turned 18. I naively thought that my 18th birthday would be the day I would finally be free of my parents and religious life forever.
To be continued...
Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6