Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6
In college for the first two years I commuted back and forth to Hunter, 4 hours on a train every day. It was actually great for studying- I got so much work done on the train (and later by reading at home when I was stuck there for shabbas) that I ended up graduating summa cum laude. My level of observance at this time was at a level it had been stuck at for years. I didn't believe in orthodox judaism (but still believed in god...kinda), I didn't keep shabbas at all, I ate non-kosher vegetarian food and cheeses, ate fish (but not shellfish) out, but I still did not eat non-kosher meat. I bought a secret pair of jeans and every morning I would leave my house wearing a long skirt with the jeans rolled up underneath, and on the walk to the train station would whip my skirt off when no one was around and stuff it in my bag, and roll down my pants, and go to school.
While in college I also started 'experimenting' with other forms of judaism. The thought occurred to me that perhaps I hated judaism because of my parents/HS/whatever, but that other sects would be less horrible. I became very involved in Hillel and my college's jewish (non frum for the most part) community, and was on their programming committee for years where I organized many fun (IMO) jewish events like jewish movie viewings and a hillel open mike night with brilliant people performing various things every week for a year. I even was co-VP of Hillel for a semester. I went to chabad lunch and learns every other week and had long discussions with other hillel folks about whether the documentary hypothesis might be true and how we could prove it wrong, the various beliefs and practices of people in various sects of judaism, life in general. One of those folks was Malkie S., the woman who started the organization Footsteps, an organization for OTDers which she was just starting while we were in college together. She later tried to get me to join in my senior year, but I never made it to a meeting.
Meanwhile I went on birthrite Israel with hillel during winter break of my freshman year and meditated with hippie jews on the top of mountains in sefat. I went to my first reconstructionist shabbas services when they told us we had a choice of which services to go to and had ones of all stripes. While I did enjoy the guitar and being able to understand what we were saying, it was very foreign and kinda offputting to me because it was similar and yet so different from what I had grown up with. On birthrite I also got really drunk for the first time on Ben Yehudah street at Mike's Place, and after the trip was over I paid a $50 to delay my ticket home and spent 2 weeks crashing with my friend who was doing a year at Bar Elon University near Tel Aviv, where I got my belly button pierced. I visited with my cousins in Beit El in the west bank. I went to shabbas dinner at my friend's cousins where they had a traditional friday night shabbas dinner, after which we sat around watching tv. My first exposure to "cultural jews."
Back at college I had many long conversations with the reform rabbi-in-training at hillel and some conservative friends. I started identifying as conservative and then as a cultural jew. I also started taking yoga which led to reading some buddhist philosophy, which I liked. Through some of my clases I learned more about christianity, which I knew almost nothing about at that point. I had long conversations with non-jewish people at work at my college (who were mostly Muslim and Hindu, with a couple of Christians and some other Jews) where we compared our religions and their various beliefs.
It was the first time I had non-jewish friends, and really talked to anyone of another religion in depth about what their religion believed. I went to one of the most diverse colleges in the country (#3 in the country) and being in NYC and working to help run freshman orientation, I met and talked to people from all backgrounds and from all over the world. It was heady times. I went through a bit of a culture shock when I first got there but after a childhood in which I never had a conversation with someone who wasn't jewish, I loved all the different kinds of people I was meeting. I had to struggle to catch up with things my professors took for granted, like that we knew what the protestant reformation was (I didn't, and wikipedia wasn't really around yet). I also had to train myself to speak straight english instead of yinglish, as I soon realized once arriving in college that a lot of the words I used in regular speech were actually a foreign language.
I was still dating my ex fiance (we went out for 4 years- from fall of my senior year of high school until fall of my senior year of college). For around a year and a half after my parents found out about our plans to spend a weekend away (around 6 months after we started dating) there was a family stalemate, during which I refused to stop dating him, and he was not welcome in the house. After 9/11 happened during my sophomore year in college when I was 19, my parents decided they would be cool with him again cause "life is short." He was invited over to the house again for Thanksgiving 2001. My dad and him even eventually came to be pretty close.
The summer after my sophomore year my ex's own parents decided to move to another part of the country and since he was making a decent wage at that time, he decided he would stay in the area and not move with the rest of his family. He got an apartment about 3 blocks away from my parent's house. As you could imagine this was AWESOME for me since I had a place literally 3 blocks away where I could go violate shabbas all I wanted, with no parents around! Me and several other OTDers in town started hanging out at his place friday night after dinner and shabbas day after lunch, watching cartoons, and he started coming to my house for almost every shabbas meal. I was 20 at the time.
That summer something else happened- my school started opening up a very limited number of dorm rooms, after they were closed for renovations for several years. The dorms had very limited space-only 600 rooms at a school with 16,000 undergrads- so they were mostly for athletes, honors students in a new program, those on exchange programs, with a few "emergency rooms" for students who had major issues at homes. I desperately wanted to move there. I went to the vice president of the school and asked to be let into one of the emergency rooms on the basis of that I was spending 4 hours every day commuting, and that I was having problems at home. I explained the massive fights my parents and I were having over religion and how I was living a double life. I was also an honors student in the old honors program (and they were letting honors students from the new program in so why not me?). I told her every reason I could think of and every argument to get in. I got a room.
The next step was convincing my parents. The dorm rooms were incredibly cheap - around $250 a month (no meal plan) to stay in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan (the dorms are on 25th street and 1st ave in Manhattan). My parents were paying around $250 a month for all the NJ transit train, path train and subway fees to get me to school each month. I worked out all the numbers and proved to my parents that it would be cheaper to let me dorm than to make me commute.
I think the deciding factor was my ex moving 3 blocks away from my parents- my parents wanted me to go off to the dorm so we wouldn't be "tempted into sex" in his apartment or something (which they probably convinced themselves we weren't already having- we had lost our virginity to each other a couple of months before my 18th birthday). My dad definitely mentioned something about how he "knew I wasn't going to be sleeping around with a bunch of guys at my dorm cause your boyfriend is right here with us." Lovely, dad.
We worked out a deal where my parents would pay for my tuition + dorm and I would pay for everything else -food, clothes, the phone line and DSL internet connection my senior year- out of the three jobs I was working while in college. I was then working as a paid research assistant, a peer adviser and later admin in the school's student center, and an occasional statistics tutor. I also promised (in writing on another one of those damn contracts my dad was always making up) to come home every single shabbas and yuntif (holiday) to stay with my parents, or they would stop paying my tuition and dorm fees immediately.
I still hadn't escaped completely, and at the time I was working 30+ hours a week and taking 5 classes a semester, living in a room that was 8 feet by 12 feet while sharing a bathroom and kitchen with 60 filthy people on my floor, but I was on my own for almost 6 days of the week, and it was completely glorious and I loved every second. I wore pants every day but Friday when I went to my parent's house after school was over. I ate whatever I wanted- although still vegetarian non-kosher food for a while, so I rarely ate meat except on weekends. I ate a lot of tuna fish and bean burritos from taco bell ($1.06 and very filling!).
Every Friday I would take the 2 hour train home, spend as much of shabbas as possible at my ex's house, and every Saturday night my ex or my dad would drive me back into the city. That moment when you are on the George Washington Bridge and first see all the huge lights and buildings of NYC- that was always the greatest moment every week, I would sigh a huge sigh of relief for being FREE again, at least for a week.
Meanwhile over these years I had learned a very important lesson- as long as I still depended on my parents for money, they would always be able to control my religious life. They were able to force me to come home every single weekend to celebrate shabbas (which was very much against my will), which I hadn't kept in like 6 years, but they could do it because I needed their money. I was still forced to miss class to come home for holidays. As long as I needed their money I would have to live this double life, pretending to be nominally religious so I wouldn't piss them off so much that they would cut off my college tuition. So my new goal was financial independence.
Fortunately something even more amazing happened at the end of my freshman year- I discovered sociology. Not only that, I discovered the possibility of becoming a sociology professor.
To be continued...