Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5
My second year of grad school I managed to win a really big national multi-year fellowship that paid a significantly higher stipend (still not anything great, but a several thousand dollar raise). I moved on up to a 2 bedroom apartment in a converted rowhouse that was mostly rented by grad students, still in the not-too-great part of the city, but at least pretty big compared to the 20 by 14 space I was living in previously. Even if it was dark as a cave in most of the house (other than the sun porch) cause it was a rowhouse next to an alleyway full of trash, where a dumpster was noisily emptied every morning at 6:30am right behind my bedroom window. Even if there were holes in the sink and the bathtub and the washer and drier didn't really work so you had to dry everything 3 times, and I STILL felt afraid of leaving the house at night, until we got Barkley (our first dog). Even if my upstairs neighbor was once robbed at gunpoint right down the block, and she stored some of her dissertation work in my apartment and took off for her parents house until the locks were changed, cause he had stolen her drivers license AND her keys (and even worse, a hotkey with 3 months of work on her dissertation on it that she lost forever).
At least there were no roaches or mice! I also finally got cable tv for the first time in my life- my parents didn't have it, and I couldn't afford it when dorming or my first year of grad school. I had a living room where I could have guests over, and a small backyard where I held several BBQs for all the new friends I eventually made. I ended up living in that apartment for five years.
My home for most of grad school and my first 'official' apartment with B. You can even see the dumpster in the alley behind the barbed wire fence! Awwww I miss this place..
Throughout grad school I worked every summer as a research assistant for various professors. Once I was advanced enough that the school would let me, I taught night classes to supplement my stipend income. I still didn't have a car. By taking every opportunity for a job that I could get and not buying a car or spending any money on things other than living expenses and the occasional music show or festival (ok, up to 30 small music shows during my happiness project- but the majority in the 5-10$ range and I volunteered at shows and festivals to get in for free), I was able to save up over $30k in addition to being able to meet my living expenses. I had a few roommates at various times to help split expenses for my 2 bedroom apartment and saved even more money. I wanted to save as much money as I could, cause I was determined to never have to beg my parents for money. Even though my mom had said they would not give me any money help again, I knew I could probably get help from them if I was really desperate- but I also knew that money would come with strings attached, because my parents' money ALWAYS came with strings attached. And I was determined to be string-free.
One thing that really helped in leaving the jewish community after my split with the young adult jewish community for good was finding another community that I landed in for a few years. M, the same guy who told me at 15 that he sometimes wrote poetry on shabbas and changed my life forever, also was the one who introduced me to this community my senior year in college- the neo-hippie/jamband community of the northeast. In grad school, especially during my year long happiness project I became heavily involved in the local hippie scene. The same folks went to the same shows and festivals over and over (especially the ones who were dating or married to band members), and became my new community.
They taught me an entirely different way of living- give freely of whatever you have extra and don't take more than you need, help other people whenever you can and don't expect anything in return, treat people fairly, accept everyone no matter how different, clean up after yourself and respect the earth and your fellow humans and treat them with love and compassion, assume the best of people instead of the worst, and if you do this (especially while hanging out in a whole community of people who do this), wonderful things will happen. Some people might argue that some of these are also Jewish values, but the hippie community is where I learned them and began to live by them. It was hippies who first gave me the idea for a happiness project at all, although my therapist was very enthusiastic about the idea.
Almost weirdly, the "happiness" part of my happiness project started to take hold during my year off from dating when I spent most of my time with hippies. For the first time in over a decade I felt completely happy with my life, and with myself, and my self confidence began to grow as I spent time in a community that practices radical acceptance. At the time my friend M commented that I was much less "bitchy" then I used to be, which he attributed to my hanging out with the hippie scene. But it was more than that. It was freedom. Once I wasn't living with my parents anymore, and not going to their house every weekend and spending all weekend fighting about religion, once I had gotten over that initial shock/transition period of moving to a new place, once I wasn't forcing myself to go to Jewish events out of a sense of guilt and obligation rather than any personal enjoyment, it was like a weight was lifted. I became a nicer person as a result of being more happy in my life.
Halfway through my third year of grad school, a few weeks after finishing my year long happiness project, I met my (non-jewish) husband B. After a few weeks of dating he started calling me his girlfriend, which almost gave me a panic attack again when I realized I was in a serious relationship with someone not jewish, whom my parents would never approve of. But I was sunk. I had never met someone I just wanted to spend EVERY SINGLE moment with, not even my ex fiance. He was brilliant and as smart as I was, and we could talk about politics and religion and society and everything until the end of time and not run out of interesting things and ideas to talk about (still haven't, almost 5 years later- one of our good friends has told me several times that she loves just watching us have crazy long conversations together because they are always so interesting). We certainly don't agree on several things (nothing actually important to our lives though, and the conversations wouldn't be as interesting if we always agreed), but we both share a love for ideas and intellectual debates. And he WAS willing to move with me wherever I ended up for my career, which I made sure of very early in our relationship after my experience with my ex.
After a few weeks and several dates we hooked up for the first time on a friday night, and I just stayed at his apartment the entire weekend. On Monday we both had to go to school (He was finishing up his undergrad degree at the time), and he said to come back that night when I was done with classes. Since then we have barely gone a single day without seeing each other (except when I have to travel for business). I would spend every night at his house, walk back to my apartment (5-6 blocks away) in the morning and take care of my cats and get ready for school, and then go back to his place right after my classes were over. Sometimes we would stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning just having long rambling conversations about everything. Sometimes we would even stay up all night having those conversations. Sometimes we still do. :)
I told my parents about him a couple of months after we started dating, and my mom told me that if I married someone not Jewish it would be like I was a serial killer or a child molester- she would still love me but wouldn't be able to have a relationship with me. My parents started sending me long letters about why I should marry jewish people, many of which are documented on this blog. B moved in to my apartment 'for reals' at the end of my 4th year (which my parents found out about shortly afterward), and we got married at the end of my 5th. I used part of my savings to pay for our wedding and had the small intimate and completely not-jewish wedding we both wanted. In the middle of the woods. We had 20 guests and after an 11 minute ceremony (according to the video) we had an outdoor picnic, and it was totally perfect. That story is already well documented on my blog, so I'm not going to rehash it.
At the end of my 6th year, when I was 28, I graduated and we both moved to the south where I had gotten a job as a tenure-track Sociology professor. With my savings and some help from my in-laws, we bought a pretty sweet house last year (3 bedrooms AND a hot tub!). We finally live in a nice (middle class) neighborhood where I DON'T feel afraid leaving the house at night, in the best public school district in the city. The closest Orthodox Jewish community is an hour and a half away. Sadly I've had to leave my hippie community as well, but over the last year I've been slowly meeting some deadheads and other local hippies and building up a new community, and working in academia as a professor is a community in and of itself.
I will not say it's been easy. My parents haven't given me a dime since I graduated college and moved to grad school, which was 7 years ago today, and I would not accept any money from them even if they offered (which they don't) since I know it comes with strings attacked. Knowing I had no 'safety net' of parents to turn to made me very cautious with money, and I burned with jealousy over some of my fellow students who had parents who helped them pay for nice apartments. I lived in bad neighborhoods, in bad housing, battled mice and roaches, and have never been able to afford to buy a car (my husband came with one free, so now we have one). I didn't achieve a middle class lifestyle until I was 28. I wasn't even able to escape the Jewish community until I was 22, and have spent half the time I have been OTD living a double life in the Jewish community.
But I made it, and I made it to the point where I have a good job and a good life and a good living situation, even if it took me many years of crap situations to get here. And despite those crap situations, those 2 years where I got to spend most of my week on my own in NYC, and the 6 years in grad school where I was completely free of my parents and not having to pretend I was religious, are some of the happiest years in my life. Immeasurably happier compared to my childhood and my teenage years, because I was FINALLY able to live a life that's completely free of religion, in which I had complete freedom to live the way I wanted to, and in which I was(and am) the only person who decides how I live. Although nowadays I usually take my husband's feelings into account too. :)
So that's my story. Do you have a story you'd like to share? If you're not a blogger but would like to write a guest post about how you went OTD and left the Jewish community, I would love to post it here for you- email your story and whatever name you would like to have it posted with to me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I reserve the right to edit your post for grammar and spelling before posting it here.