Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Advice to a new OTDer

Since I put up an email address from this blog a few months ago, every once in a while I will get a (sometimes heartbreaking) email from someone who has recently gone or is trying to go "off the derech" and who is looking for advice. Recently I got an email from a woman in her late 30s who has recently gotten divorced from her frum husband whom she married right out of high school, and who has now left the frum community. She writes:

Bottom line? I'm struggling. Thankfully, not financially. Struggling with making a life for myself - I'm so used to being told what to do, how to do it and when, that I find myself at a loss.

I figured I would share part of my response with everyone:

I definitely know how rough that is, that kind of freefalling feeling when suddenly you have total freedom to do whatever you want to do, but don't even know where to start. I think it's important to remember that whenever you change your life in a major way, there will be an adjustment period that will be kind of rough, where you have to start figuring out new routines and new ways of doing things.

Even after I completely stopped being religious, I still held on to jewish community type things for years because I really didn't know what else to do- so when I moved to grad school, I started going to Friday night shabbas dinners for jewish young adults every week, just because I didn't really know how else to make friends or what else to do with myself and was in a brand new city where I didn't know anyone. I did that for a few years even. But I still hated being involved in all that stuff, and felt like a fraud all the time, since all the people there assumed I was religious and was really into judaism (like they were), but I knew I wasn't, but just kinda stuck to the jewish community cause that was all I knew how to do.

What I ended up doing was around 2006 I basically stopped going to jewish events entirely, and started a year-long "happiness project" where I just experimented with all sorts of things. I didn't date any guys that entire year, because I was trying to figure out whether I still cared if guys were jewish or not, and also because I wanted to focus on me instead of another guy/a relationship. I went to like 30 music concerts that year, a bunch of crazy hippie music festivals, I grew dreadlocks for a while and then dyed my hair blue, I pierced my eyebrow (later took it out, ha!), I took a bunch of short term classes at a local arts place- an outdoor watercolor painting class, a figure drawing class, a couple of yoga classes, a tai chi class, a cooking class- just trying a bunch of stuff out and seeing what I liked. I also went to tons of different restaurants and tried all sorts of foods I had never tried before, etc. I started going to the gym and swimming, and just going on long walks all the time to parks and other places. I also joined a book club and a 'dinner club' that went out to fancy restaurants once a month. I think most 'normal' people go through something similar to that when they are teenagers, but for people like us, we never had a chance to experiment with these sorts of things when we were teens- and it's never too late!

I think there are generally 2 problems that need to be addressed when leaving the jewish community. The first is kinda figuring out yourself, what you like to do vs. what you were always told you should do, your level of morality, what you feel comfortable with, etc. The second is the friends problem- when you are in the jewish community you have a built in community of friends, but when you leave you suddenly leave that whole community. I was fortunate in that I happened to find a kind of already established 'hippie community' of people who like the same music that I like, and who meet up regularly at shows and festivals.

So what I would recommend is to start looking around the internet for different groups in your area that are meeting up, or classes, or other types of organized activities and just show up at a meeting or sign up for a class or something. That'll help you start to make friends outside of the jewish community, and also help you start to figure out what it is YOU want to do, what makes you happy. If you have a dog, join a dog park! Like to read, join a book club! The trick to making friends is to go back to the same place over and over again, and clubs/other organizations are great for that. Plus you already have something built in to talk about that is bringing you together. If you haven't been to college, or even if you have, and if you have the time- you might also want to start thinking about taking some classes at your local college on topics that are really fascinating to you. If the internet is your thing, there are also lots of internet groups/message boards that are sort of like mini online communities, and I've met a lot of real life friends from that sort of thing.

If you live in the NYC area there is an excellent organization called footsteps- that is a sort of support group for people leaving orthodox judaism and who aren't sure what to do next (they can help with education and those sorts of things).

If anyone has any other advice for new OTDers, please post it in the comments!

Meanwhile I still have more to write about my mom and the wedding last week, but I'm still processing my feelings over it, so it might be a while. Plus my dissertation is due in 2.5 weeks...I should get back to that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Worst exchange from last night

Last night at my cousin's wedding was filled with awesomeness and horribleness, and I will definitely post more later, but for now here's a lovely exchange I had with my grandfather last night:

Him: Now that you're done with your education you gotta find a nice jewish boy, you should look around this wedding, there's lots of nice jewish boys here *blah blah blah jewish boy*
me: (eventually cutting him off) I gotta tell you a secret Zaidy (which is what I call him), I'm already married to someone, and he isn't jewish
Him: Let me tell YOU a secret, that's no secret to me
Me: So you know I'm married, and you're basically telling me you want me to get divorced and marry a jewish guy?
Him: As far as I'm concerned, you're not married
Me: Well as far as the government is concerned I am, so you're basically telling me I should get divorced, and I don't believe in that- I did't get married just to get divorced, I would only get divorced if something really bad happened, I take marriage very seriously.
Him: Well I'm not telling you to get divorced
Me: Ok, but you are
Him: I don't want to argue with you, but you should find a nice jewish boy
Me: Well I don't want to argue either, so lets just agree to disagree
Him: *Goes on some more about jewish guys and all the great black hatter guys I can pick out at this wedding*
Me: Come on, lets just agree to disagree, we're never going to agree on this, so lets just drop it
Him: *Dropped it and was surprisingly pleasant and nice to me the rest of the evening*

Also in divorce news, I found out that one of my cousin's is getting divorced (after 11 years + 3 kids) because her husband went off the derech and she still wants to lead a religious life, which he is not willing to do. I actually figured out the divorce part from facebook and asked her mom about it, and it turns out it's actually a secret (I figured it out because her relationship status and all pictures of her husband mysteriously disappeared from her facebook- classic separated/divorced person facebook move, which I know from the eleventy billion friends of mine currently getting divorced). After my great aunt found out I already knew about it, she unloaded the whole story on me. I also told her all about B and she was really cool about it- and said multiple times that she doesn't care that he's not jewish, she's just happy that I'm happy. I think she was really happy (not happy maybe, but relieved?) to be able to talk to someone about the divorce and not have to keep it a secret- secrets are bad that way.

Meanwhile, the off the derech ex-husband? Like 2 years ago I had my facebook religion status set as "Against" and he sent me a private facebook message saying "Hey- I like your religious views. I totally agree, but don't tell anyone." I even blogged about it at the time. Weird...

Meanwhile this guy unfriended me on facebook, and I kinda want to be like "hey, you're still the dad of my second cousins, no need to unfriend me just cause you're divorcing my cousin, and I'm also OTD and would love to talk to you about it", but I think re-friending my cousin's ex husband might be uncool. I totally sympathize with her too- it turns out she didn't come to the wedding last night because she didn't want to face everyone and tell them she was getting divorced and have to explain the whole thing. Not going to family events because of uncomfortable news you think the family will look down on you for? TOTALLY sympathize there, and I'm thinking of sending her a long email saying something along those lines. Appropriate or inappropriate?


I told: 1 great aunt, 3 of my mom's cousins, and my grandfather (who already knew) about being married to someone not jewish. Another great aunt obviously stared at my wedding ring several times but never actually asked me about it, and I didn't end up talking to her a lot so didn't bring it up.

Funny grandmother moment- my grandmother introduced me to the groom's grandmother and was like "this is my granddaughter, she's a college professor" and then whispered to me "she should know that our side of the family is educated!" Yay for grandma's finally being proud of my education! :) I don't know why, but I found that entire exchange hilarious. I also thought it was hilarious when I saw my cousin take sip the wine under the chuppah- I ended up sitting in the front row between my mother and grandmother, so had the close up view of the face she made when she tasted the wine (most people probably couldn't see it cause she was still wearing her veil). My mom was all "whats so funny, it's a serious occasion" when I laughed a little under my breath. Whatever mom, funny faces when drinking bad wine are funny.

Also my grandmother asked if I ate bacon and ham and seemed upset when I said yes (You think I married someone not jewish but still keep kosher? Really?)

Speaking of food, I don't know if this was particularly bad food or what but having eaten actual good food for the past 10 years or so, I found the food at the wedding to be almost inedible. Actually most of the people at my table kept going on about how great the food was, which just made me feel sad for them that this is the best they have had.

Meanwhile when I got home last night I threw up- but that probably was related to anxiety. It's weird, I don't normally throw up a lot, but after my interview for that professorship job I accepted, I also threw up when I came home. I think just being keyed up and anxious and "on" makes my stomach all twisty and then it untwists itself via throwing up. This is probably just a new manifestation of the anxiety disorder I was diagnosed with like 5 years back. Back then I was having constant panic attacks...I gotta say, although throwing up isn't pleasant, it's actually much more pleasant than a panic attack. I find the mental symptoms to be much unpleasant than the physical ones...and at least I feel better after throwing up, which can not be said about a panic attack.

Ok I ended up putting more in this post than I thought I would, but still have to post about my Mom at some point..that's a whole post in and of itself.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

That's *Professor* Abandoning Eden to you

I accepted the assistant professorship position.

Future, here we come!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Crazy week in academic land.

So yesterday morning the hard drive on my work computer crashed and died out of the blue. Like seriously "it will cost you $2500 to possibly retreive anything because the disk isn't spinning anymore" died.

I lost years worth of computer code, but fortunately have most of my actual dissertation (except, um, well the raw data and the 3 years worth of coding that allowed me to actually use that's reproducable but will take months to reproduce). I also lost the raw data outputs for an entire chapter of my dissertation (fortunately I have the more polished tables in the actual chapter), and all but 9 graphs for a presentation I'm supposed to give next week (which means my presentation is going to be a lot less awesome than it was supposed to be). I also lost electronic copies of all the lesson plans for the one class I had prepped- fortunately I never throw anything out so I have hard copies of all the lesson plans. But now I get to type them up again at some point, oh joy. :) BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER RIGHT NOW PEOPLES.

As I was walking (running) down the stairs to the computer support people, minutes after my computer first crashed, I got a call from *elite university* asking to set up a phone interview for a 2 year postdoc with *elite university* for tomorrow morning. They will let me know whether I got this postdoc or not this Friday. *Good but not elite university in the mouth* offering me an assistant professorship position wants to know whether or not I will accept their offer by this Friday.

I also got offered another postdoc at *less elite university in very rural area* last week and someone is supposed to call me in about 40 minutes to talk about that. Tomorrow after my phone interview with *elite university* I have phone appointments with two of my mentors (who live in other areas) to give me advice.

Thursday I have a negotiating phone call appointment with *good but not elite university in the mouth* to try to negotiate for a better offer than the one they intially gave me (especially now that I have alternatives).

Also, just now, I sent drafts of all three of my main dissertation chapters to my dissertation chair, asking if I can combine the stuff I was able to salvage for what should have been a 4th chapter with my proposal to be the introduction to the dissertation and if what I already have equals a dissertation. If he approves my plan, that means I'm just an introduction and conclusion (and probably editing some drafts) away from a completed dissertation! If not I may not actually be able to walk at that graduation I invited my parents too (where they might meet B) I'm hoping he will be ok with this.

Then next week I got:
Monday: Cousin's wedding (going without B- 2.5 hour drive each way, plus "coming out" to my entire family about being married)
Wednesday: Long lost best friend stopping by for the night on her way somewhere else
All day Friday- Saturday: Quick trip to that conference I lost most of my data for.

Monday, March 8, 2010

gift for my cousin- frum people help me out here

Since I don't have a phone number for my cousin to find out about a gift registry, I thought I would buy her a cast iron grill pan, since she probably didn't register for something like that, but they are totally totally awesome (allows you to grill indoors- pretty much the most awesome pan I own). By the way if you don't own one of these things, you should totally get one. I also want to get just a plain cast iron pan for myself at some point so I can make non-grilled things in a cast iron pan.

Frum people- any problems kosher-wise with buying/using something like this? Some come "pre-seasoned" which is probably the kind I would get- would that be a problem? What about the whole "you can't wash cast iron pans in soap" thing (only water and then rub it with oil) - kasharut problems there? I just don't want to get her a useless gift...

Also great article out today on scientology OTDers

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ugh, Daddy issues.

I don't know why I keep expecting more of him, but I still find myself disappointed when he doesn't live up to my expectations. Probably because my expectations are so freakin low to begin with.

When I found out I got this job, I sent out an email to about 30 people who I know would really care about this- some relatives, every faculty member I've worked closely with, a bunch of my friends. And my dad.

I got long responses from just about everyone, including all sorts of people (some of whom I haven't talked with in years, like my old undergrad adviser) telling me how proud they were of me and how great it was that I got this job, etc. And this is the response I got from my dad, word for word:

"Congratulations! I hope it all works out for the best.


I don't know why, but this just triggered all sorts of resentments and now I'm feeling all pissed at him again. I mean, come on!! When I started dating B, my dad came up with all sorts of 10+ page treatises on why I shouldn't, some of which can be read in this blog. But finally achieving my dream of getting a professorship job, the job I went to college for 4 years and grad school for 6 years for (that's a total of 10 years of higher education if you can't do simple math) only warrants this bullshit impersonal one line response? What the flying fuck!

I know I'm overreacting and at least he wrote a response at all, right? But seriously, this is just part of a continuing pattern I really feel resentful about when it comes to my parents- all the things I care about, the things I am really passionate about, the things I work my ass off to achieve, they couldn't care less about- or they outright disprove of it. You know what my dad's response was to me getting into 8 out of 9 phd programs I applied to (Harvard rejected me, those bastards) and getting fully funded at each program I got into, all of which were top 20 and some of which were top 5 programs in my field? "Oh, I always thought your brother was the smart one" and a bunch of warnings about how it's impossible to ever have kids if the mother has a career (AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! And my dad has a PhD, so you can't just blame this on ignorance about grad school and academia). But anything having to do with religion, the one thing I'd rather just never talk about again, turns into a huge crazy to-do.

Oddly enough, my grandmother called me again last night. I thought for a moment my dad had told her about my job and that's why she called, but it turned out she had no idea and it was a coincidence (we joked that she has a psychic connection to me since we're related by blood- it was actually kind of eerie). She asked why I never call her (maybe because this is only her second call to me, and I assumed the first one last summer was to check up on me when she heard I was married and that she wasn't being serious about me calling her more often? But I guess she was, which is cool!). She asked me if I was talking to my parents, and I told her the truth- that I occasionally talk to my dad, but I don't talk to my mom because she said she didn't want a relationship with me after I got married, and I'm not pressing the issue.

We had a very nice chat for about 15 minutes and I told her about the job and the area I'm moving to, and I also got to ask her some stuff about her parents, which I've wanted to know. I've been reading this book "Palm Sunday" by Kurt Vonnegut, and in part of the book he talks about his family's history, as far back an older relative of his can remember and can find records of- so going back several generations. I realized when I read that I know very little about the generation(s) before my grandparents. On my dad's side, my grandparents were holocaust survivors, and my great grandparents were killed when my grandparents were teenagers, so I doubt even my grandparents would know much of their own family history. Now my grandmother on that side is dead, and my grandfather on that side is senile, so any history there is, is lost. But on my mom's side, my grandparents are both still very much alive and fully in command of their wits- so it would be great to get more info about my ancestors while that is still the case.

I found out from my grandmother that she grew up during the great depression but never really thought of it as a depression until later looking back, because that's the way everyone was living. She got married when she was 20 and my grandfather was 22, after dating a whole bunch of other dudes apparently (her mom died of appendicitis when she was 14- this was before the days of penicillin- so she didn't have a lot of parental supervision and "ran around" a lot as a teenager). And that her father worked in the diamond industry during world war two, and my grandfather's father used to manufacture convertible sofas. After we hung up the phone I realized that I have no idea if the great grandfather I knew as a child (he died when I was 7)- my Alta Zaidy- was my grandmother's father or my grandfather's father. I'm looking forward to catching up with her more at my cousin's wedding in a couple of weeks.

The next topic I want to ask about is migration patterns- how was it that my ancestors on that side of the family got from Romania to NYC? I know it wasn't a direct path, since I know my grandmother was born in Pittsburgh. And were they indeed all Romanian like my mother told me? My husband thought his mom's parents were both Sicilian until I talked to his grandmother last year and found out that while her late husband was indeed Sicilian, her parents were actually Austrian and Czechoslovakian if I recall correctly (I should double check that and write all this stuff down somewhere).

Now that it turns out we are moving down "mouth", I'm glad I have this wedding opportunity to hang out with my family members (at least the cool ones) one more time before I go. I have to remember to bring a notebook to take notes on this ancestry stuff, and maybe a package for my grandmother of some of my published articles + the article that was written about me + one of the school flyers I got from the university I got a job at, so that she can brag about me to all her other little old jewish lady friends, like I know she loves to do. :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Remember that job I interviewed at last week? WELL I GOT IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I still have to negotiate the details, but it looks like I'm moving to "the mouth" and I'm going to be an assistant professor of sociology!!!!!! :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

More parallells with the GLBT community

My interview went great- crazy, intense, but great, and I think I did as well as I possibly could have. My doubts about "the mouth" have been put to rest, and out of the 2 assistant professorship interviews I've had so far, and the 2 postdocs I have a good chance at getting (I'm a finalist for one, and have a really good inside contact at a second), this one is now my #1 choice. I should be hearing back in a few weeks but cross your fingers, toes, eyes, feet for me, pray for me if you believe in that, send me positive vibes if you believe in those, because I really really really want this job to be my job.

Anyways, when I came home I went to a department party where I ran into an old friend of mine- we're in the same year in my grad program, but she works mostly off campus and doesn't hang around the department much, so I haven't actually seen her in over a year. She asked how things were going with my parents, and I told her about the graduation thing, and about possibly going to the wedding. This friend is Jewish- she's from a reform or conservative background I think, but pretty traditional/religious (my first year I drove over to her place for a traditional rosh hashana lunch), has some orthodox family, and her ex girlfriend grew up orthodox, so she knows a lot about the orthodox community values. Also, she is a lesbian (the ex girlfriend part should have clued you in), so we always end up having really interesting discussions about the parallels between my situation and the situation of many of her gay friends who have families that don't approve of their partners.

At this party we got to talking about coming out in general, and I was telling about my plan to go to the wedding without B (who doesn't want to go, so I've decided not to press for it), but wearing my wedding ring, and "coming out" to all my family about being married. Her insight which really struck me was this- a lot of parents who were hostile to her friend's partners (just becuase they are gay) have come around eventually. But that accepting their gay child is as much as a "coming out" process for their parents as it is for them, because in order to accept their children they have to publicly be the parent of a gay child.

I don't know why, but that just really struck me. Going to this wedding and coming out to all my family about being married to someone not jewish, will be 'outing' my parents as the parents of someone who married out, which to them is very shameful. With that in mind, I'm going to try to be sensitive to that, and make a special effort not to badmouth my parents to other relatives. It's tough for them. Heck, it's been super tough to me to deal with the reaction of people, and it's always really difficult to put myself out there and tell people about my marriage (there is always that really scary moment: will they be cool? Will they not be cool?), and I CHOSE to go out and marry someone not Jewish. They didn't have that choice, so I am basically asking them to have to deal with something similar if they are going to accept B as my husband.

With that in mind, by going around telling all my relatives about my marriage, that might actually make it easier for my parents- because then if they eventually decide to be cool with us, THEY don't have to go around telling everyone that I'm married, because I'll have gone through that tough part without them.

At the very least, going around telling everyone I'm married will mean I won't have the same issues next time someone gets married- because if they don't invite my husband, I'll KNOW it's deliberate.