Dear Jew in the City,
I am 16 and have recently become more observant. I was born conservative, and through volunteering with the Special Needs program at my Chabad and eventually studying and becoming very close with my rebbetzin, I have come to love Judaism and decided to follow it more closely.
The hardest part of it, though, is the rejection I am getting from the weirdest places. My grandmother, who is Jewish herself, told me I should marry a regular Jewish boy, not an orthodox one, and that I should stop hanging around the Chabadniks. My lifeskills teacher, who ironically enough, is supposed to be teaching us about equality, said that the rule that a man shall not lie with a man as he lies with a woman is irrelevant because “the same chapter of the bible says we can’t eat shellfish– so “ya’ll going to hell, and we can’t shave our beards– ya’ll going to hell”. When I was complaining about this to my best friend in the whole world who is a gender-queer young adult with female anatomy, she got defensive and pulled the “women are unclean when they menstruate” card and said that being LGBTQI is much harder than being Jewish. I then proceeded to remind her of the Holocaust, the Inquisition and Pogroms, and she said she didn’t want to play the “who is more oppressed game.”
This was just today.
I love Judaism. I love my Grandma and my Lifeskills teacher and my best friend, but they won’t listen when I explain how different Judaism is than they think. I EVEN SHOWED THEM YOUR VIDEOS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
How do I continue my relationships while still being as observant as I want? How can I nurture my friendships without going insane?
JL of Studio City
I’m sorry that becoming more observant has been so hard on you, but everything you’re experiencing is, unfortunately, completely normal. Many of my friends and family members freaked out in various ways as I became a ba’al teshuva.
One family member called me “a heartless zealot” when I was not willing to drive our sick dog to the vet one Shabbos and I suggested that we ask a non-Jewish neighbor to do it instead.
My high school best friend who “caught” me saying Grace After Meals one day in the cafeteria disgustedly muttered to another friend, “Uch, look what she’s doing.” And many of my friends also gave me a hard time when I missed our senior prom because it was on a Friday night.
Even, after I had been observant for a couple years, I was shocked when a Jewish friend, who prided herself on being SUPER open-minded, confided in me that if she had realized that I was Orthodox when we first met, she never would have become friends with me!
From the time that Avraham Avinu took (Abraham our forefather) went against world opinion of his time and started believing in One God, we have been the “others.” (The word “Ivri” which means “a Hebrew” in Hebrew also means “other.”)
As a JITC reader, you already know that I believe that Orthodox Jews are one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented groups out there. So all the negative associations your friends and family have with Orthodox Jews are now being transferred on to you. Also, adopting a new set of beliefs and convictions doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean that you will judge people who are different than you, but many people assume that it will, so they end up judging you before you even have a chance to judge them!
So how do you continue your old relationships while remaining as observant as you want to be? Since relationships are a two way street, continuing them is not entirely in your hands. The best thing that you can do is to show them that their preconceived notions about Orthodox Jews are wrong. Let them see that “religious Judy” is not “crazy, extreme, judgmental Judy” but is rather “new and improved Judy.”
As you work on your Sabbath observance, work on your compassion. As you become more kosher, also become more generous. As you focus on dressing more modestly, also focus on giving others the benefit of the doubt more often. And make sure to retain all the parts of you that make you *uniquely you* (so long as they fit into a halachic framework).
If you do all that, then you’ll have done your part, and if your “open-minded” friends and family members can’t open their minds enough to include your new lifestyle in them, then do your best to stay committed to your convictions anyways. People sometimes turn around in time, though be prepared that some never will.
When Avraham Avinu decided to live a life focused on creating a relationship with the Almighty, God told him “go forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house.” Essentially every ba’al teshuva has to be willing to do the same if it comes down to choosing one or the other.
I wish you much strength and perseverance on your journey, acceptance from the people of your birthplace, and open-arms from the people in the place that you’re headed.
There’s a reason that our sages say “ein tzadkikim b’makom ba’alei teshuva” (“even the most righteous people cannot stand at the same level as a returnee to observance”). It’s tough to grow, and it’s tough to change. But our sages also say,“l’fum tzara agra” (“according to the struggle is the reward”). So may your efforts be rewarded in this world and the next!
All my best,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)