Why Is Everyone Turning Against Me Now That I’m Becoming More (Jewishly) Observant?

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?

Sincerely,

JL of Studio City

Dear Judy,

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)

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

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  1. Hang in there JL! As the “token Jew” in our family… I hear ya loud & clear! Everyone married out in our entire generation – both sides – his & mine – we are the only ones that married Jews (we even met at JTS!)

    I can remember his grandmother WALKED OUT and turned on music as we lit the Shabbos candles in her house – it was insane!

    We are expected to attend ALL holidays (Easter, Christmas) at our siblings houses yet they fail to attend Passover, Rosh HaShana, etc. and are given a hard time if we send anything remotely “Jewish” themed, and we are respectful in sending gifts that are as neutral as possible – yet they send our kids Easter & Christmas presents (clothing) even though we REPEATEDLY ask them to honor our wishes.

    We spend every penny putting our kids through Hebrew Day schools – and our families don’t understand why it is so incumbent upon us to do so. Hello?! We are the LAST JEWS – we MUST do everything we can so our three girls will marry in some day.

    Our friends get upset when we tell them they can bring food to our potluck dinner – but it must not contain pork/shellfish. Even if we are eating outside, even if on paper plates, it is not allowed in our home and they get frustrated.

    On the bright side, our Christian friends have finally (more or less) stopped telling us they wished we would accept Christ so we don’t burn in hell and be able to join them in heaven.

    You sound like a fine young woman and you are still young – I am more than twice your age. Your friends will accept you or they are not your friends. Your family – well, you can’t choose your family. So good luck with them. I do what I can and try to keep the peace while being true to myself.

    HUGS of support!

  2. Brianna says:

    Hugs to you! I think what you’re doing is awesome. Personally, I absolutely adore being Jewish. I’m not sure I’ll ever convert beyond being Reform, but I never say never. Right now, it’s not something that will fit in with my life. It’s not a bad thing, just a lot of obstacles right now. I am fascinated by all facets of Judaism.

  3. jan schulman says:

    when i first became involved with chabad my friends, relatives and acquaintances were shocked and upset with me. but as time went on and they realized that the me they loved is still the same essence of me, they became okay (kind of) with it. even my closest friend (who is a non observant Jew) asked me to stop sending her “Jewish stuff.” i had to explain it was ‘human stuff” and pertained to everyone. my husband is not observant but supports me in anything i choose to do. i am not completely observant, but i have become much more involved in my Judaism.

  4. I understand says:

    Oh boy….do I hear you…and our families and friends that are not frum will not hesitate to show us every “frum” Rabbi that is in the news even if he really wasn’t frum or a rabbi for that matter (and I don’t mean celebrities). and they will go out of their way to say that hebrew national is kosher and we are inventing a new religion. and every gala intermarriage, bris of a nonjew, and bar/bat mitzvah will be heavily celebrated and a lavish gift given yet our own affairs just don’t rate. we are compared to every other fundamentalist on earth. It is hard – It is frustrating- but it’s more than they feel that we are going to judge them…in the back of their minds they think we could be right and that revelation would rock their world so much that …its better to condemn. The people who will support us the most in our quest to become closer to G-d is (btw- when it comes down to it that it what we are doing – we are trying to become closer to our Creator not to please anybody) is the religious right. My father is not jewish and my mom is. When I switched universities to go to a more Jewish one who supported me- not my jewish relatives- but my nonjewish very religious (in her religion) great aunt. It is hard but as you get older and find your bashert (intended) and have children and your family sees how well your kids are turning out things do get easier- and for those other times you just have the mirror- you know you are doing what is right and that is all that counts.

  5. as a convert, I feel for you because I am going through all the same things pretty much. Allison and Deb are right though, and put it far better than I could have.

  6. I became observant when I was in my 50’s and the same thing happened to me. I didn’t hurt any less because I’m an adult. Friends and family thought I was a religious fanatic.

    I made new friends and some of my family began to accept me for myself. I’m so glad I became observant. It added so much to my life. I am so much more connected to my soul, Am Yisroel and of course Hashem.

  7. Bat Israel says:

    Hey JL, I am also 16 and I am going through exactly the same thing as you are with my family and friends because I am becoming more observant although my story is very different then yours.I want you to know that I am very proud of you for what you are doing. Even though I face many difficulties in becoming observant because the people who are the closest to me do not approve it brought me so much joy and meaning to my life and it made me a much better person. I always try to be a good example to others and make a kiddush hashem through the way I speak and act. Even though I do not know how to pray yet I thank hashem every day(in my own words) for giving me the strength to not give up in getting closer to him because I learned it the hard way that nobody’s opinions about you matter except hashem’s and He is the only one that we should try to please. JL, we are both still young and we have a long way to go in life and we will probobly face many difficulties in life with our families and friends until one day hopefully they will realize what a blessing it is to be an obsevant Jew. I have hope that besrat hashem one day things will be better for us and that we will grow up and get married to a good man and raise a Jewish observant family and that our parents will have only nachat from us and that mashiach will come soon and everybody will love hashem and observe his Torah.

  8. Once upon a time, when I met my now-husband, who was (up until then) non-observant, his mother said to me during one of our first meetings, “How religious are you going to make him?”

    Oy. I’ve blogged a lot about this before, and it’s interesting how those who give you the most flak are other Jews — not non-Jews!

  9. Hi JL, Hang in there, you are not alone! None of my Jewish friends or classmates keep kosher or even remotely observe Shabbos, and I have been lately at odds with them as they discovered I am “more orthodox than they thought.” There are tons of us out there like you.

  10. Shoshana says:

    Just remember that Judaism is the context for your life and your relationship with Gd. Look for ways to use Jewish wisdom to actively improve your relationships; perhaps some Mussar study would help you. And remember, above all, that you do not have to justify your level of observance to anyone but the Lord.

  11. Thank you for the inspiring response!

  12. My daughter is 16 and is being more observant, I am secular, I find it difficult to understand why she would want to do this, I feel sad for what she will miss out on in life, such as holidays on the beach sunbathing, watching certain TV programs, wearing fashionable clothes, I would like to have some advice on how to deal with these feelings of loss I feel.

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