Dear Jew in the City,
My cousin showed me your page when I started becoming interested in Orthodox Judaism. Since then (that was over 6 months ago) I started learning with someone, which is going great. I was just curious of a simple yet not so simple question. Is it always this difficult? (And I mean that in the nicest way possible.) This question is more geared toward family and friends. The learning part I find interesting and love to learn so that isn’t difficult to me. But lately I have been having trouble incorporating shabbat in my house because my family is not shomer shabbos and not always so welcome of the idea of me becoming shomer shabbos either. When I am at friends or other areas where the people are shomer shabbos I love it and want to do it every weekend. But when I am at home it is very difficult. How can I incorporate shabbos when I am home so I can keep doing it and eventually become shomer shabbos no matter where I am? Also, do the issues of becoming Orthodox with your family (conservative jewish family) ever get any easier?
Thank you so much for your time. I truly love your videos, articles, and Q&A. It is a huge help and is such a welcoming and awesome website.
Thanks again and I hope to hear from you soon.
Thanks for your question. Things will get easier, but you will need both patience and determination to get there. What you’re experiencing right now are growing pains. Just as a child gets physical growing pains when she physically grows, so too there are spiritual growing pains when we develop ourselves spiritually. Avraham Avinu (Abraham our forefather) experienced them as he changed his life in order to connect with the Almighty and every ba’al teshuvah (returnee to observance) since then has undergone a similar struggle.
Your family and friends most likely see your exploration of Torah Judaism as a rejection of them and the way that they live. They’re probably also afraid that you’ll turn into a person they’ll no longer recognize and that religion will drive a wedge between you and them.
If we go back to Avraham as our model of how to grow in observance, we see that God’s first instructions to him were “lech l’cha” – “Go out from here.” I would suggest, that as soon as you can, you follow Avraham’s footsteps and make your way to Israel to learn. This will solidify your knowledge, your commitment, and give you a network of friends and teachers to lean on when you return to your family.
That’s not to say that you can’t become more observant at home, but if your family is right under your nose to watch, comment, and argue with every change you make, the process will be treacherous. Until you get to Israel, though, I’d recommend doing a few things to make this time easier and to keep your relationships as healthy as possible.
First, you need to sit down with your family (and whichever friends you think will listen) and explain to them that you’re not going to flip out and become a different person. Some people do. They lose themselves in the observance. This is a bad idea for many reasons. First off – halacha (Jewish law) doesn’t ask us to lose our personality as part of observing mitzvos. If anything, there’s an idea that every person should use his unique talents and strengths to improve the world and serve God. You can’t serve God uniquely if you’ve lost your uniqueness. There are many parts of the old you that can be held on to or slightly modified where necessary as you become more religious. Retaining your “youness” in this journey is also the best way to make your observance last, because if you have room to be yourself you’ll be comfortable in your own (religious) skin. If you try turning yourself into someone else, you will likely wake up one day, not recognize the person you became, and run away from Torah. I’ve seen this happen on more than one occassion.
So explain to your family that you are not looking to become a different person – you’re looking to become a better person. Also, assure your family that you still respect them. Even if you feel the urge to look down on someone less observant, stop yourself from doing it. It’s not up to us to make cheshbonos (calculations) as to what other people’s deeds are worth in God’s eyes.
And finally, explain to them that you want to remain close and the best way to achieve this is for them to come along on your journey. It’s like meeting a man that you fall in love with. You could run off with him and leave your life behind, or you could bring him to your family and friends and have your different loves get to know each other and ideally love each other too.
Coming along on the journey means that your family (and maybe friends) will take the time to join you when you go to Torah classes, away for Shabbos (I’d recommend going away for Shabbos whenever possible until you go to Israel), and when you meet new Orthodox friends. There should be no expectations on your part as to what they believe or observe as they begin to explore with you, but they should be by your side so they can at least be on the journey with you.
They will likely object or balk at such a suggestion, but don’t be afraid to challenge them. Jews normally love education and are known to be open-minded! Ask them what’s the harm in learning or experiencing something new to better understand the things that are motivating your choices? I did the same thing with my family. My father was the most resistant, and at a certain point, I convinced him to start learning as a means of saving me and his unborn grandchildren!
If he was so convinced that I was on a bad path, then he should come along and prove to me (from the inside) why what I was doing was wrong. I explained that he was only entitled to an opinion if he had knowledge to back it up. (P.S. My father, mother, and both sisters are totally observant today!)
You may lose some friends along the way as not all friends are meant to be lifelong friends anyway and there’s only so much you can ask a friend to do for you. But fight to keep your family close and fight to live the life you believe you were put here to live.
Wishing you much success on the road ahead,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)