I Went OTD, But I’m Finding My Way Back. Here’s Why.
‘I am done’
‘I give up’
Those were the thoughts that sent me to a psychiatric ward when my depression relapsed. It was there that I realized that the life I was living, pretending and living for others was not a life I could live. It was there that I decided that I could no longer follow in the footsteps of my forefathers. Up until this point in my life, living in my community, was all about pretending and fitting in with others. I existed with the belief that whatever I was told or taught was what I needed to do and anything else would only get me to hell. My real feelings, desires, questions and ambitions were suppressed by what I thought was the ultimate truth. I lived in fear of being punished and hurt for the ‘bad’ things I do. I looked and dressed the part, never dared give voice to the raging turmoil going on inside my head. I hated my life. I hated being Jewish. However, I felt trapped. I dressed and played my role so well, not realizing that this would almost kill me.
When I was first diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder, 5 years prior to my hospitalization, I was still stuck in a life of pretense and hiding. I was young, innocent and still believed in the good of the world, people, Judaism and God. So when the ‘righteous’ told me depression wasn’t real and what I really needed was to connect and pray more to God, I innocently accepted that as the truth. When I was told that marriage and having kids would make me happy and solve all my turmoil, I once again accepted that as a solution. How naïve, defenseless and easily persuaded I was. With the advice of my Rabbi at the time, I got off my meds and got married; not because I wanted to (I didn’t) but because the Torah I was taught told me to do whatever I am told, no matter what. As you can imagine, going off my meds backfired and I once again sank into depression and my eating disorder resurfaced. At this point I was married, miserable and unwell. I realized, for the first time in my life, that this isn’t working for me and the only way out for me was to start voicing my inner thoughts and listen to my intuition.
So began the painful journey of divorce. When I first told my family and Rabbi I was bombarded with criticism, threats, and talk to reconsider. The people I had looked up to for guidance and support turned on me saying “you are ruining your life” and “I can’t support your decision.” I was shocked, hurt and confused by what was going on. The people who were meant to be “righteous” and “kind” were outright nasty and cruel to me. I witnessed horrible behavior, corruption, and bribery in the beis din I went to; the place I believed and thought would be a place of true Torah was filled with immorality. Judaism, Torah, and God all crumbled beneath me. My world was shattered by the truth I had discovered and witnessed along my journey. I was horrified, repelled, and hated Judaism. And so l left.
Looking back, I feel violated, taken advantage of and deeply invalidated. I went through horrible, painful circumstances only because of some terrible advice I received which was grossly inappropriate and wrong. Leaving my community and family brought on its own package of painful surprises which only reinforced my new opinion, the frum Jewish world is crazy and not something I want or could be part of. I was rejected by my family and not allowed to come home due to senseless advice Rabbanim were giving my parents. There was no understanding or support for mental health. Losing my family was one of the worst things I had to go through for sticking up for myself and choosing a life that was right for me. I deeply love my family and loved spending time with them. Not having them and their support during these trying times added an extra challenge to my already complicated life.
Fast forward a couple of months; I was thankfully stabilized enough to return to work and normal everyday life. However, normal held a new meaning for me; I was alone without any support or family trying to work through my issues. I was in survival mode, living day to day when Project Makom – the most amazing organization – happened upon me and shifted my entire existence. I went from being all alone, misunderstood, to having a new loving, supportive family who took me in as I was. I went from hating Judaism, hating who I essentially am, to discovering a Judaism I never knew existed! I learned and found Orthodox Jewish communities and an Orthodox Judaism that accepted me for me, despite my lack of observance. Being Jewish was no longer defined by the clothes I wear, the ambitions I have or whether I fit in and look like others. Being Jewish had beauty and joy to it; it was no longer all about fear and punishment. Being Jewish was not the ‘all or nothing’ concept I grew up on. I saw people and families who take pride and feel honored and privileged to be part of the Jewish nation. I heard people talk about how Jewish observance and Torah study is an enhancement to their lives.
At first I was baffled and cautious about this new discovery. Is this real? Are these people living real lives by these values? Or am I being tricked into something that will end up hurting me just like in the past? While I was apprehensive about what I was being exposed to, I was also intrigued and wanted to find out more about it. I started questioning and challenging this new Judaism to find holes and gauge the authenticity of it all. To my surprise I discovered questions are welcomed! I was flabbergasted and shocked that something so beautiful existed that I was completely unaware of!
So began a new twist to my journey which, unknown at the time, opened a new world for me. Being Jewish has a whole new meaning and definition for me now. I no longer feel constricted and governed by my former community’s definition of what Judaism is and means. I am able to be myself, with my own thoughts, ideas and feelings, and still be accepted and loved unconditionally simply because I am Jewish. I now own a new pride and confidence about myself and my heritage. I take honor and joy in what I belong to and the depth it contains. All this I owe to Project Makom who opened their door to me and showed me what is out there. Makom showered me with love, support and acceptance when I had none. Makom took me in, no questions asked, and provided me with answers that satisfy my mind and soul. I am relearning and rediscovering Judaism anew from a completely different viewpoint. To top it all off, with the help of Project Makom I am now reunited with my family.
Life is not perfect for me; every day still holds its own struggles and battles to fight. My Jewish identity and religiosity is still a work in progress. I have many uncertainties and questions. What I do have now that I did not have before Project Makom is hope and belief. I know, even in all the turmoil I am experiencing, that there is a place for me! That is the greatest gift any person can get. I am forever grateful and indebted to Makom for so graciously giving me that!
We are managing the cases of over 100 members at Project Makom with stories much like this one. These are Jews who just want to see a beauty in Judaism when all they were exposed to was pain. Please support our crowd funding campaign so we will have the resources to give any Jew who wants to rediscover a healthy Judaism the ability to do so.
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