Since this information is long overdue, I'll say it now: I'm no longer Orthodox. Surprise.
This news may come as a shock to people who knew me growing up, since I was raised in a devout Orthodox Jewish family and attended Yeshivish/ultra-Orthodox schools up until I went to college, and always followed the rules for the most part.
The ultra-Orthodox community, as isolationist and secluded as it is, tends to be misunderstood by the secular world, and even by the rest of the Orthodox community. When I discuss my religious upbringing with modern Orthodox Jews, for instance, they often have no clue as to what I'm talking about.
"But I'm Orthodox," they'll retort. "And I have never experienced or heard of that rule." Right, because you're modern Orthodox.
Anyway, I left the ultra-Orthodox world about two years ago, and left Orthodox Judaism altogether about a year ago. I still kept this as somewhat of a secret from my family and close family friends, however, seeing how much I knew it would hurt them to know that I'd abandoned the faith and practice they fought so hard to preserve. I still believe in God in the existentialist sense, but that is how I always believed in God. From childhood, I viewed organized religion as a way to control large groups of people using human interpretations of what "God" wants.
I may elaborate on how and why I left in another blog post, (and perhaps why it took so long,) now that I have your attention.
Keeping my ideological rebellion secret had worked out okay, for the most part. I live in far-left Washington, D.C., where being Jewish can mean whatever you want it to mean. I can live my secret secular life here in D.C. and change back into my long skirt and closed neck attire every time I travel back home for special occasions. I'm happy, my family's happy, everybody's happy.
Except yesterday I accidentally came out of the proverbial religion closet, and I did it in the most gloriously stupid way possible. I called my parents to say hello, forgetting that yesterday was the no-electricity-permitted Shavuot holiday. My mom didn't pick up her phone. I got worried, since she is recovering from a traumatic abdominal surgery, and she rarely ever ignores my calls. So I quickly called my dad, but he didn't pick up either. I started to panic. I called my house phone.
Now, when you call my house phone in L.A., your name is announced by the answering machine on a loudspeaker that echoes throughout the house. And the time I called was when my family usually has holiday guests over for lunch. So they all likely heard the dreaded, "Rrrrrring! Call from Pardes. Rrrrrring! Call from Pardes. Rrrrrring! Call from Pardes."
I panicked while waiting for my parents' angry, accusatory call later for violating the holiday, but it never came. Instead, my mom called me last night to ask me how I'm feeling, since I'd told her I had a headache a couple days ago. She didn't mention the holiday once, though I knew what she was thinking.
Being openly un-Orthodox feels like a relief. It's about time I "came out", since I've secretly for as long as I can remember, and resented everybody around me for making me have to live a lie for them. Now, I can have a relationship with my family members and friends while living as my true self. And these relationships have been stronger than ever because they don't involve lies.
My parents and I don't regularly discuss my faith, and I think they'd rather keep it that way. They've predicted this outcome for years anyway. I was too hyperactive for such a rigid community. My endless questions as a child and teenager never seemed to have answers and my dreams and goals never seemed to fit within the realm of what we were allowed to do as part of the religion. I think my choice to leave hurt my mother the most.
Coming out of the "un-Orthodox closet" taught me a few things. First, you'll never accomplish what you need to in life until you are honest with yourself and the people around you about who you are and what you are capable of. Second, your family and close friends might throw a hissy fit over your life choices; but usually at the end of the day they'd rather you kept in touch with them than abandon them because you couldn't be yourself around them.
And if all else fails, you can always comfort them with, "At least I'm not gay!"
Unless you're actually gay. In which case... good luck?
(I'm kidding, geez.)