Sunday, June 22, 2014

We Need to Talk

At this point, if you know anything about me it's that I hate (with a passion) the words, "we need to talk."  Rarely does anything good come after those words.  However, they are the only words I know to say to start this conversation, so here I go...

I will openly admit, I once embraced you tightly.  However, at that time I didn't know any better so holding on wasn't that hard.  Then, I made a decision to open my eyes, and my mind.  Instead of holding on to what I had learned, I decided to learn for myself.  To form my own opinions and conclusions.  It is for that reason I can no longer hold onto the stereotypes I once held true about observant Jews.

This journey started out quite innocently almost three years ago when I spent a full Sabbath (from sunset Friday to 25 hours later) in a very observant neighborhood located in Chicago.  I remember calling my mom after Shabbat was over to touch base with her.  I told her that she didn't have to worry about anyone persuading me to do this ever again and this wasn't a lifestyle to which I would ever adapt - or something like that.  I felt bad saying that, especially since I was still in my host family's house, but I did nonetheless.  Little did I know that I would be spending more time around that observant community, amongst others, only to realize that despite a few lifestyle choices they weren't so different from the rest of us.

Most recently, my break up with these stereotypes took an unexpected turn when several people started to label me as "observant."

"Moi?!  No, no, no!  You're mistaken.  I'm the farther thing from observant."

That's what I would say when such a remark was made.  However, after this happened several times I decided it was time to take a step back and examine why people were making these comments.  Then at Shavout late night learning I figured it out.  My epiphany came while talking to an acquaintance of mine.  As I was talking about the things I wanted to learn he reacted with surprise.  I asked myself why he did this.  He didn't look uber religious, but I knew that he himself leaned towards the observant side as well.

That's when it hit me...

Even though I knew that my observance level had changed, dramatically, since I first moved to the city you'd never know it if you just saw me walking on the street.  There is no visible sign that screams, "I take Judaism seriously!"  However, this is just one of the reasons I have a hard time, labeling myself as "observant."  Even though I know how I practice my religion since there is no visible signs of my observance level one the outside I have a difficult time lumping myself with the observant crowd.  Since I hold a stereotype that all observant women dress modestly and wear only skirts I often forget my female, modern orthodox friends who follow the mitzvahs of Judaism (as I do), yet infuse secular life (such as wearing shorts and pants) into their life as well.  Or how about my modern orthodox friends who hug/hold hands with members of the opposite gender who aren't family, eat out at non-kosher restaurants while still maintaining some level of kashrut (kosher dietary laws) and/or maintain feminist and/or liberal view points on a range of topic, including religion. They, like me, have no blatantly obvious outward signs that advertise to the world they are observant, but inside proudly observe the practices that are near and dear to their heart and soul.

It's for all these reasons, and more, that today I happily break up with the stereotypes I once held and embrace new truths about being an observant Jew.  I'm sorry if you are saddened or shocked by this declaration, but it's just one more way I am moving forward in my life.

I wish you all the best,
Tracey (Tova)

Now that I've shared my break-up letter (the Thursday Blog Project topic given to the group by Denise for the week of June 13th), I ask that you take time to read my fellow bloggers break up letters:

Momarock (Sara)

Merryland Girl (Melissa)

Darwin Shrugged (Denise)

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