Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Long Time Coming

Since I have become more lenient recently in my frumkeit, I felt it was high time to write a post on the circumstances that lead to my frying out.

As I have highlighted in previous posts ad nauseum, I grew up extremely modern. We kept everything, but I wore t-shirts and jeans, and attended Hebrew school several times a week in tandem to going through public school. We belonged to a Modern Orthodox shul, and whenever I went there (aka Shabbos and Yom Tovim), I felt the glory and splendour of Hashem in both the services and in the respect that people showed to being in shul (read: no kids running amok and total silence during davening). The net result was that while I felt free to be me, I also possessed a profoundly strong, warm, and emotional connection to Hashem.

I first went to a Litvish shteibel as a teenager. The experience was startling; everything struck me as severe and rather cold, from how people dressed to the matter-of-fact drone of the davening. It basically looked like people were simply going through the motions in order to do what was right, what was expected. Granted, when I went to the Rebbetzin during the week wearing pants, she never said a word. And when I helped her in the kitchen preparing the shteibel’s Kiddush every week, she would occasionally smile a broad smile that shocked me with its warmth. Yiddishkeit was suddenly a complex thing.

As a Yekki, I am never going to be the profoundly spiritual, hippie-dippie type. But that lack of *joy* that I felt when keeping Shabbos as per the Litivish shul created a lack, a void within me. In stark contrast to my personal connection to Hashem, which had hereto been a source of wonder and strength for me, the definition of what was proper as per the rebbeim left me cold and unfulfilled.

So by the time I got to university, you could describe my mindset as being that of "frumkeit is the right thing to do". I did not obtain greater fulfillment by attending the Modern Orthodox Machmir shul in my speck of Small Town Canada. Indeed, the general atmosphere at MOMS was of civil tolerance for deviance from their norm. I recall spending one seder where the hostess took me aside after the meal and gave me stockings (from Israel! It’s a mitzvah to support Eretz Yisroel!) so that I could wear a skirt next time. While well-intentioned and certainly understandable given my having worn dress pants to her house, let's be honest: frumkeit began to feel a bit oppressive. Too many negatives, not enough positives. All these machmir stuff was getting in the way of my love of Hashem.

And so, gradually, unexpectedly, I began to find my personal relationship with Hashem, in jeopardy. I consequently took the course of action that I felt would best preserve my relationship with Him- I ditched being frum. A most misguided decision it was.

Yet at least I remained consistent. When did I begin to return to frumkeit? After spending a good week or so truly doubting whether Hashem existed. That scared me straight, as they say, and I began actively seeking out ways to become more anchored community (I attended shul during my frydom, but sporadically). The rest is, of course, history.

So why am I sharing this with you now? Because of late, I have been feeling the same degree of discomfort against all the chumrahs and so forth that disillusioned me to the point of jumping overboard. So you will excuse me if, both now and in future posts, I dwell more on cultivating my relationship with Hashem in a way that is personally meaningful to me. Because I can guarantee you that saying Tehillim and all the other frummie frumstein avenues posited around these parts will fail to net the desired effect for yours truly.

And the alternative is not a road I wish to travel down a second time!


  1. Actually, the alternative is to stop with all the bs chumras. Stop trying to please everyone and do what you want. It's their problem that they don't know the difference between humra, minhag and halacha, not yours.