Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The other YOU


You are a Ba’al Teshuva (newly religious Jew) and suddenly it hits you. You neither doubt religion nor G – d. You try keeping Mitzvot and you may even study in a Yeshiva, seminary or any other programme. But then comes a time when you are getting up in the morning and start asking yourself whether the frum way is really for you.

Exactly this happened to me years ago. I woke up after having a nightmare, got dressed, put on my skirt but, at the same moment, started asking myself whom I want to impress by that. Why am I wearing a skirt and for what ? Because of my haredi flatmate, because of our haredi neighbours and neighbourhood ? 

The person on the photo has nothing to do with my text and I took the picture randomly.

Photo: Miriam Woelke

I knew I was leaving the apartment in order to return to Germany for at least some months. The advantage was that I didn’t have to think about the environment anymore. The result was that I instantly took off my skirt, pulled out my jeans and, after leaving the house, threw my skirts into the garbage outside. Later on I bought new ones but, for the time being, this was it.

When I left the house, some chassidic kids from the neighbours upstairs saw me. I think they didn’t even recognize me. The main problem though was that I had to go to work. The job was connected to other Haredim. Lita’im (Litvish). Now what ? First I thought about skipping work but then decided to show up. In jeans.

I arrived and my female boss made a very strange remark. Instead of yelling or fainting she asked: “Who hurt you ?”

Now it was me who almost fainted because I had never expected this kind of question. My female boss didn’t ask any further questions. Nothing. I was doing my job, she did hers and this was it. Some years later we met accidently and still got along very well. 

Nevertheless, when you are part of haredi society and suddenly dress in a different way, you have to expect that your environment won’t always react as great as my former female boss. There are Haredim who definitely ask you what has caused the change and why ? However, if you try talking about your personal problems and difficulties you hope that your haredi friends may draw you back. You are awaiting some king of support but just the opposite will be the case. I was hoping for some encouraging conversations but, as soon as I made an approach, people just escaped. A little later I find out why. 

At first I had thought that my haredi friends may be too embarrassed to be seen with someone like me in public but this wasn’t the case. The main reason for running away was the fear of getting drawn into doubt. Maybe I could be a negative influence to other people.

As a matter of fact, there were very few people who stopped being in touch with me and those people, believe it or not, where Ba’alei Teshuva and NOT born Haredim. 

In case you do undergo such a chance, never forget the consequences. They may be positive but also extremely negative. However, the main issue is that you know what you want and how you are going to live your life.

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