Wait, woah, hold up: We’re returning to the “Frum” portion of Frum and Fashionable! This is very exciting, if I do say so myself.
While I try and incorporate Judaism, or Yiddishkeit, into every part of my blog, sometimes it can be more present than others. In certain posts there’s more obvious representations of my faith, but I don’t think that there’s one post that doesn’t show my beliefs in some way, shape, or form.
I had been thinking about writing a piece like this for a while, and after all the traveling I’d been doing it kind of seemed like a natural way to tie it all together. So, here we are; a tell all piece about living with one foot in the frum, orthodox, chassidic, religious world– and the other foot in the secular, nothing held back, nothing can really shock me anymore world.
There are many people like me, we’re what’s known as ba’alei teshuvas [ Ball- ay Tissue-vuhs] which literally translates to “master of returning”. We are a group of people who grew up Jewish, all to varying degrees, and have chosen to make our way into the orthodox world. Every one of us has a story, each is so unique to the persons’ journey, and it really shows who they are and what got them to where they are today. This is a bit of my story, and how I’ve come to the place I am now.
I’m not sure if I ever laid out my full backstory on here, I tried to go back and look through different pieces as to not be redundant, but I guess I’ve never given my “Coming to teshuvah” story in its entirety… well, you’re all in for a treat:
For score and… six years ago, I decided that instead of continuing to live in the much simpler secular world, that I would jump right into the deep end with my Judaism. It stems back even further though, to when I was 15. I went on a trip to New York with my hebrew school class, and they took us into Boro Park. For those who don’t know, Boro Park is an ultra orthodox primarily chassidic neighborhood, and they took us– a group of 20 reform hebrew school students, to see what orthodox Judaism was all about. I think from that moment, I was hooked. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was about it, maybe it was the shpitzels (a style of hair covering), or maybe it was the hats, it probably had to do with the abundance of skirts and dresses , and easy access to gifilte fish. In all seriousness, I became so infatuated and wanted to become as beautifully modest and regal as those women I had seen. I tried to take on modesty, and as quickly as it came, it left. But my story didn’t end there.
Now we’ve reached the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I made it! Finally, I was getting to do something that I’d been wanting to do since the moment I was old enough to know what it was– Going on IST. That is what’s know as the Israel Study Tour, and it’s a program for Jewish students going into their senior year to be able to do a five week trip to Poland and Israel. That trip changed my life in so many ways. It make me confront the dark past of not only my family’s history, but of the Jewish people who had to endure the hell that was the Holocaust. That was insanely powerful, and the ability to leave and go on to the Holy Land, Eretz Yisrael, caused a flood of emotions that I didn’t even know existed within me. That trip opened my eyes and humbled me. I came home with a new lease on life and a desire to learn more about my Judaism and embrace it.
G-d had some other plans for my senior year though. It got busy and that excitement I’d had was pushed to the back for a bit. Starting in November of 2013 I began to take on Jewish modesty standards known as tznius, and by December I had talked myself into trying to keep Shabbos. 25 uninterrupted hours of me being stressed because I had no clue what I was doing. That Shabbos never actually occurred though. As I was leaving my school to go prepare for it, I waved to a guy I knew who was driving into the lot and headed home; 30 minuets later I got a text from a friend who didn’t realize I wasn’t at school, and she told me to hide under my desk because a shooter was on the loose in the school. There’s an expression that is used in hebrew, and we would call that type of situation hashgacha pratis (ha-sh-ga-kuh pratt-us) or divine providence.Why else would I have been leaving, and waved to the shooter no less, if it wasn’t divine providence? From that moment on, my faith was solidified and I threw myself into the deep end of trying to learn about Orthodox Judaism and I took things on rapidly.
I graduated high school in May of 2014, by the end of September I had moved out to New York to study in a Lubavitch seminary in Crown Heights. Chabad Lubavitch is a chassidic sect that is know for it’s joy, outreach, and the esoteric teachings that have been handed down. I was never destined to be a Rabbi, though I get that question a lot, I was however prepared to be a Rebbetzin– a Rabbi’s wife.
Moving to CH made me even a little crazier I’m not going to lie. I wanted to be like the people I’d seen when I was 15, but that’s not the sect that I’d fallen into. I tried to take on every stringency and be the most religious one among my peers. Yeah… That lasted about a year. My second year of sem, I moved out of the dorm and lived with an amazing family while balancing work and school. The second year I started to get my stride, my friendships became closer, and life was good. I was finally getting the hang of it all, but then I needed to move back to Colorado.
Now, Colorado has a vibrant community filled with amazing people, you just have to put yourself out there to find them. I ended up living in the community for a year while maintaining two jobs and attending college. That experience was so different, not at all like I would have imagined, and it ended up having some not so great effects on me.
I turned 21 in the midst of having a crisis that was caused by a myriad of factors, and it wasn’t until afterwards that I could point them all out. What is it that actually happened? Why did it happen? Let me tell you, it’s not too exciting of a story on its own, but it’s an important one;
About a year before coming home I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, I sat with my teacher as we put it into the Igros (a book of letters that the Rebbe had written). The letter I got made absolutely no sense. Why would He tell me that I shouldn’t go to college? I wasn’t even thinking about college at that point, for all I knew I was going to be in Crown Heights for the long haul. Plans changed and I moved back to Colorado and found myself attending college. I should have listened to the letter. College made me second guess everything. I became frum so young (17!!!), and now here I was, 21 and wanting to live a different life and be friends with people from college and be like them. I went out to bars, I tested my own boundaries and faith, yet I didn’t feel satisfied. I saw that I had more fulfillment being a frum Jew, and if anything, I felt really alone and like I didn’t have any sense of being. My life was up in the air and at a real crossroads.
That summer I went to visit my bestfriend who’d just come back from living in Israel and I was able to watch how she lived her frumkeit and her truth. It was so powerful to me and really eye opening. I didn’t need years, months, or even weeks of questioning before I found clarity. I was able to pick myself back up after some short downtime and searching and confidently know that there wasn’t any other lifestyle for me that’d be as good of a fit as being a proud Lubavitcher is.
The irony in all of this is that the moment I started taking things back on, to the proper extent for me, I fell very ill. Of course I did, because why wouldn’t G-d be funny like that, right? But the timing was planned perfectly, without my faith and the safety of the things I needed to maintain, I would have fallen apart. Finding my comfort in G-d and in my faith was and is a beautiful thing.
What does any of this have to do with being a balanced ba’al teshuva?
Actually, a lot of it does.
Had I not spent part of that summer with my friend learning and watching how she internalized things and made them her own, I don’t know if I’d be who I am today. Because of her I was able to open my eyes enough to see past the things that had been disenchanting and even disappointing, and be able to realize that while frumkeit is black and white, there is room for grey.
I get asked by people often, how I manage to be religious and stay true to myself and be so normal. Writing that out makes me laugh, because anybody who knew me while I was in seminary would probably burst out in hysterics over this. I was the exact opposite of what I am now (in so many ways) and I never ever saw the grey parts of Judaism. To get to a point of being observant and having it feel natural can take years, and being balanced doesn’t happen overnight or come easily to many.
There was a mental process that occurred for me as I was climbing back up the latter of frumkeit– Everything I did, needed to be done with understanding and feel right. If I didn’t like how something felt, I needed to speak with a friend, mashpia, or even a Rav, to see how I could make it work for me. I learned something very important that I wish everybody who is religious or becoming religious knew/thought of: If you struggle with a mitzvah, or there are certain hilchos that are too much, there’s a possibility you’re not doing them in the right way for you. This is what Rabbunim (Rabbis) are for. They are meant to help you figure out how you can do things in a way that makes sense for you, verses trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole. Yes, Halacha tells us what to do and it’s pretty ironclad, but it’s not meant to hurt us or cause us to turn away and be resentful, and this is why we have people with wisdom that we don’t, to help us.
Not everybody will agree with what I just said, and that’s okay. There are many ways of looking at things and approaching things. I was someone who dove into the deep end and had to start back at square one to figure out where things went wrong. Spoiler alert: It went wrong when I did things just because I thought that’s what I was supposed to, not because I had internalized the reasons behind them. I was much more absorbed in how people viewed me, that they looked at me and knew a was a very religious person and that within the community they thought I was the pinnacle of a good chassidishe girl. The truth, I learned, is that when you find peace within yourself you don’t need anybody else’s validation. I know that I am pious woman who keeps a high standard and that I do it with happiness and not frustration. Above all else, Hashem knows who I am and what I do.
Finding my stride has probably been the best thing that could have happened to me. I’ve been able to travel and not compromise on anything I believe, I’ve been able to enjoy fashion and beauty, and I haven’t felt like I’ve missed out on life. Yes, I do get a little frustrated over the occasional products that are OUD since I’m keep CY (a higher stringency). And honestly, if that’s my biggest lament with being religious, thank G-d!
I’ll leave you with this…
You can have your cake and eat it too. Just because you have morals, values, specific views, doesn’t mean that your life has to be spent in solitude. G-d created this incredible world, and it would be a shame to not go and explore it. Find out what works for you and run with it, because there is so much to see and do, and not even frumkeit can get in the way of that if you don’t want it to.
Take the cruise! (Just make sure you inform them about keeping kosher at least 30 days prior to setting sail. )
Paint your nails a crazy color!
Go to the beach! (They make some really cute shvimklides (Swim dresses))
Go have drinks with friends! (CRC has a great app with a kosher alcohol list)
Sing your favorite song while you’re driving in your car!
Hike that mountain!
Do it all, do it with passion and joy.
I’ve been here, I’ve done this. Everybody will have their own experiences and thoughts on the matte. [[I hope this not only helped people who needed it, but gave some insight into who I am and what I’ve been through. I am here for questions and am always happy to help with whatever I can.
The world is big, and it’s all ours!