I was in my mid to late twenties when I first heard the term "conservadox" -- and boy, was I elated. Finally a label to call my own. Up until then, I didn't know what to call myself and my Jewish observance. But once "conservadox" was established, I had a sense of belonging to a group.
I'd meet people thereafter, they'd ask "Are you Orthodox?" and I'd say, "No, I'm Conservadox." "What's that?" "Conservative...with a twist...with leanings to Orthodoxy."
Some of you might say, "Pearl, you sound as if you were Conservative all the way." To that, I'd say "No way." We always went to an Orthodox shul, the first one being a real shtiebel in a home, with a mikveh in the basement, a mechitzah separating the men from the women and even a cut-out in the flooring upstairs, so that when there was an overflow of women davening at that shtiebel on the High Holidays, the men took over the women's section, while the women davened upstairs, with the floor tile removed so that they could hear the davening below.
In those early days I remember going to shul and wearing little white gloves, sitting at the back of the shul and giggling with another young girl and being busy eating our potato chips and raisins on Yom Kippur while everyone was fasting, checking out the mikveh area, going over into the men's section and playing with the fringes on my father's tallis. In those days he owned a silk tallis and the fringes were cool and silky as I slid my finger through them over and over. Mainly I remember the sea of white talleism, the brightness of the shul and the sense of belonging.
One of my fascinations was when Yom Kippur would be out, the shofar would emote its long notes, marking the end of the fast, the end of the Yom Tov. The men would climb up the stairs to gather outside this home/shtiebel on a busy street and pray to the moon. I stood behind the gathering, picking my father and brothers out in the crowd and waited...caught up in the murmured chanting, caught up in this strange-to-a-young-child ritual. But it was beautiful.
And after leaving that shtiebel, we moved on to a larger Orthodox shul, which was rather new. It was a good 25 minutes to walk there from my parents' home, but it was a place to belong, a place to put down roots and establish ourselves and my brothers for their upcoming bar mitzvahs.
The only point being, I never felt as if I quite belonged.
***to be continued***