Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Just Orthodox"

Isn't it strange to be an Orthodox Jew yet be afraid of the frum world? That's me to a large degree. I can't quite explain it, but I'm guessing it stems from some lifelong insecurities that happen in social or school settings. Not being "like them"; standing on the outside looking in.

A few months ago someone described me in a blog as "...a frum woman..." I stopped reading right there, and was momentarily panic-stricken. I thought I'm not frum, I'm Orthodox, but not frum. Does this person really think me to be frum -- I didn't attend yeshiva day schools or high schools; I didn't go to seminary; I don't cover my hair all the time; I wear short sleeves; I listen to all music; I sing out loud; I'll "mix dance"; I'M NOT FRUM.

How odd is that -- to be Orthodox, but wanting to diassociate myself from a "frum" label. To me "frum" connotates sheitels and shteibels; black hats and stockings; it implies a degree of Yiddishkeit that goes beyond mine.

There were several times when I attended an Agudah minyan in Toronto on Shabbos because we'd been invited to acquaintances' bar mitzvahs there. My husband was downstairs with his work chevra and it was okay because he looked like them, just minus a black hat. I, on the other hand, very reluctantly climbed the stairs to the ladies' gallery, knowing I wouldn't know anyone, and knowing I wouldn't feel right.

I was probably the only married woman each time I went who wore a hat, not a sheitel. In those days I had no children yet, nor was I pregnant. Strike number two. This is not imagined by me at all, nor set up by me at all, but it was clearly evident that I was not one of them; I was not frum, I was "just Orthodox".

Or there were several times when my husband and I walked to different shuls along Bathurst Street, the main Jewish thoroughfare in the city. He either would be wearing a black suede kippah or even a crocheted kippah. And when we'd pass frum men, dressed in "bekeshes" and "shtreimels" or even Borsoleno hats, and my husband would say "Good Shabbos", we received no response in return. Why? Because they were frum, and we were "just Orthodox". The fact that we did not dress like them, did it mean that we were not like them? They looked right through us as if we weren't there.

So I'm really not there. I'm not frum; I'm "just Orthodox".

14 comments:

Mirty said...

That's sad that they wouldn't say "Good Shabbos."

Stacey said...

What a disgrace that they looked through you.

Be what you are and be proud. I am not Orthodox or frum and never will be either. It is just not me.

But I don't feel any less Jewish than any other person, nor will I be made to feel that way by anyone.

GregoryT said...

I also don't like the "frum" mentality, but I guess mostly for Zionist reasons. To me, Yiddish culture seems foreign (as opposed to the seemingly genuine Hebrew culture of the National-Religious Jews in Israel. Expressions like Gut Shabbos, Gut Yontif seem much more foreign to me than Shabbat Shalom or Chag Sameach. A lot of exterior attributes of "frum" people reek of some foreign culture their ancestors borrowed from the nations and now they (their descendants) display it as genuinely Jewish. For me it's absurd.

Mirty said...

I disagree on the previous commentor regarding Yiddish culture. I think that's a very genuine part of our heritage. It's part of what has held us together. Many of us who are not frum still use the Yiddish expressions we heard our parents and grandparents use. It's a way of staying connected.

torontopearl said...

Gregoryt, it isn't at all that I don't like the "frum" culture, I just don't feel that label belongs to me -- it seems to imbue so much more than how I see myself and my family.

I agree with Mirty -- for the most part, unless you're Sephardi-born and raised (and even then), Yiddish plays a part of who you are and who your ancestors were.

Don't talk to me about Yiddish because for some strange reason, I always thought it to be the most beautiful language in the world because of how much it represents and how it's evolved. (I did a major paper about Yiddish back in university)It truly is a way of life, a culture, not just an archaic-sounding language.

Interestingly enough, I am more comfortable with "Good Shabbos/Gut Yontif/Gut Voch" because that was how I was raised in my home. My school did not delve into Yiddish, unless you were in high school and took it as a credit course. When I spent time on a kibbutz, I had to change my thinking to "Shabbat Shalom," etc. These days, when I pass someone on the street on Saturday, I still am more likely to say "Gut Shabbos" while they say "Shabbat Shalom."

Not every "frum" person is a Yiddish speaker, just as not every Yiddish speaker is frum (and more likely is not).

PsychoToddler said...

It's the uniform thing. I just can't stand it. I wish some responsible Chareidi Rabbi would get up and say, "enough with the black hats and shtreimels. We are one people." Too much division. Too many ways for people to think they're better than you because they have the $500 hat or the $5000 wig. We should be judged by our actions, not our wardrobe.

Anshel's Wife said...

Here is something ironic: Since coming to Chabad, I've learned that a Jew is a Jew. Period. A frum Jew is not better than a non-frum Jew. Yet, I do know people who tend to get a little snobby about other people's observance levels. Not the unaffiliated and not the ultra-orthodox, but like Pearl said, the "just orthodox". Just doesn't make sense. And I have to admit that I sometimes get that way, too. But I think it comes from trying to get used to being a BT. But that is not a good reason not to say Good Shabbos to another Jew. (My snobbiness is in my heart and I'm working on it!!! I'm so embarrassed) But the bottom line is that ANYONE can wear a costume.

torontopearl said...

I further comment about this idea, Yetta, on my own blog's comments section. Jump over to there.

Just Passing Through said...

Pearl, the more I read your stuff, the more I get curious about you. You keep throwing Toronto bits out that make me think I may know you. hmmm.

Another meshugannah mommy said...

You know, I have noticed that some (and I repeat SOME, not all) liberal Jews have a sort of reverse prejudice in that regard. As someone who grew up Reform and has really moved towards greater observance (I'm not frum, either), I have heard comments from family and friends that certain synagogues, camps, Hebrew Schools are "too" religious.

parcequilfaut said...

You know, I'm not even Jewish, much less frum, but if you had been walking on Shabbos and dressed for shul, I probably would have wished you "Shabbat shalom"...because I'm nice and had a mother who taught me manners. There are enough observant people in my circle online and off that it's become part of my week's calendar, too. It just doesn't feel right to read the RenReb's blog on Friday night...

To look through someone who is trying to bless you, in however small a way, shows a shriveled soul. Shame.

Jack's Shack said...

PT,

The uniform is a whole post that I have written and rewritten because so much of this does not make sense to me.

PsychoToddler said...

I wrote something about it here:

uniforms

Anonymous said...

-9 years later :P-
I admit a part of me has always been attracted to the "frum" lifestyle, the Yiddish culture. Maybe it's because I'm not a born-Jew so there's this desire to embrace as much "Jewish culture" as I possibly can? I don't know. But I've always liked it. Of course, I say that and immediately out come accusations: "racist," "sexist," "isolationist," "snob," etc. :/