Friday, July 29, 2005

The VCR didn't make me frum

OK, so I lied. The VCR didn't make me Sabbath-observant. It made it easier for me to avoid desecrating the Sabbath. So it removed a negative, but that doesn't necessarily imply a positive.

So what made me frum? Two words:

Peer Pressure.

What can I say? In some schools, peer pressure makes people smoke. In mine, it made me guilty about being a Sabbath desecrater. My parents sent me to a school where, for eight years, they taught me that Jews were supposed to keep the Sabbath. And even though a good portion of my class did not keep it, or Kashruth, or many other things (toilet paper included), we began to look at ourselves as a bunch of Juvenile Delinquents. The bad boys (and girls) of the school.

As I became more friendly with Orthodox kids, I found myself becoming more ashamed of watching TV, working in the store, and doing other things I wasn't supposed to do on Saturday. In fact I have one memory which I must have suppressed for about 30 years, because it just popped into my head as I was typing this:

I was working at my Dad's store on Lefferts Blvd one Saturday morning, and I must have been standing outside for some reason. Suddenly, I see a bunch of OJ's walking home from shul in their Saturday finest. And one of them is a friend from school, Ari (who lives down the block). I panicked. I tried to pretend that I wasn't working at the store, just visiting the neighborhood. Which was preposterous for many reasons: I didn't live anywhere near there, I wasn't wearing a suit, and most importantly, he knew it was my Dad's store and it had my name across the top of the sign! To his credit, he just wished me a "good Shabbes" and kept walking.

But I began to feel like I was leading a double life, and at some point, maybe when the VCR showed up, I decided to keep Shabbos and other Mitzvot.

The real question you should be asking is why do I stay Orthodox. Now that I am a grown-up and can do what I want. That is much more complex and I don't know if I can give a good answer here. I guess at some point I bought into the program. I've always been somewhat superstitious (with a mother like Rose, it's hard not to be). I've felt that Gd is real and watches me and pays attention to what I do and rewards me when I'm good and punishes me when I'm bad. Whether that's superstition or religion is a matter for debate.

And I looked at the people around me. Those who were Orthodox, and those who weren't. And from what I could see, the Orthodox were happier. Sure they kvetched more, but they had happier, more contented homes. Less divorce, less drugs, more time spent together. Judaism as a religion seemed to work. My friends and cousins who were irreligious intermarried and their kids are not Jewish.

This may be disappointing to some of you who expected a story about a sudden miraculous inspiring event or a flash of light or auditory hallucinations. I don't think my story is terribly unique, though. But my bottom line is that I truly think that this is the way Gd meant for Jews to live.

So what's your story?

27 comments:

Jack's Shack said...

PT,

I hear what you are saying and I can relate to it. I live in a neighborhood that is filled with Black hats. You can't spit without hitting someone who has smicha.

On Shabbos I feel guilty sometimes about driving so I try to avoid the areas that have the higher concentration, but I do that more to try and help them have more of a Shabbostic environment.

In regard to your comment about Orthodox Jews being happier I would question that because I suspect that these kinds of comments are directly tied into who you have the most interaction with.

I could be wrong there, but I have a hard time believing that one group is happier than the other.

AMSHINOVER said...

i'm frum because i love jews,how nutz is that.

Stacey said...

"The real question you should be asking is why do I stay Orthodox."

Actually, you answered the question that is most meaningful to me....which is why/how you became Orthdox.

Part of Newton's first law of motion says that an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. So to me, why someone remains at a level of observance is less interesting (but thank you for posting about that, too).

I believe that level of observance is less important than whether or not a Jew is affiliated. The ones we lose (in my experience) tend to be the twice-a-year Jews and the ones who are completely unaffiliated.

Even though I am not Orthodox, I was raised to have a strong Jewish identity. I never sat on Santa's lap or went on Easter Egg hunts.

I wouldn't presume that my level of observance fit every Jew. I am more concerned that Jews live active and affiliated lives as Jews, at whatever level is meaningful for them.

Thanks, again, for taking the time to answer me about what led you there.

PsychoToddler said...

I sat on Santa's lap and went on Easter egg hunts.

BTW Stacey, momentum has a lot to do with it, and just about everything else in life.

However, when I'm alone in my car listening to stupid talk radio shows instead of music, or if I avoid sneaking a bite of the chinese food the drug reps bring even when no one's around, it's not due to momentum. It's because I believe.

PsychoToddler said...

Jack:

It had nothing to do with their "Shabbostic environment" (good word). I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

As far as who's happier...remember, that's my perception. Doesn't have to be right. But I think the numbers back me up on divorce, drugs, and intermarriage.

So you could argue that I'm orthodox not because I believe, but because I consider it a formula for a happy family life.

Well, maybe that plus a healthy dose of superstition = faith.

Stacey said...

This has been very interesting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Good Shabbos.

elf's DH said...

Good story, and I can relate to both your "peer pressure" aspect, and stacey's inertia analogy.

I'm not sure that statistics would agree with you on overall "happiness" of Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox Jews. Divorce, maybe, because of the negative social pressures associated with divorce. However, people who really should be divorced but aren't, domestic violence, and drugs are common in Ortho communities, probably to an equal extent to other people in the same socioeconomic class. Observance also occasionally *creates* problems, like the recalcitrant husband/agunah issue. The more insular the community, the better they tend to be at hiding their dirty laundry. The problem with making such statements is that they can lead towards a triumphalism that perpetuates hiding the problems.

In the case of intermarriage, religiously Orthodox homes (as opposed to the-synagogue-I-don't-go-to-is-O) tend to instill the ideas of Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people and Jewish heritage. They don't do this exclusively: there are non-Orthodox homes that do that as well. But, it's the failure to educate that leads to the increased intermarriage rate as you go towards the liberal end of the J-spectrum.

(As for your post's final question, I am observant, but not Orthodox, so I can't give my own story of how I either became or stayed Orthodox!)

Stacey said...

Interesting post, elf's dh. I quite agree with you.

"I am observant, but not Orthodox, so I can't give my own story of how I either became or stayed Orthodox!"

You can still give your own story. I am interested in hearing where you are now, how you got there and what flavor shul you attend.

Chaim said...

PT, I really loved this post, this one and the previous one. All the "Why are we frum" posts really interest me.

elf's DH said...

stacey,

The short version is that my parents started out as two-day-a-year-Jews, and decided that when they had kids, they would become more connected to Judaism. The first shul I remember going to was Reform. Soon, my parents started going to a Conservative shul, and they sent both myself and my brother to modern Orthodox day schools. We all grew in observance pretty slowly and at different rates; My family's home eventually started keeping kosher, and observing Shabbat more, and if either myself or my brother intermarried, they would kill us. When I went off to college and graduate school, I found my own set of compromises with halacha that make me in some way "comfortable" with my practice. My set of compromises are different from my parents', and, fortunately, acceptable to my wife :-)

I go to Conservative/egalitarian shuls (although if there are none around, I go to Orthodox). I find it very hard to buy into the literalism and intellectual stagnation that is being sold as Orthodoxy.

Stacey said...

Thank you for sharing your story.

"I found my own set of compromises with halacha that make me in some way "comfortable" with my practice."

I think that's wonderful. We all need to figure out what works for us and logic dictates it will be different for many of us. Thanks again.

P.S. I love your avatar. My degree is in math.

PsychoToddler said...

Having a profession that requires me to work on Shabbos has put a new strain on my frumkeit. May have to write about that at some point.

Stacey, you're just full of surprises. I minored in math.

Stacey said...

Psycho: Really? A math minor, eh? Cool.

Actually, I double-majored in math and computer science. I always knew I would get a degree in math. I added Computer Science my junior year.

Anonymous said...

(I wouldn't presume that my level of observance fit every Jew. I am more concerned that Jews live active and affiliated lives as Jews, at whatever level is meaningful for them.) I loved how you phrase that. I would assumed that too and did until this past year or so, but in my not so wide circle of Orthodox friends and acquaintences, this doesn't seem to be their true belief. It doesn't seem to be enough to be enough to have a strong Jewish identity or to be affiliated. I guess they think the actions need to be there too.

PT, I also don't believe that orthodoxy leads to less divorce, drugs, etc. We all wish that to be true and maybe that's why we send our children to religious school..Jewish, Catholic..or other Christian faiths, but we are all just human trying to cope with what life throws at us. It's nice to have that extra structure in one's life to help us see and act more clearly, but I think getting too caught up in that world could betray you especially when the opinion of your community is very important.

Stacey said...

"I loved how you phrase that."

Thank you, anonymous.

"I would assumed that too and did until this past year or so, but in my not so wide circle of Orthodox friends and acquaintences, this doesn't seem to be their true belief."

Sorry to hear that your friends are so judgmental of you. Some people do not need that extra structure. Live and let live. A Jew is a Jew.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong, I have never had that experience directly, but listening to others, going to some talks at their shul, as well as what's going on with an orthodox Rabbi at another shul, who is, for the lack of a better word, being blacklisted because he chooses to accept his congregants as they are, whether they drive to shul on Shabbat or don't keep kosher outside the home. I don't get it, but in these times when its so important to encourage and praise Jewish pride and growth, it's just unfortunate.

Sweettooth120 said...

I found it so interesting to read this story, and others like you, because although the people are different, the stories are the same. The parents at the school where my children attend, have also shared the same story as elf's dh. Did your parents also become observant? May I ask why you attended a school so far away from where you lived? With so many Jewish schools to choose from, it must have been very important to your family to choose an orthodox school.

Lvnsm27 said...

Being Torah observant isn't always pleasurable. It's hard work and takes lots of effort. But when you make the effort and are going forward, you feel good about yourself because you are getting somewhere. There will be times when you're not inspired though, but if you keep trying, you'll be happy you did.

I think there are two points that we should all think about.

1. Our obligations. Just like a married couple has obligations toward each other, we have obligations toward Hashem.

2. Our spiritual needs. Our soul needs food just like our body does and if we neglet it and don't nourish it, it becomes malnurished. Plus, there's the matter of our 'bank account' in the next world. In this world it's money that makes you rich. In the next world though, it's mitzvos that count.

Stacey said...

"when you make the effort and are going forward, you feel good about yourself because you are getting somewhere."

Where might that be? I am neither Torah observant nor Orthodox, but very much Jewish, and I feel good by about myself and fulfilled.

"Our soul needs food just like our body does and if we neglet it and don't nourish it, it becomes malnurished"

Sounds like a cliche to me. If it were possible to malnourish a soul, then you'd expect the soul to die. Mine is very much alive.

"Plus, there's the matter of our 'bank account' in the next world."

I don't live my life in fear or anticipation about what some "other" world will bring. I live my life in accordance with what I can bring and give to humanity in this world.

elf's DH said...

jaime -- assuming your questions were directed at me. My parents also became observant, but their compromises with halacha and approach to it are different from mine. There's nothing at all wrong with that.

May I ask why you attended a school so far away from where you lived?

Going away to college is something people do. You gotta leave the nest at some point.

With so many Jewish schools to choose from, it must have been very important to your family to choose an orthodox school.

I think the decision was to send us to Jewish schools, not necessarily Orthodox. It happened that the Modern Orthodox ones had the best academics.

stacey -- about the avatar: It was written in TeX and converted to PNG via dvips and the Gimp. I did my undergrad in physics, and I'm now studying biophysics. It was a cheap way for someone with no artistic talent to get a picture.

Stacey said...

elf's dh: It was creative, too! Good luck w/your studies. Biophysics is fascinating.

Sweettooth120 said...

elf's dh, thanks. I appreciate your comments. And if PT would like to contribute that would be great.

A disagreement that my husband and I often have is our children attending a Jewish day school, especially an Orthodox one. The point that he keeps bringing up is that we do nothing in our home, nor do we belong or attend a shul. And that only relying on the exposure at her school is not only hyprocritical but in the long run will do nothing for her/them. My answer to him is that I am not ready to change my lifestyle.. maybe in time, maybe never, but right now I can't. I am just not comfortable reciting any prayers. Of course, I would try if the rest of the family wanted to (prayers aside.) But to argue because we do not do this in the home, our children should not attend a Jewish school doesn't make sense to me. I want a strong foundation for them that they can be expose to daily that will hopefully stay with them as adults, and not just to learn maybe 2x a wk for an hr as a prep for their Bat/ Bar mitzvahs.

Funny, when I was deciding on what school to send my daughter to, I often got two reactions from the orthodox crowd..either someone would tell me their own story which is very similar to Elf dh's and PT, I guess in hopes that as she learns and possibly will want to be observant, we will too, or they would ask why I would ever consider sending her to an othodox school if I had other choices, like the public schools because they are so great.

PsychoToddler said...

I'm not going to try to "inspire" you or get all spiritual on you. You either believe or you don't. That's something between you and Gd.

Removing that aspect, there are other reasons to give your kids a Jewish education. Do you care about being Jewish? Do you want your kids to care? How can they care about something they know nothing about and have no exposure to?

Will you be upset if your son (let's say for argument's sake) comes home one day with a non-Jewish fiancee? Will you be upset if you have to attend the baptism of your grandchild?

Jewish education is the best way to ensure Jewish continuity. It may make you uncomfortable to have your kids taught that you can't watch TV on friday night when you personally don't have a problem with it. I can only imagine that's what it was like for my parents. But faced with greater than 50% intermarriage rates, they learned to live with a little frumminess. And they are happy to attend their grandchildren's Bar Mitzvahs.

AMSHINOVER said...

The VCR didn't make me frum

BUT MTV Killed the Music Video Star

PsychoToddler said...

Video killed the radio star

-PT, the anal retentive blogger

Sweettooth120 said...

PT..I am not looking to be inspired nor am on spiritual quest. I hope you did not mistake what I wrote as something negative. I am glad to see an agreement with me that despite that we are not observant in the home or belong to a shul, that I am right to want my chidren to go to a Jewish school -orthodox or otherwise.

PsychoToddler said...

No, Jaime, in fact I understand exactly where you're coming from. What I'm saying is that Jewish education has merit regardless of whether you believe in a "Mystical power that controls....everything" (to quote Han Solo), or in the Torah.

It's important for Jewish perpetuity.