A Guest Post from FrumGoth
I grew up in a secular Jewish home, going to the synagogue with my family on the high holidays, lighting a menorah on chanukah, and attending “hebrew school” for several hours a week after public school got out. One of my hebrew school teachers invited myself and a few other girls for a shabbos. I remember the beautiful, warm atmosphere that filled her home, and the feeling of peace that descended on all of us that shabbos. I knew that this was something special, but unfortunately I did not continue with hebrew school, or any involvement in the synogogue, during my teenage years. The pull of peer pressure was too strong, and my friends and I became involved in a somewhat reckless lifestyle, hanging out and partying, devoid of anything constructive or positive. We would buy kegs of beer, bottles of liquor and wine, and go to a friend’s house whose parents were away. If no house was available, we would set up the party in an abandoned field or a deserted camp site up in the mountains. I remember piling into cars afterwards and practically flying back down to town. I have no idea how we survived.
I also started dating someone who was very different from me, yet in some ways so similar. He was not Jewish, lived in the “projects” and he was black. He was a talented artist, intelligent, a good person, but he was wrapped up in a world in which he had to sell drugs and steal to survive. We were similar in that we felt that love could overcome differences, and the divisions between race and class. We both felt that we didn’t quite fit in to the worlds that we came from. I loved him very much, but it was heart breaking to see him fall into trouble again and again, trouble that I could not help him out of, no matter how much I tried.
Somehow, amidst this chaos, I became involved in NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth) and attended Shabbatons. Again, the spirit of Shabbos had an effect on me, and some of the counselors saw that I was very interested. They told me about a college in New York City called Touro, which had a mechina (beginners) program for people like me, who have a limited background in Orthodox Judaism. I was already a senior in high school, and applying to various SUNY colleges for the following year. However, I decided that I wanted to go to Touro and become more religious. My parents accepted this decision, although it seemed a little crazy. We called up and made the arrangements, I got accepted, and went off to Touro and NYC that fall, without ever having so much as visited it. I basically just jumped in. Somehow I knew that it was the right thing to do. A good friend of mine who had also become involved in NCSY went to Touro as well, and we were roommates for many of our years there. The hardest part of this was having to break up with my boyfriend. He understood somehow, and he went on to become involved in religion himself (a different religion, although I prayed for a long time that he would find Judaism), which helped him to break away from the destructive lifestyle that he had been enmeshed in.
Touro’s program was amazing. I learned halacha (Jewish law), chumash (the five books of Moses), nuvi (prophets), Hebrew, etc., in addition to the secular subjects. My suitemates showed me the ropes in terms of getting around the city, details of keeping a kosher kitchen, and basic Orthodox lifestyle. I made so many new friends, wonderful people, and with varying levels of Orthodox Judaism. I grew in so many ways, spiritually, religiously, and socially. I maintained a close relationship with my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. At times the adjustment to my new lifestyle was difficult for my parents, but they supported me every step of the way.
I got married in 1990 and have three wonderful children. Sadly the marriage ended in divorce, but I maintain an Orthodox lifestyle, and my ex-husband and I are trying our best to successfully “co-parent”. I am so happy to be able to raise my children as Orthodox Jews. It is a lifestyle that fosters kindness, a love for learning and continual growth, and helping others. I feel that G-d led me down a certain path, and enabled me to find the right place for myself, and for my children.
*** I think it is important to add that years later I ran into my boyfriend from high school and we had a nice time catching up and talking about our respective children. He also married, divorced, and has a beautiful daughter. I know it sounds somewhat cruel, that I sacrificed my relationship with him in order to take on my religion, but I believe in my heart that it was not meant for us to be together, and I am glad that he is in a much better place than he was back in high school.
FrumGoth lives in NYC and has been working as an occupational therapist for the past 16 years. She gets much enjoyment from watching her children grow up. FrumGoth has a zest for life and is devoted to her friends, family, and two cats.
If you would like to submit an essay for the MY JUDAISM column, the guidelines and disclaimers are here.