Monday, August 22, 2011

The Fence

The fence upon which I am sitting sits between two fields of opportunity, one secular and one religious. Each field belongs to a seperate nation, one a democracy and one a theocracy. Each nation has its own set of laws and customs, as well as its own set of strengths and weaknesses. While guards do stand at the border, those who are determined enough can survive the journey from one side to the other.

I first encountered this fence many years ago, while still a child. I was born on the secular side of the fence. This side of the fence offered me a life full of choices, yet lacking in meaning. In school, while other children were primarily interested in movies and sports, I read a lot and thought about different topics. I searched desperately for a direction and a purpose in life. I tried to fit in throughout school and discovered that the rigid popularity structure did not leave room for those like me.

I sought a purpose in life, and I found it on the other side of the fence. The pull towards the other side was so strong that I did not delay. I ran towards the fence without looking back. With tremendous effort I scaled the fence, landed on the other side, and began a journey deeper into the frum land. I went to schools with those born there, learned the local languages, and managed to fit in.

Yet I have suffered here. The lack of choices on the frum side are stifiling, and underneath the utopian facade corruption runs rampant. On this side of the fence, there is a singular focus that leaves little room for individuality and exploration. I feel stuck in a world where the home is expected to be the focus of a woman's life, and it cannot be the focus of mine.

As an adult, I see a different society on the secular side of the fence. Secular society is large enough for everyone to find a place, even those like me. I feel the need to explore, and therefore I long for the choices of my youth.

So I have inched my way back towards the fence, and stared at it with trepedation. I have climbed up that fence one aveira at a time, until I reached its peak. I stare at the secular side of the fence, longing for its freedom, yet unable to jump. I look back at the frum side of the fence, and see my husband and children below. I see a rope and think "Should I bring my children with me to the other side?" I cannot bring my husband with me, he will never come. Some days I think that I will throw the rope, get my children, jump, and run for dear life. But yet something is stopping me. I feel an inexplicable pull towards the frum side that has hurt me so much. Frumkiet has become part of me somehow. I can't just leave. Yet I cannot stay.

So I remain here on the fence, exposed to the elements. I attempt to straddle the fence and live in both worlds, yet the fence serves as a barrier between the two.

Is it possible to cross from one side to another as needed? Perhaps it is, but it requires so much effort that it will likely wear me down.

So it seems that for now I will remain right here. I may as well enjoy the view.


  1. Sigh.
    I can only tell you that you're not alone – you're really not alone. My story is almost the same (albeit from the other side of the mechitza), and there are so many of us out there.
    While I know that the love that misery gets from company isn’t always satisfying, at least it helps with the loneliness. All I can suggest is that clichéd and boring refrain: “Just take it day by day.” I hope it works out well for you and your family (and all of us)...

  2. Modern orthodoxy incorporates much of what it seems you are yearning for.

    Why not give it a shot? Is it all or nothing??


  3. Great piece!
    You should realize that in at least one aspect you are luckier than many of us in the same boat - you have lived on that "other" side - you know what it's like to live in the secular world, free of Judaism and its many rules and restrictions. I for one, having lived all my life as a Frum Yid, have no idea what it's like - to simply wake up in the morning and eat breakfast or take a drive with the kids on our day off, or eat without any thought of all the rules of Kashrus. The freedom to read and learn anything without fear of who "ossured" it.

  4. First of all I must compliment your style of pros as it it paints a clear image of a conundrum that many like minded people do not know hot to express. You don't want to throw out the proverbial "baby with the bathwater" So what can one do? There is no one answer. But there are solutions. If your husband the main obstacle you can try to work on him ...gradually. Is really devout like I mean Moshiach, Chitas and negel vasser by the bed ?

  5. "This side of the fence offered me a life full of choices, yet lacking in meaning."

    ...And frum charades are meaningful?

  6. No, but the Torah itself (or for that matter, any religion) can provide life with a meaning and purpose. This is arguably the main accomplishment of religion. Those people who are sincere in their observance often do work towards a goal and have a sense of purpose. Whether those goals are positive or negative are another matter.

  7. Anon.,

    Yes my husband really is super frum. He is constantly learning and davening whenever he has the opportunity.

  8. Find a therapist who is modernishe and give them a talking to; it's a not-at-all uncommon experience, and there are even orthodox who are committed orthoprax and thinkers defending such a lifestyle choice, to whatever degreees - it's about navigating your decisions and sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone who understands AS A TRAINED PROFESSION - not just friends frum or frei. I AM saying seek help - but not because somethings wrong with your choices, but because - you need help!

  9. It's very likely that:

    1. You may be frustrated by people doing things that aren't about being frum at all, but just people who happen to frum, who also happen to be flawed human beings. Wearing the Team Frum jersey doesn't make you perfect, and it doesn't even mean that what you do is religiously permissible if you were to really look at the issue.

    2. You need to recognize that what you see as the frum world may just be one sect that is a part of it. There are groups that don't follow your Rebbe. There are also non-Haredi Orthodox groups that have absolutely no problem with men or women going to college and having normal careers.

    3. You need to know that there is a world of Jews that aren't totally assimilated and that value their Judaism - even though they are not Orthodox.

    I'm not telling you which side of the fence to pick - I'm encouraging you to widen your vision to see that the fence doesn't need to be there.

  10. Believe it or not, I try to give myself the best of all worlds. I observe Torah--but that's where I draw the line. Anything even remotely segula-based gets round-filed. Any bans by "Gedolim" (who decided that these were great rabbis? I don't even know who they are or why they were chosen) are analyzed solely on their merits. I take frequent trips to the city. I homeschool my kids to ensure they have a broad worldview.
    Sometimes I wonder if Hashem is looking at the society we created and is shaking His head. "This isn't what I had in mind..."

  11. > the utopian facade corruption runs rampant

    Could you please say a little more about both
    the utopian image that's projected, and also
    the corruption?



  12. JRK and Aztec,

    You are right in that being modern Orthodox may solve some of these issues, but I do have issues with MO (which I will save for another post). Also, my husband is about as likely to become MO as he is to become totally not frum (and possibly even less so), so that option would be really impractical unless we get divorced.

  13. Pat,

    The Orthodox community presents an image of a functioning society guided by a set moral code. In this society, everyone is dedicated to the service of God, men through learning and (sometimes) through supporting their families, whilw women are happy raising large families and possibly working at family-friendly jobs. Somehow, through a combination of trust in God and hard work, everyone is able to "make it". even without a college degree or other job training.

    The reality is far different. Not everyone can fit into traditional gender roles. Many people suffer terribly financially and are not making it, or are making it through tax fraud or other illegal means. Alternatively, some people break the rules and go to college while telling others that it is forbidden to do so. People are told that they should try to get jobs in "klei kodesh" (religious positions), only to find that those jobs, and even many secular ones, are given out based on nepotism rather than merit. Everything from who one marries to where one works to where ones kids attend school is decided based on the external image that a person presents, rather than their inner qualities.

    The frum world claims that the secular world is shallow, while in reality the frum world is at least as shallow as the srcular world.

  14. Fence Sitter,

    Thank you for your candor.

    Do you think that the community you describe empowers its members with responsibility for making their own decisions and choices, or allows its members to influence the community's policies?


  15. "No, but the Torah itself (or for that matter, any religion) can provide life with a meaning and purpose. This is arguably the main accomplishment of religion."

    I thought religion's main accomplishment (according to its adherents) was its ability to grant people entry into some sort of afterlife by providing them a supposedly "correct" way to live. Meaning is irrelevant when one's salvation is on the line.

  16. Pat,

    in general, people are discouraged from making their own choices. But if they have asked a rav (rabbi) what to do, and followed the advice, and the outcome is bad, they are still not allowed to criticize the rav. The attitude of the community is either "one can't understand G'ds ways", or "it must be your fault, you must have done something wrong".

  17. EOT,

    So what you're saying is that no rabbi will responsibility
    for his decisions.


  18. Do I misunderstand the ketubah to state that the husband takes on the responsibility to support his wife and family and not the other way around? Would reminding your husband of that help to bring him closer to the real world you live in?

  19. Pat,

    I was describing the attitude of the community. And I wouldn't say that there are no rabbis who take responsibility for their decisions. But in my experience, there are only few who do.

  20. I feel for you (speaking as someone who is kind of on a fence too, as you can tell by my pen name!)

  21. Your first paragraph reminds me of North Korea/South Korea. (I recently read Barbara Demick's Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. I think you would enjoy it, and may find inspiration in the courage of those people to leave the totalitarian regime in which they were trapped).