For three decades of my adult life, beginning in my early twenties, I kept far away from Jewish life. I’ve since spent decades unraveling the many reason for my departure from the tradition in which I was assiduously raised. Let’s start with a simple overview: I was a temperamental mismatch with traditional Judaism’s…
… obsession with detail
… delimitation of curiosity
…. disregard for the aesthetic
… suspicion of feminine sensuality
… pious self righteousness
…. communal insularity.
And as I say, those are just a few broad themes for kicking off a much longer conversation.
My father was a fierce crusader for Orthodox Judaism as a way of life mandated by God. He was not going to let me off easy. What to do? I marry an older man, a French Jew who carried a Christian identity for the first seven years of his life so that he might survive Nazi genocide. In him I find a certain ebullience and savoir faire; What’s more we love one another deeply for being exactly who we are. It is a good solution all around: The snooty 16th arrondissement of Paris provides a safe haven from the do-or-die religious crusaders back home. Much as their hearts are shattered by my defection, my parents will not disown me for this choice, nor would they sit shiva, mourning a lost child as they surely would had I ventured to marry out of the faith.
There is a price to pay for rupture – a lingering longing for roots, the nagging need for meaning, a teetering on the edge of a spiritual void. In lonely moments I would remind myself of the justification for self-imposed loss – after all, what woman of apt and curious mind would accept a life of male-imposed strictures and constraints? I had not turned my back on a world that welcomed me. Rather, as a thinking women programmed for self-determination, I was a black sheep, a self-selected outcast of the herd.