When you’re OTD and trying to spare your family’s feelings, you juggle two calendars in your head all the time. It’s exhausting.
When you’re Orthodox, or Jewish – or any religion or culture that doesn’t follow the Christian-become-Western calendar – of course you need to keep track of two sets of dates and two sets of holidays.
But as much as an Orthodox person needs to keep in mind two sets of dates, it’s not comparable to the mind-juggling an OTD person needs to do with those calendars.
The pressure and constant worry that you’ll slip isn’t there for an Orthodox person.
If you’re Orthodox and forgot that this year the first night of Chanuka coincides with Christmas Eve, it’s no big deal. If you talk about doing something over Pesach vacation and forgot that the place will be closed for Easter break, it’s no big deal. Someone will remind you, you’ll say “oh, right,” and move on.
For an OTD person, there can be constant anxiety about making these innocent mistakes.
A few months ago, I was at my parents on a Sunday and telling them about this amazing dish I’d cooked – and just barely remembered in time not to say “yesterday.”
Just last week, I spent all day Saturday grading papers. I was texting with my cousin after shabbos, and she asked me how I was doing. I caught myself before saying “feeling so accomplished, I graded so much today, today was so productive.”
The first time I noticed this was when I went to my parents for shabbos chol hamo’ed succos of my first year “out.”
I had been teaching during the first days – CUNY schools give off for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and they always schedule spring break over Pesach. But succos isn’t a major holiday according to more mainstream American Judaism, and besides – could you imagine four weeks of canceled classes right at the beginning of the fall semester?
Anyway, shabbos afternoon, my family and I were all sitting around and talking, and I wanted to mention something that had happened in class that week. I caught myself just before I said anything, though, remembering that saying “this week” would be a dead giveaway that I was teaching on yom tov.
And I didn’t bother even telling the story, because just that one small moment of my brain screaming “no, don’t say that!” had left me emotionally drained.
Everyone knew that I work on shabbos and yom tov by then – theoretically. But hearing it would make certain people uncomfortable, would mean they can’t go on in blissful pretense that I was still frum.
The next year, succos again (it seems to be a pretty significant time for me!) I went to a conference in Edinburgh. I’ve wanted to visit Scotland for ages, and this was exciting to me. Plus the conference I was presenting at was a big deal for me, more directly related to my scholarship than any I’d attended until then.
But I didn’t talk about it for the months beforehand, when I was planning my trip. I told my little sisters, because it felt weird to be leaving the country without telling anyone in my family. My parents didn’t know I’d been overseas for almost a week.
My sister is almost as much an Anglophile as I am, so I showed her the Scottish bills I had left over from my trip (I always keep some foreign money and don’t change it back – it’s a good souvenir!).
When my father saw us delighting over Scottish money, he asked why now – didn’t I go to England last summer?
I was annoyed at having to hide something so freaking exciting for me, so I told him I had just gone to Scotland. I didn’t mention dates, but since this was the day after succos was over, it was obvious I had gone on succos.
He didn’t say anything, just looked sad, like I’d just broken his heart all over again (he’s good at that) and walked away.
He called me the next day about something unrelated, and left a voice mail. He began by suggesting I change my outgoing message.
I’d forgotten that since it felt so weird to leave the country without telling my parents, I had recorded an outgoing message saying that I was out of the country and would be back in a week.
I had been worried they would continually try calling my phone and have it go to voice mail, and maybe start thinking I was dead. They were already primed to think the worst was happening to me, living alone and doing who knows what.
The longer it’s been since I left, the more distance there is between me and the Jewish calendar with holidays that hold no meaning for me, the harder it is to remember not to betray what my activities were on certain days.
I’ve learned to be vague about dates when telling stories about what happened in my life, or even just making small talk, and I’ve learned to resent it. I resent that I have to bend the truth in order to spare feelings of those who would be upset that I don’t follow the Jewish calendar anymore – just one more effect of OTD-silence.