One of the hardest parts about going to family events in the first years I was “out” was that my parents didn’t want to let anyone know I wasn’t frum and I wanted to honor their wishes.
Most of the time, that meant – as going home OTD tends to mean a lot – silence. Dodge questions, answer vaguely as much as possible, nod and smile and hope the conversation is over soon.
Sometimes that doesn’t work. Unless you’re willing to tell some big lies, there will come a point when the truth will out.
Here’s one of those moments, in which rather than come clean and tell the truth, I developed anti-social mannerisms.
I sat at the back of the shul during my brother’s aufruf. I was dressed perfectly tzniusdig, but my hair was short and red, and by that time a lot of people in my family and the neighorhood knew I wasn’t frum. If I sat at the back, no one could stare at me and whisper unless they turned around to crane their necks at me. That didn’t stop everyone, of course. But it made me feel slightly less visible.
A family friend sat next to me, and after davening was over and everyone mingled over cake and kugel, she chatted with me. She started by asking about where I live.
It’s weird in general for a single girl who still lives in New York to be living on her own. The two reasons a girl might move out of her parents’ home are usually a) marriage or b) moving somewhere she’s more likely to find a suitable husband. But since I didn’t live in Flatbush, Washington Heights, or the Upper West Side (the neighborhoods where the “more modern, less frum” single girls tended to live), it was even weirder.
The conversation went like this:
“Where do you live now?”
“Oh, in Forest Hills? In Kew Garden Hills?” [ed: neighborhoods with heavily Jewish populations]
“No, in Astoria.”
“Oh, I didn’t know there are Jews in Astoria!”
“There aren’t.” [I know there are. But not frum Jews. And that was, after all, what she meant.]
“Oh….? It must be difficult to live in a neighborhood without Jews.”
“No, not really.” [I was beginning to feel annoyed and not inclined to give anymore than necessary. I was aware I was starting to sound surly, but that was better than the alternative. Right?]
“So where do you go for Shabbos? Do you make Shabbos at home? Or do you sleep over at friends? Or do you come to your parents every week?”
“I stay home.”
“By yourself? Or do you have roommates?”
“I have roommates.”
“So you all make shabbos together?”
“Do they go away for shabbos?”
“They don’t keep shabbos.”
“Oh… Um… Is there kosher food around there?”
“No, not really.”
“Oh wow. So you have to shop in Brooklyn and shlep it back to Astoria?”
“Oh. Okay. Um…”
Conversation over. Thank goodness. Someone else mingled over just then.