I grew up with the idea that some spaces are off-limits. Of course, places like government buildings and construction sites are off-limits to everyone. But there was an additional sense of emptiness and a sort of void, a blank space, that hung around churches. We weren’t allowed inside places of avoda zara, after all.
On a trip to Boston with friends in the summer of 2010, we took a walking tour of the historical sites. When the tour guide led us to a church, we asked him where the group would exit after they were done inside, and we met them afterwards. There was never any question of us going inside the church, of course. And I imagined it as surrounded by a force field that repels frum Jews. Breaking that barrier and entering would be a struggle.
On a trip to Haifa during my month in Israel in summer of 2012, the tour guide led us to the Baha’i gardens. After some of our tour companions entered the beautiful gardens, the tour guide happened to mention that the layout of the gardens is significant to an idolatrous religion, and my friend and I stayed outside, horrified that the guide had let poor, innocent Lakewood girls enter a place of avoda zara.
So when I started traveling with no restrictions, the cities’ landscape subtly shifted. Although I was traveling to new cities, places I had never been before, I could feel the difference. There were no force fields around certain places. Sure, there was security to get into some building. And sure, there were some buildings I couldn’t get into.
But standing outside Buckingham Palace, grasping the iron bars of the fence and craning my neck to get a good look at as much as I could see – it’s a completely different experience than walking by a church and knowing I could never go in there. There is no force field around Buckingham Palace pushing me back and keeping me out.
This hit me most when I visited Edinburgh. I passed by the cathedral every day as I walked from the city center to my hostel. And I went in almost every time, even if just for a moment. It mattered to me more than I could express at the time.
The force field had fallen away, and now the world is bigger and more open. There are less restrictions and more opportunities, less tension and worry about going places I shouldn’t and more wonder about all the places I could go.