This year marks my 6th Rosh Hashana living on my own as a non-frum person. I’ve blogged in the past about the angst-ridden, sobs-filled, painful Rosh Hashanas in the past, replete with parental disappointment, existential crises, and heartache.
They say (the famous “they”) that the process of leaving ultra-Orthodox religion and community takes a long time. Friends I trust, friends who left in previous decades, have told me that it can take as long as 10 years or more to even begin to feel like you’re on an even keel. As usual, I tend to think that I can beat the odds… But I know they’re right.
Every year, on every milestone, I take stock of where I am now and where I was last year – and how far I’ve come emotionally along this crazy and unpredictable ride. Knowing how difficult the past few years have been around Yomim Tovim, I made plans with a friend to hang out on Rosh Hashana, to get drunk, to watch a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream he had been trying to get me to watch for ages…
The more I prepared for our evening, though, the more I got into creating a full-on Rosh Hashana seudah. Tuning in to my emotions every so often, I began to realize that I was actually happy. All those years when people told me “reclaim your heritage! Join a Reconstruction Temple! Go to a lesbian guitar minyan!” I bristled in resentment. I hated the suggestions, much as I appreciated the intentions. None of that was worth anything to me. I have no interest in joining new traditions that celebrate something I don’t believe in.
But, it turns out, I have a lot of interest in recreating the traditions that hold nostalgia for me, and I have a lot of interest in explaining all those traditions to a friend who cares about me, who has a bit of knowledge about Jewish stuff, and who knows exactly how to balance honoring the traditions and helping me make them my own.
One of the more important parts of this year’s Rosh Hashana was shopping in Boro Park, in all the shops I frequented when I lived there. And while I did have a moment of “oh dear lord, I am so glad I no longer live here,” when I stood on a street corner and watched the parade of women with baby bumps and 20-year-old girls pushing double carriages – after that brief moment, I just really, really enjoyed myself.
When I got there, walking to KRM, I encountered a young chasidish boy standing on the corner of 12th Avenue and 39th Street. He glanced up at me and quickly looked away, looking around in what I recognized as a little kid allowed to go out on his own but not allowed to cross the street without an adult. It’s a common occurrence in a neighborhood where everyone is “one of us” – kids are thought to be safe because it’s inconceivable that frum Jews would be threat, but cars are still threatening. I used to help little kids cross the street all the time – it only requires a brief nod to the kid when it’s safe to go, and sometimes – if the kid wants it – walking alongside the kid until they get to the other side of the street.
So now, although he didn’t seem to think of me as an option, I just asked, “Do you need to cross?” I considered asking in Yiddish, and then decided not to bagel so hard… He nodded, I waited for the walk signal and said “Okay, go,” and he took off running. I walked at a more leisurely pace behind him, filled with a sense of both belonging and strength.
At every stop along my nostalgia trek – from KRM Supermarket to Korn’s Bakery to a tiny grocery to Meal Mart – I basked in the release of bitterness and my newfound ability to be okay with the knowledge that I am seen as an outsider. Because I know my place here, and no one else needs to know anything else about me (and ironically, now I’m blasting that out to the interwebs, but it’s okay because there’s only like 20 people reading this blog anyway).
So the #ItGetsBesser is getting there, and I look forward to seeing what next year’s Rosh Hashana will bring and how much besser it will be!