A lot of decisions need to be made in an instant, when you’re coming home OTD, when you’re navigating relationships, trying to spare people’s feelings but also trying to be yourself.
There was a weird moment, a shabbos when I’d been “OTD” for a few months. Most of my siblings knew, I had spoken to my mother about it, and I thought my father knew. He did not, as I found out afterwards…
I was spending shabbos with my family. And at that point, when I went home I dressed the part. I wore a “robe top” with a long-sleeved black shell, and my comfortable long black skirt. I hadn’t dyed or cut my hair yet, and I had no visible tattoos.
Unless someone knew, there was nothing about my appearance to let them know I wasn’t frum anymore.
At the shabbos table, my father started asking me some questions about how I live on my own. I had done something almost unheard of simply by moving out of my parents’ home before I was married. So the logistics of a single girl living with roommates was a mystery to him.
“Do you bentch licht (light shabbos candles) yourself every week?” he asked. “Or does one girl light for the whole apartment?”
I didn’t light anymore. One of my roommates did, but that was for herself.
I could imagine that even if my father knew I wasn’t frum, he would think I still light. It’s one of the things that many people assume you continue doing even if you’re not religious.
For me, though, when I stopped observing shabbos, I saw no point to lighting. Nostalgia, perhaps, but the memories that shabbos candles hold for me are my mother crying over whichever child was giving her agmas nefesh that particular week. Of my father yelling up the stairs, “girls, Mommy’s bentching licht,” and the rush to finish hair and makeup, the quick calculation of whether we still had the 18 minutes or Mommy was late again this week. Of everyone needing to be absolutely silent while she lit and said the brachos and yehi ratzon, of my father’s stern “sha!” if anyone dared to speak in the vicinity.
But I didn’t want to start a potentially tense conversation at the shabbos table.
So I forced a laugh and said, “We’re not a family! We’re just a few girls sharing living space. We don’t do much of anything as a group.”
Dodged the question, but at least I didn’t lie.
“And where do you get your shabbos food from?” he continued. “You don’t eat by families all the time, right?”
“No, I don’t eat by families…” Now I was starting to get really uncomfortable. Should I answer truthfully? That I don’t buy shabbos food? But… we were having such a nice family dinner… The truth would make everyone uncomfortable and create tension…
“There’s a store in the west-nineties where everyone on the Upper West Side shops. It’s like the kollel store – huge shelves, tiny aisles, crammed with kosher products…”
I was quite proud of my non-answer. There is indeed a huge kosher supermarket where many Upper West Side Jews shop. I didn’t shop there – but I didn’t need to mention that little bit.
I asked my father afterward, when I was alone with him, why he asked me those questions.
“Did you want me to answer truthfully?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t I want you to answer truthfully?”
“Did you really want me to say explicitly, at the shabbos table, that I don’t light candles and don’t buy shabbos food because I don’t keep shabbos?”
That, unfortunately, was how my father found out I wasn’t frum.
It’s not the way I would have chosen to break the news to him.