Letting Them Down

In the last few months of 2013, the last few months I lived at home as a religious Orthodox Jew, I attempted to figure out if modern Orthodoxy might be a better fit for me. This attempt consisted of traveling to Washington Heights for some shiurim, attending a Shabbos kiddush at the Shenk shul, spending Shabbos in the Heights and having the Heights “meal-shadchan” arrange places for me to eat.

The idea was to experience another Jewish community, one which my parents were reluctant to see me join but also saw the benefit of having me explore. (They did warn me to choose the “right-wing YU” and not the “left-wing,” though – ie, make friends with people at the Shenk shul, but not Mount Sinai…)

My mother’s cousin lives in Washington Heights (not the YU part, though – the Breuer’s part), and she and her husband have an extra guestroom and love to host people. So  I’d spent a few Shabbosim with them. They’re lovely people, warm and homey. They fed me on erev Yom Kippur, in perfect loving-Bubby style. They made sure the room was comfortable, they gave me my space but made themselves available for anything I’d need, and if I wanted to chat.

She had enjoyed having me over, and had contacted my mother about potential shidduchim a few times since then. She had been impressed, ironically, with my level of commitment to Yiddishkeit.

Now, at my brother’s wedding a few years after I’d been exploring alternate modes of being religious, she asked why I don’t come anymore. She reminded me again that I have a standing invitation to visit them for a Shabbos – just let them know when I want to be there, and they’d make up the bed for me.

This should have been easy – accept the invitation graciously, don’t tell her I never plan to take her up on it, end of conversation. (I’ve gotten good at doing this.)

But for some reason she persisted this time. I got increasingly uncomfortable putting her off – she’s a genuinely nice person and genuinely cared about me!

So finally I said I don’t actually need a place for Shabbos because I don’t keep Shabbos.

She said, “okay, but you could still come to us for a Shabbos. It doesn’t matter. We’d still love to have you for a Shabbos if you need somewhere to go.”

I recognized the assumption that even people who no longer keep Shabbos find places for Shabbos meals. And that does happen – people who are no longer religious do often get together for Shabbos meals – it’s a communal time that’s sometimes hard to let go of.

But Shabbos for me was never about community. It was about forced breaks from doing the kind of work that gives me peace and joy (reading – taking notes while reading – and writing, etc.), it was about not being able to take the train to the park where I find the most peace. It was about having to walk anywhere if I wanted to meet up with people, and not taking anything with me because of course my family didn’t hold by the eruv, and besides most of my friends lived outside the eruv or within the boundaries of a different eruv.

So I said, “Thanks, I appreciate that. But I don’t need a place.”

“Do you have friends you spend Shabbos with?”

“No. I don’t keep Shabbos.” I could continue repeating it, but she probably still wouldn’t get it.

We stood awkwardly for a few moments. She shifted from foot to foot with a pained expression on her face, I thought of how I’d just shattered her perception of me as an aidel, ehrlich, wonderful Bais Yaakov girl, even as I stood in front of her in my completely tzniusdik dress…

Finally,  I invented something I needed to do and moved across the room.


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