Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Assumptions of Frumkeit

Way in the deep-dark pompous past, my first husband and I knew a young girl (16 or 17?) who we wanted to be makarev (reach out to, spiritually).  I didn’t know much about her except she went to a public school; she wore pants.  (gasp)

So we invited her and she came over for Shabbos lunch, carrying a cake she’d baked at home (gasp! on two counts, as there wasn’t a widely-accepted eiruv here at the time).  I just set the cake aside politely; with that iffy eiruv, there was no way any Jew could derive benefit from it on Shabbos, even if it did happen to be kosher.

During lunch, conversation turned to Jewish stuff, and at one point, when we were talking (pompously hinting?) about our own journey to frumkeit, I remember she said, “I don’t know… I guess I’ve always been frum.”

And we were like – WHAT?  Glanced at each other:  startled, knowing glances that said… Crazy!  If that’s frum, well, I’ll eat my sheitel.

Because her family wasn’t at all what we would  have considered frum.  Meaning the father wore a kippah srugah, the kids went to public high schools.  The mother didn’t cover her hair except with a flimsy hat, and then, only in shul, not on the bus to work.  The family davened at a “modern” Orthodox shul near us – the one we wouldn’t have gone into if it was the last shul in town.

So now I sometimes look at people who are more velvet-kippah than us, more black-hat, more turban-and-shtreimel than us, more big-house-at-Bath/Lawrence than us…or whatever it might be… and, well, I wonder if they’re looking at us, talking about us, wondering how they could possibly be mekarev us, bring us closer to the light of a Torah way of life. 

Convince me to wear knee highs, tights or (gasp!) pantihose.  Convince Ted to go learn more often (okay, that would be nice!).  Convince me that my spare time would be better spent in shiurim than sign language.  Convince us that our children should have exclusively Jewish friends. 

Convince us to build safe, insular Jewish lives to protect what frumkeit we have struggled to attain.  I have to admit, the appeal of it is clear.  However, I also have to admit that I’m breathing easier this year at Elisheva’s school, where I can turn up in a ballcap or a tichel or whatever and not be the only mama not wearing a sheitel.  In fact, it’s a pretty sure bet that some mamas won’t have their heads covered at all, something I haven’t seen for a few years.

And I like it.  But is that because I truly believe that there is a spectrum of yiddishkeit and each of us must work out our own place… that whether or how I cover my hair, and live my Jewish life, is essentially a private matter between me and Hashem.

Or is it just the old arrogance, resurfacing?  Is it because I get to feel super-frum compared to the mamas who don’t cover their hair at all, the ones I see around the community in pants?

I like to think I’ve matured since those deep-dark crazy-BT days when you couldn’t be truly “frum” unless you were “MY kind of frum.”  But I don’t truly know. 

The shul, by the way… the one my first husband and I wouldn’t have gone into if it was the last shul in town?  Well, we ended up living quite close, and I had young kids, and we were on our own, and, well, after a while it became our Synagogue of First Recourse.  I never did love it – too geriatric for my taste – but the rabbi and rebbetzin were very kind to us and the kids’ program wasn’t terrible. 

Bobov, it wasn’t… but it turned out neither was I.

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