Going Out of Our Comfort Zone

I’m writing this when I really should be doing some work or packing some boxes, as we are moving out to the Gush tomorrow for 4 months, but what the hey. It’s purim (at least it was, when I wrote this) so let’s live a little dangerously.

I lived a little dangerously yesterday (IMHO), by coming out of my comfort zone to go to a purim seuda in kiryat sefer. To recap, briefly: I’m not haredi myself, but I like haredim a lot, and I think they get a bum deal a lot of the time from the rest of the orthodox world.

My husband has been going to kollel in kiryat sefer for around six months now, and his chavruta and his wife (both BTs themselves) invited us for the meal. It’s not the first time I’ve been there – I’ve been there loads, and even have a lovely chavruta there.

Yet for some reason, yesterday I felt a little out of place. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was worrying that I wasn’t dressed tzniusly enough (I had a very tight pair of angel’s wings and a halo, over my bandana – oh, and clothes, obviously). Then I was a bit worried that the hechshas on the mishloach manot weren’t up to par (I still haven’t worked out the whole hechsha thing in Israel, and I usually now get round it by shopping Shefa Shuk, which is glatt heaven.)

Our hosts were their usual lovely selves, which reassured me a bit. But as the meal progressed, and the men got progressively drunker, I had the time to ponder on why I was feeling a bit antsy. My husband was in his element – he was dressed like a clown, and I lost count of the number of slightly drunk haredi men who wondered in, took him for a spin round the table or gave him a hug or a pat on the shoulder.

My two girls loved the whole scene so much – they had scores of girls their age to play with – that my oldest told me she wanted to move there. But I don’t. Or at least, I’m not sure what would have to change before I would.

Everytime I go to Kiryat Sefer, I’m struck by how sweet and polite the kids are. And I really want that for my own family. And I’m struck by how generous and giving of their time and energy so many of the people are. My chavruta is a case in point, giving me 2 precious hours of her post-shabbat Saturday evening, when I’m sure she has a million and one more useful things she could be doing for herself, with three small kids in the house.

Or take the teenage girl who taxis in from Kiryat Sefer every Monday, to do a parsha chug for kids in Modiin. At a time when many other girls her age would be in their rooms sulking, or experimenting with who-knows-what and who-knows-who, this kind, lovely girl gives a whole half a day to teach torah to some else’s kids.

And again, I want that for my family. But – and there is a but – there are some things that I still struggle with. I know a lot of people think that you can have all this without living in the haredi world, but I’m not so sure. The kids turn out, for the most part, so well in kiryat sefer because of its emphasis on torah, and nothing but torah.

But it’s precisely the ‘pure’ atmosphere of places like kiryat sefer that puts me a little on edge. Because I know I couldn’t keep it up 24/7. I’d crack, and need to listen to some pop music. Or I’d crack, and need to go and see a film. Or wear sandals without socks. Or something that wouldn’t be ‘right’.

That word is not in inverted commas because I’m being sarcastic. In my heart of hearts, I’m sure G-d thinks that listening to pop music, watching films and wearing slightly risqué shoes is not 100% ok. At best it’s a waste of time or frivolous, at worst it’s, well, going against what he wants.

But at the moment, I just can’t help it. Which is why, at the moment, places like Kiryat Sefer are lovely to visit, but impossible for me to contemplate moving to.

5 comments on “Going Out of Our Comfort Zone

  1. I disagree with the entire premise of this post.

    I believe that you can bring up children that you are proud of, in any religious aspect category you wish to name, in not only Kiryat Sefer type places but in Modern Orthodox, and even in non-religious, you will find many righteous people.

    I am not dis-respecting your particular frame and view of this, just that i think what I say is important to this discussion.

  2. Baruch, did you find a better “community match” for yourself here? If so, which community?

  3. I made aliya and lived in Kiryat Sefer for several year and you have the right idea… it’s an interesting place to visit but hard to live in unless you strongly identify with the haredi world view. I found that my “self” was being slowly strangled the longer I stayed there. I felt like I was hiding who I really was. It was really that bad. I ended up moving back to the States for good after my Kiryat Sefer experience.

  4. It sounds like visiting Kiryat Sefer is useful to you in terms of discovering who you are and what you need. IMHO, the question you need to be asking yourself is “Am I growing in my relationship to Hashem?” As long as you are growing, you shouldn’t hold it against yourself that you are not ready to be a saint. It is when you know that you are not growing that you have to worry.

  5. Thank you. It was interesting to understand why some people’s reaction to entering a Torah culture is that they feel that nothing they do is “good enough” for the people in that community, that they’re not pious enough. You demonstrated how that reaction is not generated by the community, rather from the mild culture shock of the observer. These are, for the most part, well meaning communities who will often go out of their way to welcome outsiders. But from the outsider’s perspective the welcome may not be enough to soften the blow of the culture differences. As in every group, there are those who will say something stupid, and anything but welcoming, but the outsider is at risk of focusing on those few in reaction to being out of their own comfort zone.

    Thank you for the insight.

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