At the End of the Holidays

We are winding up z’man simchateinu, the season of our joy. For me as a BT, being joyous at this time of the year can be a special challenge.

We’ve just gotten through with Yom Kippur and repenting for our sins – including bad character traits. My particular challenge is envy – not of material things, but of other people’s having observant close relatives of their own age (mainly spouses, but also brothers and sisters). Other people’s families come to visit them for the holidays, while I am essentially alone. My husband is not observant, and my only brother has not spoken to me in years though I have tried and tried to make up with him. I have no parents or parents-in-law – so I’m sort of an island. In this community, my friends are like family; but then, when their real families come to visit, I’m on the outside looking in. Well, it isn’t even fair to say that, because I’m invited for Shemini Atzeret to someone whose family is visiting, and I had plenty of other invitations. I guess it’s just a feeling of being on the outside looking in.

And as a woman, it’s not like I’m going to get to dance with the Torah. I can watch the guys doing that (everyone is there but my husband) but I have to say, I feel left out that way, too. It isn’t that I myself want to dance with the Torah; it’s that I want to see someone who belongs to me doing that.

My own children are all observant (thank G-d!) and all have their own households, but all of them live far away. I hesitate to go to them for the holidays; they are dutiful kids, but I feel like a fifth wheel, and there’s no place like home.

So am I right to say that I’ll be glad when the holidays are over and things get back to normal? Am I even allowed to say that? It’s hard not to think it.

I’ve heard many times that a Jew is obligated to serve G-d with joy. But I don’t know how to really get into that frame of mind at this time.

23 comments on “At the End of the Holidays

  1. Hi Phyllis,

    I don’t think we know each other (I don’t know anyone named Phyllis, as far as I know), but I live in the same city as you (possibly in the same neighborhood?) and have also attended some DATA events, although I usually go to another synagogue. I’m probably not quite as observant as you are, but my wife and I have some differences that sound similar to those that you and your husband have – i.e. I try and go to shul on Sat. morning and she’s not interested, etc., and it can definitely be challenging resolving such differences. I really appreciate your candor in sharing these kind of things on this forum, and it’s nice to know that we’re not the only ones facing such issues. If you’re interested, I’d love to talk further about it; my wife and I really don’t know many people with such similar issues here in town, and I’d love to hear more of your perspective on trying to find solutions. If you want, feel free to email me at

    All the best,

  2. Chana Leah and Phyllis: Thank you so much for your kind words and support. Yes, for me,too, it was the three days in a row with no contact with people that got to me. This came at a very stressful time for me. I do plan to move to a frum community as soon as I am free to leave this house which I am not free to do at this time. I do have wonderful “telphone friends”, frum women whom I speak to regularly and my rabbi and his family visit me frequently and I visit them frequently. I feel like family with them. I was hurt by those who did not understand why I could not attend the Bat Mitzvah. For over a year I discussed the subject with rabbis and thei wives and othr frum people. Without exception, every single one said I must not go. I am shomer shobbos. I was told to only tell my son tht I do not ride on Shobbos and that is all I said. I said nothing that could offend him. Yes, we are all Jews, but I have extremely strong feelings about the Reform Movement and what they believe in or don’t believe in. Aside from all that I could not leave a sick husband (the following week he went in to a nursing home) and and i did ask around …in case I decided to break Shobbos…to see if I could get a ride and I could not. So, I would not have had transportation, anyway. After I heard what went on there and I saw the pictures I am glad I was not there. It was aan ostentatiouw circus…on Shobbos afternoon. It was a major test as was the three day holiday. Pesach will also be three days and I will plan better for it and hopefully at that time my life won’t be so stressful. Again, thank you Chana Leah and Phyllis. I feel that you are friends. Again, I will move to a frum community as soon as I can and meanwhile I am trying to develop friendships with frum women over the phone or computer.

  3. ChanaLeah, I’ve seen (and even posted) some of the articles about having a non-observant spouse. Thanks so much for the Aish link. Very interesting.

    Yehudit, I’m very fortunate to live in a community after not being in one for many years. Please take ChanaLeah’s advice and stay by someone in a community for the next major holidays or for an occasional Shabbat. I did that a few times when I wasn’t living here yet, and it was incredible how much it re-Jew-venated me.

    It probably was those 3 days in a row without contact other than my immediate surroundings that got to me. But at least my immediate surroundings are wonderful, being in this community.

    Thanks again y’all!

  4. I’m Jewish: Different scenarios require different shailos, and as we don’t have all the details about this particular decision, it’s not fair to judge. Our family has been in similar situations where our Rabbi has told us to go, but with restrictions on the food and dancing. Another question is if one brings children and what they would be exposed to. And you are right, there are some tough situations where we can’t help if the family will say negative things about orthodoxy. But who knows, maybe it might fire their curiosity too.

  5. “My son who lives not too far away will have nothing to do with me as I would not attend his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah at a Reform “place”.”

    That’s really unfortunate. It’s a shame that your rav wouldn’t have let you go for shalom bayis purposes. It’s a double shame, because I’m betting that most of the Jews at this Reform synagogue now have a negative impression of Orthodox Jewry because to them, it means such fanaticism that a grandmother won’t attend a grandchild’s event. I know we all see it differently, but that’s how they see it, and as a BT, I understand fully why they would think that way.

  6. There is an interesting article on called “My more observant spouse”. Look under Current Events on the home page.

  7. Yehudit: Your strength is amazing. But please don’t stay alone for any more Yom Tovim. In our community the shul Rav sends out an e-mail to the membership looking for hosts for people of whose need he is aware. Usually before day’s end he has numerous offers for meals and/or accommodations. Perhaps you can visit another community for the Yom Tovim, even for Shabbos?

  8. JT said “But if I was in charge of an orthodox synagogue I would have the men do the cooking.”

    On the whole, the women in our shul are better cooks than the men. At least one is a caterer, and some others make and sell baked goods. However, a number of the men (including our older son) do get involved in shul food prep from time to time, such as making cholent.

  9. I just read Phyllis’ remarks and they really hit home. At least she has community!!! My husband is not observant and is in a nursing home anyway. My son who lives not too far away will have nothing to do with me as I would not attend his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah at a Reform “place”. The nearest shul to me is a fifteen minute drive away and I am shomer Shobbos. I believe with all my heart,soul, intellect in Torah-true Judaism. But, the three days (Yom Tov and Shobbos) were AWFUL for me! No contact with any people for three days is a very difficult test! It will take me a while to recover!

  10. At my shul they would set a table in the women’s section, cover with a table cloth or a large tallis, and lay one of the Torahs down on it. The women would then dance around the Torah. This year I looked over, and my 4 year old daughter was part of the circle, dancing with all the ladies. I *SO* wanted to take a picture!!

  11. Phyllis–since this blog began there have been a number of posts/comments dealing with the struggles of spouses when one is observant and the other isn’t. If you haven’t read them yet, maybe it’s worthwhile, since this seems to be the bottom line for you. Maybe you will get chizuk from them, and perhaps a connection to others in your situation. Mark/David, are you able to give links to those discussions from the moderator’s chair?

  12. We did have a congregational dinner (which I attended alone, but sat with my dear friends), and sometimes the women have gone into another room and danced by ourselves (without a Sefer Torah). But dancing with the Torah isn’t really the issue for me – it’s not seeing my husband, or any man who “belongs” to me, dancing with it. I do have sons, sons-in-law, and grandsons living far away who dance with it in their own shuls, and I was trying to picture that in my mind’s eye. At least I have that blessing.

    Our shul has the practice of auctioning off Hakkafot and other honors for Simchat Torah. In the past, since my husband wasn’t there, I would buy a Hakkafah for a single man, or chip in with the other women to buy one for the rabbi or whomever. But I started feeling strange buying one for a single man, and although I like being “one of the girls” (yeah, I know, “girls” is politically incorrect now), what I *really* wanted to do was buy one for my absent husband. The sky would be the limit if he would ever go and do a Hakkafah – I’d give a huge chunk of money if he’d do that! (We each have our own little nest egg so he wouldn’t have a problem if I gave.) But, so far it’s only a dream. And even if I would get to dance with the Torah, it wouldn’t be what I’d really want. I want him to do it, and I want to really belong like all the other couples I see.

    Thanks y’all for your encouragement!

  13. Bob Miller, regarding your dinner in the synagogue suggestion,
    The congregational dinner is a fine way to dine with the community.But if I was in charge of an orthodox synagogue I would have the men do the cooking. Or possibly potluck for any in house synagogue dinner thing.
    The women would be in charge of alcohol and general lecture content.
    The men can host the tea parties and lunchenettes.

  14. In our shul, women can dance on their side of the mechitzah. Those who chose not to did not look forlorn. Those who chose to were not particularly feminist or viewed as such. The men carried the Sifrei Torah as is proper.

    There was also a delicious congregational dinner for all in the shul’s social hall following mussaf of Simchas Torah, made by women of the shul. This is a great idea for such a day when services end late, especially when it’s Erev Shabbos, too.

  15. Why does women dancing on Simchat Torah (with or without the Torah) have to be branded a “feminist” thing? Last time I checked, it’s our Torah, too, and we’re all supposed to be rejoicing. What’s so feminist about that?

    Luckily, I’ve only spent Simchat Torah at places where both the men and the women danced. I don’t think I could ever be at a place where only men dance. I feel like it would take away my enjoyment of the holiday. What’s the big deal if the mechitza blocks the women so men can’t watch us dance? (Especially if we don’t have sifrei Torah…)

  16. For ST my wife and I attended a shul where both men and women danced with the sifrei torah. My own level of simchah was enhanced compared to the years when I would glance at the other side of the mechitzah and see forlorn looking women who felt excluded. There is no halachic impediment to this and I hope that next year you will be able to dance with the torah.

  17. Zvi, there are plenty of shuls where women have dancing on their side of the mechitza, some even get to hold a Torah. I find the women who start such dancing are usually looked upon as feminists (not in a good way) and are not looked upon by the women or the men in such a favorable way, more like renegades. I’m not advocating for it or criticizing it, I’m just pointing out my observations. Given that, some women who might like to join said dancing are intimidated by the idea they will be “branded” a certain way, as a feminist, renegade, etc. when all they want to do is enjoy the dancing for the Torah.

    Phyllis, great post, wonderful observations. May you go from strength to strength!

  18. i wish that at all shuls & yeshivas, the women should have their own dancing on their side of the mechitza, instead of it just being a spectator sport. Which brave woman is ready to start a new trend?

  19. Phyllis, your post eloquently expresses a deep conflict inherent in the BT lifestyle. For sure, if you are fortunate enough to have close friends who are like family to you, especially if they are other BT’s who understand the struggle, you have an advantage. I know intimately the pain of not having family during Yom Tovim. Truly, the only antidote I have found is the simcha from Torah learning, especially in a group. There is a bond between women who learn together regularly which, for me, has come the closest to any familial bond left behind. It has also provided the chizuk that sustains, especially in painful moments of feeling like an outsider.
    Thanks for bringing this to light, and hatzlocha & bracha for the new year!

  20. OOPS! Thanx “wife” for that correction. The pathos of phyllis’ letter just made it seem so obvious that she was completely alone! In the meantime I can only repeat my admiration for her ability to express her angst over this issue of holy lonliness in such an un-accusing way. Personally, while I struggle with this issue on an entirely different plane, I find it very hard not to feel critical of the my more established coreligionists when they seem to so blithely ignore my pinch-hitter blues.

  21. Phyllis-many women find the spectator sport of watching hakafos hardly the most uplifting spiritual event. My suggeestion is that if other women in your community share your perspective, start a Siyum HaTanach project in which different women are responsible for completing a parsha or sefer by Simchas Torah. Then schedule a Seudah or Kiddush for the participating women. I know of many women in our community who participate in such a siyum and they all maintain that it has really enhanced a day that would not really get that much spiritual enhancement from otherwise.

  22. Phyllis — I applaud your personal candidness. You have brought to the fore, in an admirably non-accusing fashion, the paradoxical pain of being a fifth wheel… on the holiest of chariots.

    Who wants to be out of the loop? Yet who can abandon such a chariot?? In my experience, there are many Bt’s who are struggling with this, and in some cases especially those who have achieved a “normative” status. We might not be exactly fifth wheels, but more like the pinch-hitter that never gets to bat! Perhaps it’s an educator who’s Old World accent or lack of Gemora fluency or less than overflowing Chassidic shine just doesn’t quite make it as a chareidi “mashpia.” Yet to go back into the non-Torah committed world to teach the pure Torah you’ve worked so hard to learn and love and are so afraid of seeng abused or disregarded just dosn’t work either. Perhaps it’s the artist who’s Old World instincts make his / her chareidi friends nervous but at the same time you just can’t imagine working within / producing for people who have little appreciation for the kedusha that so inspires you.

    Either way, we must indeed keep striving to joyfully serve Him, even when outside the loop. There’s a powerful Torah about one of the Levite tribes in the Midbar who had the least important of tasks in transporting the Mishkan aparatuses. They were called “Merari”, which has at its root the concept of merirut (bitterness). They were a bitter but VERY holy lot. The sfarim kdoishim illuminate that there reward was especially great.

    Bitter — but joyous. A strange but very holy dance.

    BTW, are you looking for a shidduch? We know a number of very special single men in their forties and fifties…

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