This is a response to the post, Can and Should BTs become Virtually Indistinguishable? I wish I could have seen the entirety of the letter for the Kiruv organization that was quoted. My immediate gut reaction was insult. In a frum community, if all members are following halacha and more or less the same customs, what is the issue with being a little different?
It reminds me of some conversations that I’ve had with the ultra-Orthodox community I studied with as I began to take on mitzvot. I asked why the men would all wear black suits. Where was the individuality? I was told that once you’re in the community and get to know people, you notice little accessories or personality traits that makes each person individual.
There is a lot to be said about conformity and community, but personally, I wear my BT badge like I do my American accent that won’t go away when I speak Hebrew — with pride. I don’t need to flash it around, but I don’t stuff it away either.
Just a few days ago I was at an ultra-Orthodox wedding. Putting on a black headscarf to accompany my black dress and black tights, I certainly looked like I belonged, but it felt a bit like a Purim costume. I wondered if others could see through the veneer. And then, once the party started, oh the dancing. I can’t ever get those circle dance steps right. Could anyone tell I was out of sync? Part of me hoped so. And then, back at the table, I was asked about a family I might know from my hometown. When I didn’t, she asked “You’re not chozeret l’tshuvah, are you?” and I felt a little embarrassed to say “Yes.” Given my outfit, would she know that was not my choice? Why did that matter?
The following day I put on a different outfit for running errands in town – a tunic shirt, cotton skirt, and headscarf, all in bright blues and purples. To carry some of my belongings I had an Israeli army צה’ל bag. I looked the part of a typical daati leumi woman. I felt stares. “Do they know I’m a poser American who would be too scared to actually live in a settlement?”
While I wear a head covering and skirts in part because I want to be identified as religious, I struggle with the idea of being like the man in the suit.
While trying to find a place among the choices of religious communities in Israel, I still hold on dearly to my secular past. I’ll hum zemirot to myself while shopping for Shabbat, but all a friend or my husband has to do is to say a word or a phrase that will send me off into a pop or rap song with the same verse. And when I bust a rhyme, I hope people overhear me.
I agree with the e-mail that “it is possible and almost always advisable to maintain many relationships from the past, especially familial ones.” It is my belief that Jews are not to sequester themselves away from the outside world, but rather to uplift it, and to be a “light upon the nations”. BT’s can be a strong chain in the link between the two worlds. I would argue that, within reason, it’s okay and even advisable to maintain the most precious elements of our lifelong relationships, hobbies, and habits, for they were placed in our lives for a reason, and they too are a badge that reminds us we made a choice.
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