When people meet me, and find out a bit of my background â€“ being from Alabama, not growing up in an Orthodox home â€“ they often ask me to tell â€œmy story.â€ I used to have no problem with this, but lately, the request for my story has started to bother me.
I donâ€™t hide my background; I donâ€™t pretend to be â€œFFBâ€ (though Iâ€™ve been told on more than one occasion that I could â€œpassâ€ easily). Iâ€™m very upfront with my background and the fact that my family is not observant. So why does it bother me to be asked about my story?
I think itâ€™s because Iâ€™ve moved beyond my story. Iâ€™ve been shomer shabbos for almost nine years now, the majority of my independent life. My â€œstoryâ€ occurred a long time ago. I just donâ€™t feel like those events define who I am anymore, nor even my frumkeit.
Many people who become observant go off to a certain seminary or yeshiva and come to define themselves within the hashkafa of that particular place. I didnâ€™t do that â€“ I worked it out for myself, through many permutations until I made it my own. I imagine that it will still change somewhat throughout my life, but I donâ€™t define myself by the organization that mikareved me, so Iâ€™m always a little uncomfortable telling people how I got â€œintoâ€ Orthodoxy.
But beyond having people try to define me by the specific organization that I donâ€™t align myself with (which I donâ€™t blame anyone for, itâ€™s human nature to want to put people in boxes in order to understand them better), I guess I want to move on with my life, to just be a normal Jew who observes or doesnâ€™t observe particular facets of Judaism. Itâ€™s not about blending â€“ believe me, itâ€™s difficult to blend when you are from Alabama, living in the NY area â€“ but itâ€™s about wanting people to look at me for WHO I am NOW, rather than where I came from.
Yes, our current lives are certainly affected by our upbringing and our experiences throughout life, but because the events that sparked my interest in becoming more observant happened so long ago, Iâ€™m not that person anymore. Iâ€™ve moved beyond it, just like Iâ€™ve moved beyond the person I was in junior high school.
So now when people ask me my story, I kinda cringe and give them as few details as possible. Not because Iâ€™m embarrassed about it or my past, because Iâ€™m not. But because I just have trouble remembering who that person was.
Originally Posted in December 2006