My husband was raised as an Ultra Orthodox Jew. Two years before meeting him I had an Ultra Orthodox (ultra kosher) conversion. I made the commitment to live my life as an observant Jew. I committed to marrying a Jew and raising my future children up in the Jewish faith. I could not have been happier with my decision or felt more fulfilled as a Jew and a human being.
When I started my conversion process I donned a long skirt and a shirt that came well past my elbows. At first I felt like I was putting on someone else’s clothes every morning. I didn’t have a problem with wearing pants but was told that it wasn’t tznius, so in the name of tznius and the life I wanted, I rid my closet and my immodest clothing. I didn’t think twice about it. I could live without pants and short sleeves.
I kept shabbos. I kept kosher. I stopped watching television and gave up most of my non-religious music. At a close friend and mentor’s encouragement, I gave up on any books that weren’t kosher. And when I converted, I cut myself off from old friends and many family members. I stopped writing. All of this done as the result of well-meaning advice; I didn’t have to stop watching TV, but I was told that it wasn’t something that was done.
Without realizing it, I began losing myself, until one morning I woke up and realized that there was nothing left of my old life. I lost so much in the name of what was accepted and what wasn’t. I didn’t have to cover my legs with stockings, but everyone around me did. “You’ll reach that level eventually,” I was always assured.
In the name of what was “done” I began dating, met my husband, and fell in love. We were married quickly, as tradition dictated that we weren’t supposed to spend too much time together before our wedding. All we needed to do was figure out if we wanted to be married, then get married if we did or tell the shadchan (matchmaker) if we didn’t. I liked him. He liked me. Four weeks after meeting we were engaged. Six weeks later we were married.
Four years later we laugh about how lucky we got. Marrying so quickly could have gone wrong, but thank God, for us it worked.
We fell into married life. I wore a sheitel (wig) and we got an apartment in the same community my husband was raised in. We looked like a typical yeshivish couple, but cracks of doubt began to show in both of us. It wasn’t until 10 months later, and the birth of our son, that we spoke of it to one another.
All of the details of our yeshivish life began to make less sense to me.
My husband, who had been Orthodox from the time he was 9, expressed his own doubts. No other life had been an option for him. He wanted to be able to choose, as I had chosen, as his parents had chosen. He wanted to make his faith his own. I realized that I didn’t believe pants were immodest or that covering my hair with a wig or a scarf was necessary. When I became pregnant with my second son I started to wear pants. I uncovered my hair in the house. Ripples of concern spread through our small community and I began receiving calls about my immodest behavior. It didn’t matter if I only wore pants in my house, it wasn’t done! I was assured that it wasn’t tznius!
The night that I received a call from a rabbi’s wife was the last straw. My children’s Jewishness was called into question because of what I wore on my legs and head in my own house. When my husband came home I was pacing, raging, and he sat down and all his years in yeshiva kicked in. We went through the halakhas (Jewish laws) of tznius, the halakhas of kosher and shabbos. We looked at our rigid lifestyle that we lead and realized that, for us, it didn’t match up.
Over the past year we’ve begun the slow but intense process of deciding who we are, as parents, as husband and wife, and as individuals. We’ve moved out of our family’s yeshivish community and into our own. I no longer cover my hair, wear skirts, or cover my elbows. Our children are homeschooled, not sent to the local Orthodox school, and we no longer keep strict kosher. From where we sit now, our lives are almost completely different than they were four years ago. Four years ago we looked Jewish but felt lost. Today, we have a deeper commitment to the Jewish people, our neshamas (souls), and God than we ever imagined possible and an invaluable understanding that God’s path looks different to each person who walks it.