I’m sitting at my computer at 7:13 p.m. on a Saturday evening, a little bit beyond Havdalah, and finally reconnected with the world. I powered my world down yesterday evening at the beginning of Shabbat because that’s what an Orthodox girl does, I headed to synagogue this morning with my family, ate a bunch of Sephardic delicacies at the shul’s kiddush, and then headed home for my weekly Shabbat nap— the nap I look forward to all week.
I did all this without a wig, or a floor-length skirt, which might sound weird to you if you’re from a totally secular stream of Judaism that views all Shabbat-keepers as mega-religious Hasidim. I’m sitting in velvet pajama pants with my hair casually coiled into a messy bun, and here I am, at the intersection of devoted spirituality, respect for tradition, and the possibility of floating through the world without anyone knowing my religion.
I work in mainstream media—I write, go on TV, and Tweet back and forth with major celebs all day long. Nobody ever looks at me and says, “Oh, she’s def religious.” I just don’t look the part, and it’s been a weird experience for me that many of the more secular Jews I encounter are sort of disappointed to find out that I won’t go wild for the tray of scallops being passed around any given event.
I get a lot of, “You’re kosher? What? Why?!!” or, “Wait, seriously? I haven’t known anyone other than my grandmother to not answer their phone on Shabbat—that’s so old school.” It used to burn a little when I’d hear those things. Why are we so different, anyway? Just because I’m Orthodox? We probably went to camp together.
Actually, I hate these labels. Saying “I’m Orthodox” sounds as dumb as claiming to be dairy-free as a result of my lactose intolerance. I mean, sometimes I am. Some days I’m knee deep in pizza, but I’m not a blind name attached to a movement—I’m an individual, one who has the intention of fulfilling as many mitzvot (commandments) as are realistically attainable to me in my lifetime. Some are easier than others, some are literally impossible with the current state of affairs and history, and some… well, I’m not a perfect soul… just a soul on a journey to do the best it can for this little fragment of time.
And I want to be super clear: I don’t think anyone doing any less or more mitzvot is better or worse than me. I’m a huge believer that for the most part, we’re all on sort of parallel journeys—different paths that all *hopefully* head to the same place. So if you’re eating a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel right now, you do you, just don’t judge me for doing me.
I can only speak from personal experience, but it’s been the casual I’ll-meet-you-for-brunch-at-a-restaurant-on-Shabbat Jews who have judged me the most—or pretended that my spirituality must just be a phase. When I have my email auto responder up for the High Holidays, I end up coming back to dozens of emails like, “Wow, I didn’t even know you stopped answering emails for the shofar!” Literal lolz for that, and typically I just respond with laugh/cry emojis.
And now you’re probably wondering, if I do all the Shabbat stuff and go through the trouble and added expense of keeping kosher, why I don’t just cover my head and my knees with a long skirt?
I want to give you a big, long-winded answer. I want to tell you there’s a line in the Talmud that says technically I don’t have to. The reality is, I don’t know.
What I do know is that every time I learn more about the deeper, sacred parts of Judaism that tend not to be discussed in open forums (like the internet, sigh), my soul pushes forward. I love it. It makes me a better mom, a nicer wife (I mean, it’s easy to be cranky living and working with three kids in NYC—being nice is really underrated), a more engaged friend, and even a wiser business person.
Every time I learn something new, I reach to learn more. When I learned about the way Jews see animal souls as important and worthy of careful preparation measures, it was easier for me to connect to the importance of keeping kosher, instead of thinking, “This is just the way it’s always been done for us.” It’s never as simple as don’t-bathe-a-baby-in-its-mother’s-milk. It’s never as simple as don’t-let-other-men-see-your-hair. There’s deep-seeded wisdom behind all the mitzvot, and they take years and years to learn. Lifetime. Often several lifetimes.
So sure, I want to do as many mitzvot as I possibly can, but I want to learn about each and every one on a truly meaningful level before getting there. So that’s where I am—I basically haven’t hit the books and rabbinical one-on-one classes hard enough to get past Mikveh 101, Intermediate Niddah, or Advanced Kashrut yet, and I still have to balance all this with my very visual and on-camera life.
Does that mean an Orthodox-looking girl can’t be successful in media and business? Definitely not. Anything is possible, and I’m also a huge believer that confidence will take you everywhere you want to go in life. But my lack of education in the world of tznius, or modesty, that includes head covering and fashion laws, leaves me feeling generally less than 100% confident in my ability to rise to the top.
Is that lame? Possibly. But it’s honest.
So yes, I love being observant because I understand the value of each tradition I follow—but I still love the ability to float anonymously through the world. When I travel, people assume I’m Greek, Italian, Armenian, Arab, or just about any other light olive-skinned variety of human out there.
I can see from where I stand that there’s a huge strength in giving up that anonymity—and with the current world climate, I’d go as far as calling it bravery. I may get there one day, or not. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ll keep studying and growing—yes, in my pajama pants—and I’ll see where it takes me.