How to Lose Your Faith and Keep Your Friends

how to lose your faith and keep your friends

I am one of the few lucky ones. I have my husband and my children on this journey with me. I have my family who loves and accepts me. I have learned to connect with the people I love in ways that don’t hurt. We talk about life and feelings and our shared past and our interests and the weather when there’s not much else to say. We don’t talk about religion and we try to avoid politics. I know pain and disappointment linger in the cracks of our relationships but I try my best to be open, loving and understanding. I can love you even if you hate my choices. And I know you love me even though you hate my choices.

Friends are not family.

But I am still one of the lucky ones.

This one is for you, my friend.


You choose your friends.

You find your common ground and you hang out in the same places and have similar schedules that make it impossible to do anything together on any random night.

You save your friendships for the end of the week.

Your friends are in the same social circle you wander around, even if you are always on the outskirts and they are in the center.

You meet in shul or outside the shul and you invite each other over for Shabbat meals. You sit in the park while your kids run around and you catch up. You talk about your life and your feelings and your kids and your politics and your interests and your religion and you feel connected.

You form friendships out of a religious belief even though you have come to realize that the people behind the label mean more to you than the belief you may or may not share. And you treasure your friends so you think about them when you think about what you may or may not believe.

You need to put yourself first so you make some decisions and you walk off a cliff. Your friends don’t know because you didn’t tell them you were planning on hurtling through the air with a wall of rocks to your right and vast open air to your left. There might be a body of water beneath the clouds you are plummeting through. Maybe not. Your friends don’t know so they don’t know you survived.

You decide not to go to shul anymore and so you don’t see your friends quite as often. You take off your head covering and someone raises an eyebrow. You start disappearing from school pickup because you are going through too much to explain to other people. You make some uncomfortable comments about rabbis. You show up at the park on Shabbat in weekday clothes.

Then you write some blog posts and think about the last time you got together at a friend’s house for a Friday night meal.

You survived but you’re not unscathed.

You go back to the park on Shabbat afternoon because you crave something you didn’t know you ever had.

You find that you can still connect with your friends as long as you don’t address the elephant you dragged into the room. You talk about your life and your feelings and your kids and your politics and your interests and sometimes even religion.

But you want to talk about the elephant because the weight of it is slowly draining you and you can’t keep pretending it isn’t there.

Then you find yourself in the park and you are with your friend and you are talking about the elephant and it is shrinking because your friend is talking about it with you.

And you realize that you can lose your faith and keep your friends if you have the kind of friends like mine.


The feelings expressed above are rooted in my personal experiences. No two stories are alike, but we can find similarities in our journeys. Have you ever felt this way about a friendship? Let me know in the comments below.

A Stroll Through a Lifetime

I need to preface this blog post with a bit of an explanation as well as an apology. I have been toying with an idea for a while now. I did not know how to begin until today when I was struck by the love and understanding I have for the ultra-Orthodox world my husband and I left in stages over the past four years. During our process, we searched for anything relating to what we were going through and found that our situation seemed to be different than most.

Firstly, we had been raised Orthodox and had, because of different issues with abuse and an anger I can only classify as rage, acted out in extreme behaviors. Our adolescent years were spent rejecting religion, but also rejecting social norm while indulging in irrational and destructive habits. When we grew up enough to marry and start a family, we shed ourselves of the emotional burdens we had accumulated and embraced religion wholeheartedly. Our 20s brought reflection and philosophy so that when we decided to leave Orthodoxy, it was with thought and quite a lot of cautious compartmentalizing. We had to constantly check in with our emotions to ensure that our decisions were not tied up in feelings. When we did finally make our exit, we did so with an understanding of where our emotions lay and where our conscious led us. How that felt is the subject for a different post.

The second difference we saw was that we were making this choice with children old enough to understand. It was so difficult to factor them in. We looked for other families and could not find anyone open to talk or write about it. We spent an entire year weighing every factor carefully and included our children’s thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, they were given a vote before we took any action.

I really wanted to document the different struggles we went through as a family and individually. I feel that there are other families out there who are in a similar boat we were in and are searching, as we did, for someone to share their experience. I didn’t want to write another OTD blog full of resentment and I also didn’t want to write a theological blog sourcing every move with the research we did and intellectualizing our experience.

In one five-minute walk to the bus stop, I found the tone I would like to take. The breadth of emotion I felt as I walked through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood at my doorstep floored me. I have so many conflicting feelings and they played a huge part in everything we went through. I’d like my voice to come from my heart and remain personal. If someone can relate to it, I hope that it will help them find expression and in no way influence the decisions they are grappling with.

Before I begin, I would like to publicly apologize to those who will be hurt by my story. I love so much of what I left behind and would never want to destroy the relationships we’ve worked hard to rebuild. Hearts and souls were put into creating us. If you had any hand in teaching us, loving us or lifting us up out of the mud, know that we understand you have every right to be disappointed that we rejected your beliefs and traditions. We love and respect you. We needed to do this for us and as much as it hurts, we understand that there is a part of you that can never accept that. I know the idea of publicizing what you believe to be intimate is difficult for you. I respect that, although I wish you would look past your discomfort and try to understand my point of view. I try to keep an open mind when I encounter your thoughts and feelings and wish only for you to do the same. I wish this didn’t hurt you and I am sorry it is at my hand. Thank you for loving me despite this.

With all that said, here is the beginning of a reflection that may never end.


Today I need to take the bus to the other side of the city.

It is a five-minute walk from my house to the bus stop.

I turn right at the corner and walk into the crack between my timeline and the one I left behind.

I pass a school and hear the recorded voices of little girls set to the beat of a solitary drum. It is the camp theme song. They must have recorded a few and multiplied each voice so it sounds like a choir of hundreds.

I am reminded that it is now the three weeks. The girls will make sure to keep the mood somber even as they skip and play. No one will attempt to travel or jump from a too high rock into too shallow water. Everyone knows someone who had an accident during this time.

The girls are wearing blue skirts I can feel against my legs as I adjust my jeans. My pleats never managed to stay down and my hems liked to droop. I can feel the zipper, stuck again, and the pin that always opened and pricked my side. My throat constricts a little and I glance at the collars of the crisp button-down opaque white shirts. The top button closes against my neck. I will wait until I am alone to defy it and expose the bone it conceals.

I steal one more glance at the girls milling about the schoolyard. There is longing in my gaze.

My hand reaches to feel my bare neck. I trace the outline of my loose cotton t-shirt. I am relieved to feel my skin as I inhale and move on.

Now I hear the sounds of boys learning in unison. I find my lips turning up in a gentle smile. I know the beauty of this singsong. My eyes have welled at the sight of torch-bearing children leading a canopy swarmed with joyous men down a street lined with women and girls. Sitting with my legs dangling, my fingers sticky sweet, I’ve watched the dancing blur circle over and over again. The pride when someone I knew held the sacred scroll jolts me forward on my two-minute walk towards the bus.

A woman scurries past me pushing a stroller. She is wearing a black scarf and a black blouse with a pleated black skirt. Her stockings are three shades darker than the color of her skin and her shoes are sensible and comfortable. I see the little flash of pink in her ears and the small floral pin fastened to her collar. I smile as our eyes meet. She turns her head away and quickens her pace. She doesn’t seem to see the recognition in my eyes. She doesn’t see me as familiar because I look like a stranger to them now.

I have less than a minute left on my walk. I notice the men looking down and the wide eyes of passing children. I see the garbage in the streets. I smell the heat wafting up from the layers of clothing.

But the songs are still stuck in my head.

My heart sees this world as I pass through. It feels it’s beat. It hears the sounds and can taste the comfort. My heart sometimes sees this world more objectively than I do.

My mind reminds my heart to settle.

I will always see the beauty. I will always feel the love and warmth of that world.

The further away I go, the fewer details I see. I am not the little boy cowering from his teacher. I am not the little girl pulling up her socks in resentment. I am not getting touched in the classroom or in the basement. I am not standing before judgment at all times. I am not hiding in an alley with a cigarette and then going back to shul for the blessing over endless whiskey. I am not sitting with a man who calls himself rabbi as he is telling me that he is sexually attracted to me because all men are sexually attracted to girls, even if they are fifteen years old. I am not defiant and angry because my dreams were denied me. I am not holding on to what could have been. I am not the details anymore.

The crack between the worlds closes up behind me as the doors of the bus open and I climb on board.

I sit down wearily.

Five minutes takes a lifetime.

13 Years

We stand under the canopy separated by the discomfort we feel at the display.

You are wearing the uniform of a team you don’t really play for. Your hair is cut according to someone else’s taste. Even your shoes are a stranger’s style.

I am in white for the first time in my life. My face is covered by a thick veil that holds significance to other people. I hate that I cannot see you.

We stand in the stifling heat and we listen to people bless and pray us into our future.

You break a glass; we sip the wine.

You grab my hand and we run towards a few moments of privacy.

I am in your arms and we are happy because we are alone and also happy that we are certified now and they approve and also dreading the rituals and the obligations we are about to face.

But we are together so we can draw strength from the power we found when we became us.

We are so young. We are so desperate for acceptance. We will do anything to prove our love is the right kind of love…the kind that we were raised to believe in…the kind that builds the acceptable kind of family…the continuation of the Jewish bloodline…the kind of future our ancestors would be proud of.

So we face the hundreds of people who have come to witness this return to the fold. We dance on opposite sides of a curtain. We wash our hands for bread and we make the blessings with all the truth we can muster because we are determined to begin our future the way we have been brought up to believe is the only way.

We are happy.

We are together so we are happy.

We make meals and we invite friends and we beam and we pray and we hope and we continue to love as we become the adults our parents prayed we would be.

We lose a child and we thank God.

We are happy because we are together.

I immerse every month and I pray and you slip away as you doubt and then I slip away as I doubt and then we are staring at a little girl and we are so in love and so happy and so together.

Our love looks different from what we saw love to be so we think maybe it’s not the right kind of love but she loves our love so it has to be right. She laughs and sings as we hold her between us and dance to songs we were kept sheltered from when we were babies. She knows Led Zeppelin and Santana and grows to idolize Queen even as I adjust my head covering and you grow your beard long and your side-locks even longer.

We are unconventional and learning to be fine with that.

We move closer to our family and we think our little life is so normal and then we see that our way doesn’t match their way and we feel isolated and unsure.

We are so in love that I hurt when you hurt and you choose me when I hurt and so you lose people.

We are happy because we are together.

We are back in our homeland because we have found out that family cannot replace the soil where our roots grow deep.

I am flat in bed while you work all day and we are poor and we are getting angry and we are stuck because we are so in love that when we aren’t together we are scraping at our skin and bleeding ourselves to death but our love is standing against the fears of our youth that are shaking our foundation.

Now we are five minus one and we are broken and complete and we are ready to face things because we know it is time for our love to expand into our days so that we can build on us and not them.

I shave my head because the noose is tightening and you stroke my cheek and untie the cloth that proclaims my allegiance.

You torment your soul and bare it before me and I squeeze your hand and promise you forever.

We are slowly moving away from everyone else and closer to each other and even though we are scared we know we can’t lose.

We are happy because we are together even when we are alone.

The air is heating up around us and is getting heavier so we shake off the chains that bound us and we face the mirror side by side. We know we will become an island if we peel it all off but if we don’t we will become strangers.

We have to be together because we have to be in love.

Our love is stronger than the faith we lost. Our love is accepting and forgiving and we don’t care what anyone else thinks anymore.

But I am falling and gasping for air and you aren’t falling with me because you need to be the one to catch me and your arms reach out the length of two years while I tumble and turn down a rabbit hole I didn’t see coming.

I slam into you and think I broke you because it is taking you so long to stand back up until I realize that my arms are still around your neck. I peel myself from you and you stand me at your side and you slowly lift my shoulders until I can meet your eyes.

We are together and we are crying and we are still happy because we are crying together.

We laugh and dance and sing and cry and rage and lose and grieve and search and change and live together.

We are in love and we are so lucky because we are in love together.


It is 13 years since we stood beneath a canopy and couldn’t see the future.

Happy Anniversary.