The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

The Meaning Of Mumcha

“There should be a movie about it.  With characters like Motti, Duvy…Shmully…not Chasidish, no Joels – just real Boro Park Yeshivish kids.”

I nod.  I’ver heard this before.

“We were punks.  I don’t get it.  What was wrong with us?”

“It wasn’t that bad.  There weren’t turf wars or crack houses.”

“Yeah – but we were lowlives.  I mean, 16 years old, sitting around doing nothing all day, and then going out and doing nothing all night…add the drugs and the drinking…it was a mess.”

He takes another wing.

“Why do you think we go so extreme?”

I think about it for a bit.  It’s a hard concept to sum up over dinner.

“Maybe because when you grow up with religion, you are naturally more extreme.  Not exactly extreme – I guess the word is thorough.  We keep Shabbos fully, Kosher is exacting, and we talk about everything in the context of religion.  So when you leave, you gotta leave it thoroughly.”

He smiles.

“Like how we become druggies who know and understand our drugs thoroughly?”

“Yeah – Gemarakups.”

“The best drugs, the best way to take them, the best guy to get them from…and the most we can get for our money…”

“There’s a different word for it.  You know…what’s that word?”


“Yup – mumcha.  Gotta be a mumcha in the business.  Gotta do things right.”

“That’s pretty funny.  You should write about it.”

Off The Derech

I went off the derech, you know.

I walked it a couple of times.  I kicked the ground where it was soft and beat it where it was hard.  I turned over stones to reveal long-forgotten imprints.  I lifted logs and marveled at the slime and grime.  I stepped in crap, cursed the asshole who dumped in my way and scraped the bottom of my shoe clean with broken glass.  I took a break, sitting down at a crossroads to rest my screwed-up head.  I watched and listened for a long time.

When I had enough of the constant negativity, when I could no longer stand the choking, rigid lines, when I knew not what to believe, when I hated myself for sitting by as an active witness, I got up and I left.

Just like that.


Here I am again, sitting at the crossroads, waiting for that moment to come.  I’m not sure how I landed here again.  I have no idea when I forgot what it was like on this beaten track.  All I know is that not much has changed.  It is the same old story, the same old song, but this time the devil’s here with me.  He’s holding out the contract, asking me what it will be.  The acrid stench of misplaced passions burning reaches me from the east while cold winds of apathy hit me from the west.  I’m torn between my heart and my mind and the pressure is mounting.

The devil waves his fiery pen in front of my gloomy eyes.  I need to tell him now, he is insisting, tempting damnation so persuasively.  I have no choice, I must do something.  I grab the pen and grip it through the searing pain of roasting flesh.  With all the hate that has built on this road of shame, I force the smoldering tip towards his wretched throat.  I split the lies open in one jagged line and watch them pour out, swirling around him unrelenting in their need to be exposed.  He shrivels up and dies without a sound, smoking at my feet at the crossroads he had pirated for so long.

I get up and I leave.

Just like that.