Thank goodness for Google.
Yidden leaving the velt any time before 1998 must have had a much harder and less integrated outlook on what it means to be frei in the 21st century. I shudder to think about my prospects or how my life might have been so very different had I stayed away in the 1990s, not coming back after my parents begged. Would I be successful? Would I be able to function as well now if I didn’t have the internet? I don’t think so.
There are a lot of reasons why I came back, but chief among them was an inability to create an understanding of the new world around me. Sure, if I had stuck around I maybe could have integrated more. Thinking back, it was the single biggest barrier to stay. I had very few marketable skills. My shtetl-infused dialect screamed uneducated, and I didn’t have an ounce of street smarts. I was naïve, I was young, and I made choices I shouldn’t have.
Fast forward over a decade later, and suddenly the world was at my fingertips. I could learn how to talk, learn about job opportunities, learn about music – all in secret. In front of my family, English was rarely spoken. On the internet, I was transported to lecture halls at the greatest universities on the planet. I could learn about history – real history – for the first time in my life and not have it linked back to a Biblical or Jewish event. I practiced under my breath, shedding shtetl layers and training myself to adopt a generic, middle of the road accent.
And the music. My goodness, the music. From the acoustic and nonsensical ramblings of Bob Dylan to the hurt, angry ranting of Eminem, I would listen as often as I could. Some tunes I recognized, stupidly thinking the artists who used them thought our yiddish composers were so great they had to make goyishe versions of their songs. Music was poetry and meaning wrapped into a four minute package. I could lose myself in the lyrics of Adele, lyrics that spoke directly to my neshoma and were the soundtrack of a long, dark winter punctuated with a mass of brightness in my life.
I learned that there were other yidden out there. Searching for meaning, building communities of their own. I devoured blog posts of those who had left and re-read them to form a road map to leave. I found a group close to me, a wonderful, caring, generous group of secular Jews who were willing to help. Wanted to help. Begged to help.
And I finally let them.
Thank G-d for the internet. It saved my life.