When I left, I left every last piece of my identity behind. I shed knowledge of which bruche to say when, which shoe to put on first and everything in between. It didn’t – and doesn’t – stop me once a month thinking about reaching to wash negel vasser, or utter words under my breath before eating bread. It did stop me from feeling meaning in my “slip-ups” or enjoying the tradition.
My family largely left me alone. There were knocks – bangs really – from the shomrim in the months after I left. I called my brother once or twice to ask after my children without being specific about where I was. When I moved closer to my family, I started reaching out more. A meeting with my mother, a curt phone call with my sister. I was cut off from them physically and emotionally, with what they thought was a mamzer to take care of. I was an embarrassment and shame they didn’t want near an unsullied family.
Slowly – and we’re talking about over the course of years – it got better. I was “allowed” for shabbos. As long as I put together an acceptably tzniusdig outfit and pretended to have no hair under my hastily wrapped tichel, I was tolerated. My mother, much to a sister’s protestations, started bringing me back in. I grew in my yiddishkeit again. I started caring about traditions, wanting to feel a part of the community again. I sought out people who I could have kosher food with.
It’s not entirely true that I wanted to be accepted by my family again. I don’t ever want to be a part of the vacuum they choose to live in. But… I want my family. I want to see my children play with their cousins, I want my parents to experience the lovely people my children are growing up to be.
I don’t know if this is possible any more. My family once again has started shuttering the blinds, drawing the obedient children under protective wings and shooing me away. I am most unwelcome by the people who gave me life during a time of year that supposedly seals the fate of everyone for the next cycle. Where I could dream of sharing the closeness of Rosh Hashona with my children and my extended family, I will make do with a simpler celebration because my family think I’m a poor example to show to innocent minds.
I don’t feel entitled to family; that feeling died a long time ago. It’s the mercurial wavering, the bipolar dance of my parents, that drives me to sobs in the night. I have done so much to put my life and my faith back on track. It doesn’t count. It’s not appreciated. It’s never good enough.
Would you blame me if I left every last bit of yiddishkeit behind? Could you blame me?