Driving along the road full of familiar shops and the cadence of afflicted accents I’ve tried to lose, I felt both warm and empty.

I’m not sure if there’s a reason for either. On the surface charedi/frum/chassidish life seems so inviting, right? A community spirit. Built-in friends with multiple siblings. Shabbos. Sameness. But the lacking of anything different, or tolerance of anything different, is stifling. Your community shrinks if you are unsuccessful at finding a shidduch, friends grow up and on while you stagnate single and childless. Sameness dampens the variety which makes life a bit more interesting. Shabbos, with all its rules and regulations from toilet paper to childrens’ toys, becomes a prison rather than a pause the rigors of daily life.

I wish it were easy to let go of the misplaced warmth that I feel as well. The glow of shabbos candles. The taste of chulent. Hugging my children into my body when shabbos comes in. A sense of camaraderie with people you see on the street that walk, talk and act the same as you. A lack of choices or deviation from the norm can be so easy because living in the “real world” is tough and tricky to navigate. Do I shake his hand? Do I dare try on a pair of jeans? There’s familiarity and safety in the mundane and choiceless.

I drove out of the shtetl that was once so familiar, and into the civilization I’ve come to embrace. The torn feeling is so acute it makes it difficult to think of anything else. I’m grateful I can think and choose and feel, but then I catch myself wishing I didn’t discover a different way of life and doing all those in the first place.


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