One of the cool parts of being a
rich and famous blogger personality mostly unknown Orthodox girl who started a blog is that people contact me to promote their stuff on my blog. Some of it is absolutely not a fit for this blog (can you say Bible Revisionism? are people actually READING the blog before they send me stuff?) but some is just completely fun. Like when I get sent free books to read and review. Especially when they’re relevant, fresh, funny…and totally in synch with the blog.
Example: Let My RV Go, a new novel by Nicole Nathan.
The premise of the novel is two BT families, who, while trying to escape the cold Canadian weather as well as the pressures of organized Orthodox society, take two RVs down south to handle Passover their own way. Alo
ng their journey they examine different attitudes toward fitting in, standing out, dealing with what they actually believe, and rejection of their secular pasts. Rereading that, it sounds really heavy, but actually,
the light and funny tone makes the messages so much more palatable.
But what really stands out in this cute and interesting book is the honesty. Most books written for Orthodox audiences, which this is, judging by the publishing house chosen and language and references used, excise all mentions of pop culture and women in bikinis and being okay with not fitting in and wistful reminiscences of previous secular pasts – for good reason. If religious kids are going to read these things, we want them to encounter good examples and not be given ambivalent messages about religious life. But here it totally works, and it’s brave. And I like it.
At one point in the book, Pauline, the narrator, who just can’t seem to “fit in,” and is always trying to contain her curly red hair under some sort of head covering, sits in the laundry room of an RV park with her counterpart and foil, Julie. She observes:
Looking over at Julie, I wonder if she and I will ever be close friends. Julie is devoutly mouthing words written by King David some 2,800 years ago and I just can’t take it. How can she be so devout and focused all the time? How did she switch over to being religious so easily, so completely, without ever looking back? She never talks about her past, but I’ve heard stories from Mike. He once told us she used to be a dancer who leaped and twirled across North America and Europe performing raw emotion… and now, the only form of expression I can see are her lips mouthing the powerful, timeless words of King David.
I wonder if she misses her dancing days, her travels, her freedom. All these years, I’ve been afraid to ask because she may realize that I’m sinecure about my own beliefs….
This is a journey Pauline takes during the book, and at the end, says, “I’m pleased with myself for being so upfront about our incongruence. I’ve always been aware that I don’t fit into the traditional frum box, yet now I’m actually being open about it and I don’t feel embarrassed.”
The Berkowitzes and the Shapiros, the two families on this little RV getaway, represent the two ways BTs handle organized, contemporary frum culture. Way one: fit in at all costs, wear the garb, do as the frummies do, and you’ll be okay. Way two: be yourself, be the best Jew you know how to be, fit in enough that you’re kids aren’t dying, but don’t check your personality at the door. What’s cool about this book is that it doesn’t make the mistake of having these two families be stereotypes. They are real people. They and spouses are not always in the same place. They are miffed by the “religious” folks questioning their kosher status, but the book doesn’t make those religious folks bad guys. Julie, the “fit in” girl, hasn’t changed her name to Chaya Gitty. See?
Here’s why the author wrote the book, from her website:
…I am ba’alat teshuva, becoming observant some fifteen years ago. Turning my life inside out and my kitchen upside down was not easy. It was deeply satisfying and meaningful, but it was often hard work. As I entered the religious world, I became aware that Observant Jews are cautious of the secular world, while secular Jews often misunderstand the Orthodox. We all bring our own perceptions and misconceptions. This results in the creation of two thickly lined boxes containing us and them. Becoming religious, I also became aware of the enormous rift between the two worlds. What does a ba’al teshuvah do? Should he simply break out of his box by forgetting his past and then try to mold himself the new box? Or, should he carve his own space outside of the box? …In the novel, I wanted to explore this rift in a way that readers on both sides could see each other in an honest and light-hearted way. And hopefully, they would be able to understand each other better.
My only critique is they have four little kids who seem remarkably easy to handle… it almost made me wanna RV myself one day.
If you are a BT, what has been your struggle with fitting in/maintaining yourself?
And if you’re a prospective one, has the prospect seemed daunting?