Dear Ruchi,
family currently lives 7 miles from the Chabad shul that we attend, so we drive to/from
Shabbos services (though we do park at the church across the street).
Our son doesn’t wear a yarmulke on a daily basis. We have a television
in our home and our kids watch appropriate shows on a limited basis. Our
home is not kosher (yet!). The point is, clearly, we are not Orthodox
and I’m not sure that we ever will be. We are not prepared to sell our
home and move closer to the shul so that we can walk to Shabbos
services.  Also, because there are so many rules/laws/customs, I am
overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to begin.
of that said, can we ever really become a part of the Orthodox
community? Everyone has been very nice, but there’s a big difference
between being nice and being inclusive. Will it ever be OK for me to
invite an Orthodox child to our home for a playdate (with reassurance
that I will serve food on paper plates and will not mix milk/meat…I’m
sure there are other things that I would need to do, but I have no idea
what that might be!)?
I be able to actually become friends with some of these women or is it
frowned upon to have non-Orthodox friends because of the difference in
lifestyle? I met a very nice woman at the weekly Kabbalah café and would
like to see if she’d like to meet for coffee, but I’m not sure if
that’s acceptable because I doubt that Starbucks is kosher?? I don’t
want to put her in the awkward position of having to say “no,” so I just
haven’t asked.
guess what I’m really asking is are we ever going to be “Jewish
enough”? And how do I even begin to learn all of the customs that I
would need to learn in order to fit in better? I have asked if there is a
class for people wanting to become BT, but it isn’t offered here. My
husband manages better than I do because of his upbringing,
but it’s hard to say to him “tell me everything I need to know” because
there are a million minutiae (i.e. 39 categories of work prohibited on Shabbat, 613 mitzvot).
For example, he was given the honor of an aliyah last week and had to
say that he couldn’t because he’s a Levite and the Levites had already
had an aliyah (so he held/carried the Torah instead). The point is, I’d
never even heard anything remotely like that before and would have been
honored to accept, which would have been wrong (I realize that as a
woman, this wouldn’t happen, but it’s an example of how little I know).
How can I raise observant Jewish children when I know so little? I feel
like I need a brain transplant or something. 🙂
I know no one in the Orthodox
community and have so many questions and concerns. I want to “get it
right” for our children because this is important to me. If we can never
be accepted, then does it make sense to join this congregation? I would
welcome your honest thoughts and feedback.

Dear Lauren,
You’ve touched on many different points here in your email, so I will just address them in the order you’ve asked.
1. It’s unclear to me whether you are interested in becoming more observant/Orthodox, but are deterred because of social/logistical obstacles, or you just don’t see yourself ever following all those restrictions.  Do you believe in the heart of Orthodox philosophy?  Do you wish you could be more observant, but lament the obstacles, or do you feel a sense of relief that you’re not?
2. I’m also a bit confused because you say on the one hand that you’ve met a few people that you’d like to further your social relationships with, and that you do attend the Chabad shul on occasion, but later state that you don’t know anyone in the Orthodox community.  Do you mean you know them casually but not well enough to ask these “loaded” questions to?  Are you friends with these acquaintances on any level?
3. Would it be OK for you to invite over an Orthodox child with attendant reassurances?  The answer is yes!  What a nice invitation!  But truthfully, not everyone will feel comfortable with that – not because they’d suspect you of being duplicitous, G-d forbid, but because if you don’t know the laws really well, it’s pretty easy to make a mistake.  Some families will be OK with it and you’ll have to learn to not take personally the discomfort of those that aren’t.

4.  Ditto with your friendships.  Most people in Chabad communities (I’m not sure if the community is a Chabad one) are very inclusive and are comfortable being friends with various types of Jews.  Other, more insular communities, might be less so.  Here in Cleveland, for example, it would be my Orthodox friends’ pleasure to go out for coffee (Starbucks is always safe – even though there is a controversy involving the Starbuckses that serve non-kosher sandwiches, you can always get a juice or something) with a non-Orthodox friend they met at the gym or something, and especially at a Jewish class or venue.  When I look around at my community, I think the answer to your question about your personal friendships would be a resounding yes.

5. Are you ever going to be Jewish enough?  That’s between you, your husband and G-d – and no one else.  No matter where you are on the spectrum, there will always be some that don’t consider you Jewish enough and some that consider you a fanatic.  Learn to ignore judgmental people on both sides.

6. How can you begin to learn?  If there’s a Chabad shul, I would imagine classes couldn’t possibly be far behind.  There an organization called “Partners in Torah” where you are matched up to a study partner over the phone for a once-a-week study session on any topic of your choice.  It’s free, and amazing.  Look them up.  Is there maybe a community close to yours that has an educational organization for beginners?  Of course, there’s lots of stuff online, but personal connections, relationships, and community are key.  AND finding a rabbi/mentor to guide you in this journey.

7. Regarding brain transplants: you have exactly the brain that G-d wants you to have to fulfill your unique purpose in life!  🙂 

All the best, and wishing you lots of success,

Dear readers,

Would you add anything?  Have you “been there, done that”?