For the past ten days I’ve been a participant in a “Nourish Your Soul Telesummit.” Each day I’d get an email, and a posting in its corresponding Facebook group, that a new interview was up and available for listening. Each day one interview would broadcast. The interviews were conducted over the phone by professional storyteller Devorah Spillman and broadcaster Joelle Norwood. They featured ten inspired and inspiring Jewish women. Each morning on my daily walk I’d click over and listen. Today was the last one and the interviewers became the interviewees.
I didn’t have time for Joelle’s yet (tomorrow’s walk!) but Devorah said something that jarred me so deeply, and it affects everything I do, especially here on the blog, that I’m so grateful for how she crystallized it for me.
Devorah is a professional storyteller, and storyseller. She helps others tell their stories in the corporate world in order to achieve greater heights in their respective fields. One thing she said today was that the old corporate brand involved people’s stories. The small mom-and-pop shop on the corner had its story; the milkman had a story. That story created bonds and relationships and was a strong emotional component in why people supported businesses.
Then corporate went big – think K-mart, WalMart, Best Buy, Amazon. The new brand involved whitewashing our stories. Leaving our stuff at home when we walk through that corporate door. Faceless stores that are all the same no matter which city you’re in (greeter notwithstanding). The story of WalMart is not one, when it’s told, that we find inspiring. We find it distasteful. We ignore the story so we can shop the low prices without feeling too much of a pinch. We order books on Amazon instead of buying them at the local bookstore whose owners send their kids to our kids’ schools because we’re Prime members – and we close our ears to the story so we can maintain our cognitive dissonance.
But Devorah maintains that the pendulum is once again swinging. Joelle piped in that at Lululemon the associates wear little bios on their tags (“Lisa has two dogs and a child and loves chocolate”) to humanize them – a snippet of their stories. Think of Sheryl Sandberg’s story in her recent bestseller Lean In. As the CEO of Facebook, many people appreciated her story, even while disagreeing with many concepts in her book, and even while hating Facebook as a big business sticking its nose into our habits and tracking everything about us! The story humanized her, and, shortly after, when her young husband died suddenly and tragically, people everywhere mourned for her. She had become a person with a story, not just a faceless CEO to hate.
Over the last few days I’ve been embroiled in several difficult online conversations about why Orthodox kids leave observance. One of the main points that resonated with me is that kids who are struggling with their faith or observance have a deep, visceral hatred for anything that smacks of hypocrisy or dishonesty. Teens in general are incredibly sensitive to this, especially smart, thoughtful ones, but teens in a religious upbringing bring this tendency to how they think and feel about religion.
I think we’ve been making a mistake about our stories.
This blog started four years ago as a response to the “tell-all exposes” about how awful religion is. I wanted people to know my story – that I grew up Orthodox, liked it, am treated well, am respectful of others, and am proud and empowered as a religious woman today – because I didn’t feel enough people like me were telling my story. I didn’t think my story was being told, or told well. I realized that it wasn’t as interesting a story as those who are dissatisfied – it never will be – but I wanted to tell it.
But when you look back at the early posts, they are one-dimensionally positive. And this is starting to bother me. Because that’s not the whole truth. I have nuanced thoughts about religion, and specifically about how it’s observed. Maybe it’s kind of like when your kids are little and ask the tough questions, and you give them short, abridged answers, because they’re too little to handle more. And when they get older, you’ll give them more, and when they’re teens you can have real and honest conversations about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Maybe this blog is growing up, then.
One of the reasons I’ve sort of fizzled out in my desire to publish my posts into an e-book is because I’m uncomfortable with some of my earlier posts. I’ve deleted some that really gave me angst, but the content, tone, and writing are not so reflective of who I am anymore. I struggle, in general, with what to share, with whom, and how much. Sometimes I edit too much and sometimes too little.
But I don’t want to present, in Devorah’s words, a whitewashed me. I want to present my real story. That sometimes observance is hard. Sometimes I feel marginalized as a woman. Sometimes people I love and respect act racist. There is good Hasidism and bad Hasidism; yeshivish people who are impassioned, inspired, and selfless, and yeshivish people who are, in the words of a friend, vacuous narcissists; Modern Orthodox people who are on fire about Judaism and Israel, and those who are just lazy. That I believe passionately in a God who loves us but admit that we don’t always do a good job conveying that to our kids. That I pray often but not enough and don’t always know where my prayers are going. That sometimes I do things out of habit and sometimes to impress others and sometimes out of guilt.
That I will continue to live and share, and tell my story.
That it is imperfect and messy and sticky.
That I believe, with a perfect faith, that God loves me in all my imperfection.
Thanks for listening.
I love this post. That is all.
I had a feeling you might 🙂
Dear Ruchi,you have enriched our lives with your honesty. and candour.May you always have a blessed story to tell us
Thank you Gavin, for all your kind words.
Wow, just wow! I really admire your ability to see nuance…it's something I challenge myself with too.
Thank you tesyaa. I appreciate that.
I am so glad you are part of my 'journey'(echhhh……don't like that word, but can't think of an alternative right now)….your blog has been part of it since my start, coming up to four years ago. So this wee baal teshuvah away over on the east coast of Scotland is very grateful to have your thoughts and wisdom and honesty. Hugs and purrs
Thanks Alex. You've helped me at least as much as I've helped you.
How wonderful! I wouldn't get rid of the early posts. They're who you were in that moment. Stories and people evolve. I find you inspirational 🙂 Kol hakavod! Chani
So… I actually only deleted one, but have considered deleting or editing others. Thanks for your viewpoint, though – it's a good one.
Thanks for being real and not whitewashing it! I think there is certainly a need for someone who loves Judaism to also share her challenges. I love the "evolution" of Ruchi. Looking forward to continue being inspired by you and for the next post!
Thanks Chaya. We all evolve, right? You're an inspiration to me as well. I'm glad you're in my life.
Kogaion Posted on Daca exista securisti injurati de floarea intelighentiei dar si securisti presedinti ovationati de aceiasi telectuali de estrada, asa cum fosti laudatori ai comunismului au ajuns sa dea lectii de moralitate capitalista, daca termopanele, brichetele si pixurile lui Nastase sunt mai de condamnat decat talharirea banului public de catre madamele ritzi si udrea, tot asa se poate spune ca traseistii ajunsi in famiglia oranj sunt manati de dragostea de tara si de popor in timp ce toti ceilalti nu sunt decat niste tradatori fara rusine.
Ruchi, I this post is great! I am also hitting a point in my journey where I have no choice but to really seek out the inner truth, and accept the reality that sometimes that truth doesn't look like a neat, positive package. I am forever grateful that Hashem has put you in my life to stand as a role model for living an authentic life. Your determination to stay connected to Him no matter what is proof of your bravery and inner strength. Thank you for being there, and for sharing your story.
Thanks Rachel! The older I get the more I wonder why I ever thought it was simple, or that the package even existed. Embracing the messiness is a relief.
I agree with Anonymous above–please undelete the early posts that now feel "off" to you! If the blog "grows up" those posts are still part of it! This post makes me want to go back and read them and think about them, and now I can't do that. Also, how do I find the online conversations, or are they private?
I think the mixed feelings you show here, without wavering in your belief, are amazing and fascinating to read about. Thanks for writing this.
As I said above, I only actually deleted one, and have also deleted a few drafts that never published. Unfortunately they are not retrievable.
Here's one article my peers and I were buzzing about: https://www.ou.org/jewish_action/08/2015/why-are-so-many-kids-off-the-derech/
I happen to think it's an awful article.
Anyway, you're the queen of nuance and you've given me a lot to think about in that department. Xo
Fantastic! Very raw and real and authentic about where you've been holding back.
"Don't confuse Jews with Judaism." While not plainly said, I realize now that was the underlying message of my childhood. My parents spent nearly every day undoing incorrect messages taught by well-meaning but off-base educators; quantifying that the value of a Jew is not in his garb but in his private observance; delving into the ancient written sources to show that just because "this is how it is done now" does not mean it is as it should be.
The world of observance is messy, flourishes and flails, has its strengths and weaknesses. That is where bein adam l'chaveiro lies, where our tolerance and empathy require emphasis—the Jews themselves. Have I been mistreated in the name of religion? There have been times. But I have also been welcomed in the name of religion. I would argue that in the former case, the root cause is suffering self-esteem (which I can understand and hopefully forgive), whereas in the case of the latter, it was those who took Hashem's words to heart.
In the area of bein adam l'Makom, there is no need to whitewash—that is Judaism.
Well said, Princess. As usual. Can you further explain your last sentence though?
As your last paragraph seems to say, most issues with observance have to do with other Jews—how they behave, what they believe. I didn't get the vibe from your post that you are questioning God so much, but have frustration with other Jews. So you aren't whitewashing the issues of observance, it's more chafing against how others talk to you and treat you while claiming to be behaving religiously. Am I right, or totally off base?
You ARE right, but I wasn't sharing even that kind of nuance.
Great post Ruchi.
I agree with the other commentators who asked that you "undelete"/restore the earlier posts! ALL your posts – in all their variety of flavors – allow others to access and be inspired by your growth and your ongoing story. Your candor, honesty and willingness to relate to the difficult aspects of life make this blog refreshing and uplifting. You demonstrate how to keep going despite – or perhaps because of – the painful elements of existence. On the flip side, the happy, positive posts are no less a part of the richness of your experience. They reveal the underlying faith and unwavering determination to grow that is so evident in who you are. Please bring them back – the whole "you" – the happy/positive part and the part that struggles – is the real "you." And that's what makes OOTOB so unique, thought-provoking, real and refreshing.
Thanks Shira! True. Each facet is the real me. Just learned a lesson this morning in self esteem and being humble: to be able to hold your strengths and weaknesses together in your mind at the same time.
You have good stories. They are worth telling. Every story we tell is edited in some way. When the edits are good, the overall story is "more true" than even perhaps the original event. Your older posts are true and these newer posts are also true. Your positive experiences do not make other people's negative experiences untrue and vice-versa — their negative experiences do not make your positive ones untrue either.
We can't live other people's lives. You can't leave traditional religion simply because someone else is deeply unhappy with it and they may not be able to join you there simply because you are happy there. Fortunately, thank g-d, we don't need to make these decisions for other people.
When you represent a community you love, there is an understandable desire to show that community in its best light. When you represent a minority community that is often misunderstood, it makes sense that it does not feel safe to show all of its faults because they are going to seen through a negative filter.
There is a trick to people who listen well — they bring less of themselves to the conversation. In that space, they take in more of you. Real communication involves tsimtsum — making space for the other person and their story.
I don't think all conflicts can be solved by real communication — sometimes there is only one tallit and two people are both claiming it as their own. But most things can be improved by real communication. Both the early blog and the later blog are real communication.
You can add comments to your own posts, giving them more depth and nuance. I would not delete them.
I love your idea of adding comments instead of deleting the posts!
I also love that suggestion. Now I'm thinking of going back and doing that! Also love what you said that good edits create a truer story. Hm.
I think the positivity in the earlier posts was simply the way you saw things. The negative aspects that you now want to express are mainly human failings. Weren't the positive remarks how you saw Judaism in principle? I don't remember your ever saying that all Orthodox Jews are perfect; the implication was always that you loved Judaism.
That's true. Good distinction.
I don't understand all the elements in the article you linked to but I can easily see that it is OUTRAGEOUS. Enough with parent-blaming and disability-shaming!! This guy has a lot of nerve. ADD plus bad parents makes kids non-religious? I have no horse in that particular race, but it sounds like a crock.
You and I are both in situations with our kids where "atypical" development has historically and sometimes still been blamed on parents. My experience has been humbling–really bad things can happen in kids' development, and there are a constellation of factors, and no one in particular is to blame, and blaming is not constructive anyway. Causality is complicated.
Sorry if you have to read or deal with this author on a long-term basis!
The post was almost universally repudiated.
I'm the first to admit that parental discord can cause kids to suffer – and in religious teens, an unhealthy emotional life will usually lead to a loss of faith. But wow! You can't go and correlate in the reverse – kid ditches religion = parents' fault. There are 1000 reasons why a kid might choose to leave religion, some of which is our fault as a community and some of which is kids having free will. Often as I said "the community" isn't honest enough. The best parent will love his kid unconditionally no matter what they choose or how they "perform" – religiously, academically, emotionally, mentally.
I wrote about that here:
I haven't commented here in a long while…but I have been reading…and I thank you for what you write here. My eyes will always be critical because of my story, but your story has the potential to paint a real picture, one where you see all of it..and can navigate through things with an open, honest eye.
I would love to read your story, your essence…and add it to the perspectives I try to remember when my story clouds my vision.
As for the kids…let us tell our story. Believe me…it is never why you think it is…
CS, I continue to read your blog as well, though it remains a painful read. I do this because I want to know your story. I want to hear it, when and where it's being told. Thanks for hanging with me.
Thank you so much for such an open post. Whereas my love of Hashem and Judaism runs deep I also have times where I question, doubt and become angry.
This is one of my most favorite posts from you. I struggle in the same way in terms of how I write about Judaism. I know that I also overly positive because I don't want to be one more voice adding to the choir of what already gets so much negative attention. I feel that I too whitewash any questions or negative feelings I have about certain customs (because really they are not in the Torah just adopted later). I'd love to write, for example, a piece about how in some ways I'd love to take on dressing more modestly (not that I reallly "immodest" by most standards). What stops me is that even if I were to always wear longer skirts, for example, it would be "modest enough" without stockings. And if I were to wear sandals, does that negate the skirt? If my head is not covered, does the fact that I am wearing a long sleeve and skirt count? You see what I mean? But I have never written that piece because I don't like to open the door to nasty comments saying how judgmental "the O" can be, etc. I don't want to egg people on. Should I write it? I have other examples like that . . . So yeah, I loved this post and sorry to write this novel in response. 😉
Write it! Please?
That's a perfect example of what's wrong with all this judging! It stops people from observing more even when they would like to.
But I agree that there are so many "complaining about Orthodox Judaism" blogs that you have to be careful how you do it or you won't be heard the way you want.
Are sandals considered immodest? I guess they would just look strange with stockings, is that the problem?
There's a range of "modesty" standards when it comes to exposing skin. Pretty much all Orthodox agree that legs should be covered till the knee, with a skirt, but after that there's a range. Some also cover the lower leg, some wear socks or stockings all the time, some will wear flip-flops/sandals and show their (cute) toes.
Thank you for this post. Thank you for your transparency, your courage, and your honesty. I have blogged before and I felt trapped by the "theme" of my blog, that I was to be this persona who was funny or happy all the time, and I found when my children entered their teen years and my parents their twilight years, I could no longer pretend that everything was great. The contrast between what I was writing and what I was living became too stark. I lost my voice somewhere in there. I'm happy to hear yours again.
Love. And thank you for saying it:)