Thursday, May 16, 2013

What It's Like To Grow Up In Modern Orthodox Hell

This community is perfect. The wealth, the glamour, the righteousness. Families are flawless. Each member of the community has their fellow Jew’s best interest at heart. I mean, this is East Memphis. This is where Orthodox Jews rule the streets. This is paradise for a modern Orthodox Jew living in America. This should be my utopia, right?


This community is a facade. This community is an aristocracy. This community is riddled with judgemental, self absorbed jackasses who feel the need to analyze what everyone else is doing before correcting their own flaws. No family in Memphis is perfect. There are conflicts everywhere. It’s just that whatever problems there are, people are damn good at concealing the details. Sure, some do look out for their fellow Jews. Unfortunately, though, the overwhelming majority live each moment trying to attain some higher status than their fellow Jews, even if it means throwing your friends in the dirt without a second thought. I mean, this is East Memphis. This is where Orthodox Jews walk the streets with their heads held unjustly high. To some, this may be paradise, but to others this is Hell. A hot, judgemental, infested Hell. This is not my utopia. This is a place that has forever jeopardized my faith in Orthodox Judaism.

Where does a family full of personality, full of outspoken children fit into a facade like this? Where does a family marred by drug addictions fit into a facade like this? Where does a family that tells it like it is fit into a facade like this? An imperfect family. A family that is confident enough to admit that it has problems. A family that says what it thinks, despite the possible repercussions.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t.

When I was a child, my parents raised me as religious. Despite popular belief, we actually did have a Kosher kitchen. We were Shomer Shabbat. When it came to religion, we adhered to everything that a typical Modern Orthodox household adhered to.

Now, my father is the greatest man I know. He understood that, as I got older, I would need a chance to decide for myself regarding whether or not to remain religious.

I think that it’s important to publicize the factors that went into my decision. I think that others need to know why I’m so far away from Judaism. I think that it’s important to reveal the reasons, more specifically, the reason why moving out of “the community” was the best thing that has ever happened to me.

When I would walk into Shul as a kid, I would get these looks. All eyes were tracking me, the little Goldstein boy.

“There’s that boy with the screwed up family.”

“What is he doing here? He’s not even religious.”

“Oh, those Goldsteins are such bad kids. They always get my children into trouble.”

“Did you know that his mom is a convert?”

Nobody knew me. Nobody knew my family. Nobody knew anything about my situation. But it seemed as if everyone felt at liberty to throw in their two-cents worth. I’ve since stopped attending Shul. Why should I go back? Nobody will be standing at the front door to welcome me. It’s still the same. My mere presence seems to excite people. I sometimes have to make sure I didn’t forget to wear pants out of the house, because why else would everyone be staring? When I show up, whether I’m looking to reconnect with Judaism or if it’s a social thing, people are so curious.

As I grow older, I struggle more and more with my decision. Just as I near jumping back into the whole religious thing, I get an ever-so-telling stare that gazes me right back to the other side. The dark side. It’s clear that I’m not welcome in the Orthodox sphere.

It’s the judgements. It’s the never ending judgements. It’s people delusionally thinking that they’re better than others. It’s broken people projecting their own problems onto others. Why would I want to be part of a community like that? One in which parents call each other on a nightly basis to catch up on the hottest gossip; to pass the latest judgements. This community is so congested with condescending pricks who, for some inexplicable reason, have gigantic heads. People seem to have so much to say, but they wouldn’t dare say it to your face.

I think that’s why so many people chastise my family. We’re straight shooters. We won’t step behind your back to say what we want to say. We’ll get right in your goddamn face to say it. This attitude, what I see as the right attitude, has created a stigma associated with my family.

In Seventh Grade, my friends and I thought it would be funny to create a fake Facebook for a schoolmate of ours. Our intention was to ridicule this kid. We were ruthless. Well, we were seventh graders. One profile picture of a mentally retarded Superman later and we all ended up in the Dean’s office.


Fine, I can deal with that. We deserved it. We did something unforgivable. I regret it to this day.

But what happened after the story broke in the community was appalling.

You see, all I did was create the initial profile. I didn’t choose the profile picture. I didn’t change the sexual orientation to "Homosexual." I merely created the initial profile and let my friends take the reigns from there.

But suddenly, I was the instigator. Suddenly, I was the villain. Suddenly, my dad hadn’t raised me right. Suddenly, I was troubled because my mom was a drug addict. Suddenly, I was prohibited from my best friend’s house. Nobody knew the details about what had happened, but they felt the details were redundant either way. It was obviously the Goldstein boy.

I was 12. 

I was a 12 year old who was chastised by an entire community that didn’t know anything. I was being vilified by adults who were far from in a position to judge. I was criminalized by verbally abusive parents, by cheaters, and by convicted criminals themselves. All because I was a Goldstein. All because we watched South Park on Wednesday nights. All because our curfew was a little bit later. Because our father was a reasonable man who understood teenagehood. Because we weren’t afraid of confrontation.

I guess that rubbed people the wrong way. Our constant confrontations must have been too real for the community to handle. So they slowly wrote us off. They slowly took measures to ensure that our blasphemous influence wouldn’t reach their children. They made sure that they limited our friendships as children.

There are obviously other strictly religion based factors that have gone into my decision to become non-religious, but this reason, the whole judgement issue, is most definitely the most prominent factor. The community judging me for coming from an atypical family was something I never did, and never will take lightly (ironically enough, my dad just walked out of his room at 1:35am, flicked me off, and went straight back to bed - you have to love the man). People wonder why I’m so far gone, but the answer is so clear that it’s baffling that they even ask.

It’s you. It’s those Orthodox Jews that did their very best to ruin my childhood, but failed immensely.

You’re the reason I’m no longer a part of the community. You’re the reason I initially wanted to branch out and meet other Jews of different denominations. You’re the reason I’ve lost faith in Orthodoxy. You’re the reason I missed out on innumerable friendships as a child. You’re the reason I spent chunks of my life embarassed about where I come from.

But now’s my time to shove a big old middle finger down your throat. As I grow older, as I blossom into someone I’ve always envisioned myself as being, I can confidently look you in your seemingly fixated eyes and just smile. Because half of you are miserable. Half of you are searching for an identity while I already have one. Half of you secretly envy the family I’ve been blessed to have. Half of you are doing whatever you can to fit into this aforementioned facade.

To those of you who know exactly what I’m talking about, read this very closely:

Never let this community mold you. Never let the judgements, the petty accusations, the complaints limit your potential. Never let a 50 year old who has done nothing with his life judge what you are doing with yours. Be proud of who you are and where you come from, unless of course where you come from is somewhere that desperately attempts to fit into this facade. If that’s the case, create your own home, your own system of fundamental ideals. This community has tried so hard to make my childhood even more complicated than it already was, and it has failed.

This community has failed.

This utopia is Hell.

These people are embodiments of the pitfalls of Orthodox Judaism.

To those who are indeed different than them: We will rise up. We will be heard. We will be us. And we will come back here one day and just smile. We’ll welcome the never-ending stares. We’ll scoff at the judgements. We’ll know that this community is sick and twisted, and we rose above that. We had the courage, the strength to become who we always wanted to be.

Note: I’m not irrational. I know not everybody in my community is like this. This wasn't directed at every last member of my city's Orthodox Jewish community.

1 comment:

  1. I admit that I don't understand exactly what you're feeling because I've never experienced what you've experienced, but, for G-d's sake, DON'T, and I mean DON'T, let this city represent the entire modern Orthodox Jewish community!!!!!

    I can safely say that I've witnessed firsthand what a friendly, non-judgemental, open Modern Orthodox community can be like, and it's NOTHING like the one in Memphis.

    I feel bad for bashing Memphis, because I grew up in Memphis and all of my friends live here (many of them, by the way, happen to NOT be the Jews you are describing), but let's face it, nobody ever called this place a "utopia." It's a place where certain Jews can find happiness, sure, but a "utopia?" What do you think this is, the Oneida Community?

    My point is, as I've said before, you cannot let this community represent everything that modern Orthodoxy has to offer because, to put it bluntly, it doesn't. You can take from your experiences that modern Orthodoxy as a whole isn't for you, or you can take from your experiences that THIS modern Orthodox community isn't for you. It's your choice.

    P.S. If people are staring at you after you've entered shul for the first time in months, they aren't judging you. They're simply surprised to see you in shul because you haven't been there in months. It sure as heck doesn't come off as friendly when you are quick to judge other people as quick to judge.

    (Note: I actually know some people in this city who I am proud to describe as righteous, so I just want to say thank you for pointing out that this wasn't directed at every last member of the community in Memphis.)