Becoming Acher by I.M. Acher (part 2 of 3)

Chapter 2: Elisha dies, Acher’s Inception

And [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  Therefore, the son of man is also the Lord of the Sabbath.—Mark (2:26-7, NKJV).

Washington Heights, Summer of 2002.  FullSizeRender

People often wonder what caused me to become such a heretic.

There is no simple answer to that question.  Many things spurned me on.  It had been two years since I was makpid on davening every day.  Or even putting on tefillin.  I had dropped out of YU.  The previous semester had been spent taking 2 classes at Brooklyn College, habituating in a basement apartment in Boro Park, and working part-time in a group home for severely disabled adults.

But my first foray off the median, I remember it like it was yesterday.

Chapter 2.2:  To My Left, Gabe.

That summer, I moved back to Washington Heights.  I was planning on attending City College that fall.  I was planning on getting my shit together.  I was still working at the group home part-time.  The rest of the week was spent getting drunk, smoking cheap weed, playing video games, watching TV, and being completely unproductive.

I was sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with 5 people.  They were good friends, so I didn’t mind.  Stu was the first friend I made at Yeshiva University.  Gabe was my favorite smoking buddy and a former coworker of mine.  We worked the graveyard shift at the Caf. Store.  When we were done, we would get drunk and high together.

Gabe was fun to get high with.  He kind of reminded me of young Seth Rogen, only with a higher-pitched voice.  My fondest memory:  Winter of 2001 one night, our shift at the Caf Store was over, so we headed to my place to get high.  Our friend N.C. was with us.  I decided to microwave a Fettuccini Alfredo TV Dinner (munchies!).  Gabe and N.C. raided my pantry to look for munchies for themselves.  One of them found what looked like a bag full of potatoes.  They asked me why I had so many potatoes.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t cook.  My roommates didn’t cook.

I examined the bag closely.  True. I was high.  But I could still read.  Those were not potatoes.  They were deli rolls that had expired 3 weeks before.  They were so mouldy, that they looked like potatoes!

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Becoming Acher by I.M. Acher (part 1 of 3)

Photo credit: Shmully Blesofsky. Taken July, 2014 at a Phish concert

Genesis

The following is the three chapters (1, 2 and 5) of my memoir, tentatively titled I Am Acher. Some of the material has already appeared on my blog, I Am Acher. While the market already is saturated with plenty of OTD memoirs, many of which are more interesting and gut-wrenching than my story, I still hope that by putting my thoughts out there, I can positively contribute to our cause—that being to encourage people to think for themselves, to live their lives to the fullest potential, and to encourage those trapped in an unconducive lifestyle to break free from their shackles.

I come not to tear down the pillars in every shul and to encourage every frum child to drop out of yeshiva and pursue a living instead. I come instead to truly examine what exactly they believe in. I come to invite them to open their eyes to the world around them. I come to encourage the frum world to not keep their kids from receiving a secular education, but the join the free-market of ideas; to invite themselves to study the ideas of others. And to freely discuss how their views agree or disagree with the others.

Some people ask what I have to complain about. Most of the OTD memoirs I have read come from people who were raised Ultra Orthodox. Their upbringings were definitely more subversive than mine. However, I contend that growing up Modern Orthodox was no bed of roses. It took me years of self-destructive behavior, psychological counseling, sexual frustration, on-and-off weed and alcohol, reading, researching, making a complete ass of myself, and continuously picking myself up to completely divest myself of the traumas—which may or may not have been worse if I was raised Ultra Orthodox, or even completely secular.

Ger Hayiyti ba’Guf Sheli.

It is better to follow one’s destiny, though imperfectly, than to follow someone else’s destiny with perfection—Krishna (Bhagavad Gita 3:35).

Being a Modern Orthodox Jew is like walking on the median of a busy highway. You are safe as long as you stay on the median. If any cars happen to swerve, they will hit you. And if you try to get off the median, you will get hit. And so, you have no choice but to keep on walking; maybe the traffic will clear up and you will be able to safely disembark. However, many people are perfectly content to remain on the median and continue walking the straight derech.

By the time I was 22-years-old, I had serious vertigo from watching all those cars speeding in both directions. As a good Modernishe Yid, I received a quality secular education; I had a TV; I listened to the same music as the Goyyim; to the untrained eye, the only differences between me and the Goyyim were the yarmulke on my head and the tzitzit sticking out of my shirt.

On the other side of the road I had the religious education I received. Modern Orthodox Jews are equally as critical of the secular Jews (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, et al; not that we knew or cared what the difference between them is) and the Ultra Orthodox Jews. Yes, if I decided to shuckle too hard while davening, be makpid on washing negelvasser in the morning, or say oi instead of oh, I was chided with ”don’t be such a chnyok!” However, I still did receive a religious education. We still had to daven—in Hebrew too. I came out of high school knowing how to shteig a blatt of gemara about as well as I could write an essay, neither of which were that impressive—though had I not squandered my education, perhaps I could have been reasonably competent in both.

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Shana’s Story

1724171_1530637980552356_3522793952121040408_nShana is in her forties, mother of five and lives with her partner in the tri-state area. She is a writer and an English teacher.

Hi Shana. On your Twitter account (details below), you describe yourself as as “Survivor of ultra-orthodox Judaism, atheist, lesbian, liberal, author of The Sins of Our Daughters: A Memoir.” Which one of the above do you associate yourself most with?

That’s a great question, and I had to think about that for a bit. I think that I associate most with being a survivor of ultra-orthodox Judaism, and this is because living through the trauma of that life–and subsequently surviving it–really has shaped who I am.

Could you describe in a few sentences what your religious upbringing was about?

My upbringing was an interesting one. My parents both grew up in secular homes, and the home they created was mostly devoid of any kind of religion. Then, when I turned five and we moved to a new area, my mother got a sudden burst of Jewish feeling, and we were all sent to Jewish schools, we started keeping some semblance of Shabbos, loosely celebrated holidays (we built a sukkah, had 2 seders, lit the menorah, delivered Mishloach Manos, partially fasted, etc.) and we ate kosher meat. I was sent to orthodox schools from the first grade and on, mainly because there were no “in-between” schools back then–like conservadox or modern-orthodox– in our area. So while my home was really just traditionally Jewish, I did have an orthodox education my entire life.

After my parents’ divorce and a move across country, my mother sent me to a Bais Yaakov high school, and that was really the beginning of the end for me. Feeling vulnerable and lonely and desperate for a family of any kind, I was easily pulled into the fold when I was 15. I graduated, went to seminary (pushing off my plans for college at the urging of my rabbi for fear that I would not find a shidduch), and was married by 19.

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