In just the past couple years, I’ve had so many moments where I would let off a sigh of relief and realize how great it feels to be free. I was helping put on a Pesach Seder at a Conservative temple when the first night fell out on a Friday night, and we needed hot water from the kitchen sink. My first reaction was, “But it’s Shabbos!” After that split second of anxiety, I sighed and realized how fortunate I was that I could now enjoy Shabbos and Yom Tov without the anxiety, and I opened the hot water tap. I felt so good not having to sit in shul for a second day of Rosh Hashanah and do the exact same things I did the first day that I sang Rosh Hashanah songs on my way to work! While I think observing Yom Kippur has been very beneficial for me in the past, I just didn’t feel like dealing with the intensity of it this year, and I just felt such a release of tension when I decided I could just skip it this year. I’ve attended classical, folk, and rock music concerts with women singing, flamenco performances with women dancing, toured medieval churches, and enjoyed so many varieties of foods. Besides satisfying my taste buds in new ways, it’s cool to discover what of other cultures consider their “cholent and kugel.” This year I got to see what a real Christmas was like, including evening Mass and Christmas dinner. My friend even got me a Christmas stocking! All of these experiences have given me healthy enjoyment, fulfillment, and exhilaration that I would have not been able to experience if I were still frum.
– Shloimie Ehrenfeld
It is Friday night and we sit down to a simple home-cooked meal at our normal dinner hour. I didn’t slave all day, making sure I had enough to feast on for the next 24 hours. I feel satisfied, not uncomfortably full. My husband cleans up and puts everything in the dishwasher and then takes out his guitar to regale us with his favorite light rock tunes. I finish up putting the few leftovers in the fridge and join my 4 year old daughter in dancing around to the music. My 7 year old son is busy cutting and taping, creating a 3-d version of something he imagined. The kids get their bath, and are in bed at their usual time, and now my husband and I can work on our own projects. I’m going to type up some scribblings I made during the day on the computer, my husband is in his home office music studio recording a few tracks of a new song. Before bed, we meet up again and share our excitement at what we created. We talk about our plans for Saturday: I will go to the farmer’s market to pick up some locally raised and pastured meat for a cholent I’ll put up for dinner; we’ll go to the library, stop at some of the small quaint shops in our “downtown”, and grab a bite to eat; later the kids will play outside making chalk drawings on the driveway, perhaps helping me dig up the garden for our spring plantings, As the sunsets on shabbat, we are sitting down to our well earned shabbat meal. It’s been a relaxing, but productive day. I am free.
– Suzanne Oshinsky
Liberation is sitting down to a simple home cooked meal at our normal dinner hour without having slaved for hours to prepare several 5 course feasts in advance of a 24 hour ban on cooking. It’s going to the local farmer’s market and talking with the farmers about how they treat their animals and bringing home fresh pastured meat for our chulent. Liberation is not having to chose between spending a fortune on a kosher for passover vacation or being a slave to the kitchen for 8 days. Liberation is thinking for myself and of the choices I make. Liberation is rather than fearing the outside world, feeling like the world is my oyster.
– Suzanne Oshinsky
Growing up, I was taught to value different cultural experiences and not be afraid to try new things. But for me, becoming orthodox gradually felt like I was living a behind a high wall, erected for the sole purpose of separating me from everyone else. No longer could I decide to just go out for Turkish food with my parents, or accept an invitation to celebrate Chinese New Year’s at the home of my best friend. The Ninth Avenue International Food Festival was off limits for obvious reasons, as were the foods I’d loved since I was a kid. I couldn’t even go out for a meal with friends without feeling horrible for having to request that my new dietary restrictions be accommodated. Family gatherings centered around food caused me huge amounts of stress, and the knowledge that my kids might forever feel culinarily estranged from my family was heartbreaking.
A few months before going completely off the derech, I compiled a huge list of all the foods I missed and that I couldn’t wait to eat again. I hung it up in what was still a kosher kitchen, and I added to it daily. Grilled Italian sausage. Bacon. Lobster bisque from Randazzo’s. Cheese steaks from Tony Luke’s in Philly. Seafood chowder up in Nova Scotia. Anything my mom wanted to make for me in her non-kosher kitchen.
I missed the intimacy of being able to share meals with friends and family. My liberation came in the form of a BLT on toasted wheat bread with mayonnaise. It tasted like a sigh of relief, and was the first of many stress-free meals of freedom.
– Rebecca M. Ross