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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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Dan’s Story

Dan is a 28 year old single male who currently lives in Tel Aviv and is a student and archaeologist. 

I met Dan in Israel a few years ago during an OTD meetup, where he told me that he is learning under Professor Israel Finkelstein at the Tel Aviv University.

Before we start, I would like to ask you how it is to learn under Professor Finkelstein? One of the first books that I read that catapulted my apostasy was the book The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts he wrote together with Neil Asher Silberman. 

Finkelstein is great. He’s an amazing scholar and a great teacher. Very instructive, very ‘socratic’.

I mean we have lectures and seminars and stuff too, but during our meetings and stuff, its very informal. Just asking questions, and responding, creating a conversation / discussion about what I’ve done, what I think, and where and how to progress forward from there. He’s a great scholar to study under, because in addition to the actual material, he is a very successful professional scholar with lots of appointments and publications, and learning under him is providing useful for learning (at least the beginning stages) of how to do that for myself.

A note / addendum, though: Israel is only my secondary advisor. My primary adviser is Dr Guy Steibel, who is equally learned, accepting, friendly and a good teacher / mentor.

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