There this urge inside of me to let my wild, rebellious, anti-the-man, live-off-the-grid personality run free. But yet there is this influence of calm, a sense of modest personality and “refinement” that is also tugging at the coattails of my persona. Who am I really? Can I be both?
Pre-ba’alat teshvah, I would say I was a rebellious, who-cares-what-they-think, let-me-run-this-show type of woman. I am going to fight for every right I believe I deserve and do it at all costs. I was going to educate my daughter on everything that I wasn’t, she was going to be the most political-minded little girl I ever knew. She was going to understand that the world was only evil if you looked at it that way, but it was hard to not look at it that way. She was going to see that everything really is rainbows and ponies, you just have to believe it and they will follow.
Then I started becoming religious. I backed off of swearing, I started dressing more modestly, when before I prided myself in the freeness of my skin. Certain garments were deemed torture devices and weren’t worn at every moment possible. Now I get upset when I buy a shell and it doesn’t cover all the way up to my neck. Even a shred of skin showing past my neck is unacceptable, in my eyes. I also refuse to wear the sheer nylons. I wore them for a while, and then I decided I wasn’t happy with the covering that they do. My daughter would ask me why I wasn’t wearing tights. I then showed her I was, but I realized that they were a poor excuse of “covering,” once again, in my eyes.
I only listen to religious Jewish music, and I’m pretty picky about what I will accept (sometimes). I won’t even walk in to a non-kosher restaurant (that’s Halacha – Jewish law). I read only Jewish themed books, mainly written by religious authors.
So where did this wild, rebellious, anti-the-man, live-off-the-grid girl go? Did I smother her with religion and she couldn’t breathe and now her corpse, h”vs, is forgotten about in the corner somewhere?
This sometimes now-seeming mythical girl is still inside of me. She’s thriving off of the Chassidus I’ve been learning. She’s been becoming stronger, smarter and faster and has started to reappear in the past month. She also has lost some of her “refinement” due to outside influences, i.e. work. The swear words have returned, but I realized and I’ve began to muffle them again.
It wasn’t unusual for someone to tell me I put a sailor to shame. And now I find it appalling when others swear. So why is it coming back? What happened to all of this “positive change?”
I don’t think I ever left the I’m-changing-the-world-NOW part of myself behind. I’ve become an activist within observant Judaism. And, recently, I’ve started to see me make choices as a renegade woman turned mother. I want to instill truth in my daughter and push age off to the side. I want her to know what life is really like and how to make it amazing and to prevent bad things from happening. I want to do this by education of history and the horrible things that have happened. I want her to be far more educated than her friends in terms of politics (or at least in the parts of it that I care about). I want her to care about the greater goodness of the world.
Have I forgotten in this whole charade that she is in fact a child? And that possibly living with childhood innocence isn’t always a bad thing?
I was stripped of my innocence as a child. I was bullied for as long as I can remember. And then beyond that, I was graced with middle-child syndrome, which has always described my relationship within my family. How I raise my daughter, or think about raising her, is based on my current personality, likes, cares, etc. and also about what I didn’t like about my upbringing. Am I mad that I was sheltered as a child to such an extreme I was unready for the “real world?” Yes, but thankfully I was resourceful as a child and I introduced myself to the “real world” at a very young age and became street smart very quickly. But I also forgot that I didn’t like having my innocence stolen at such a young age due to the unhappiness felt deep inside of me.
Now I have a dilemma that I believe many ba’alei teshavah have at one point in their life. Based on my past personality and what I am working toward at the moment, how do I act? The answer seems simple but in actuality is a bit more complicated. It becomes complicated because you’re in a space of transition and the real you is still being molded ever so slightly.
My answer to myself at the moment is to not stifle everything. Yes, I will put the kabash on things that don’t feel right, things that make me feel yucky afterward. But in terms of radicalness, I can still be radical. Maybe not in the ways I would have been before, but I can still be radical. I just need to search for the right about of tone that I want to be displayed to others. After all, a part of observance to me is also the essence of refinement. This doesn’t mean that I need to speak only when spoken to, but rather to be able to monitor what I am displaying to others. Of course, I want people to know that I’m serious about topics I have vested interest. But I don’t need to go off on the deep end when sharing this passion. I need to find a way to share my enthusiasm without it becoming categorical into me deeming everything else as bad. Rather than focusing on the negatives, I need to focus on the positives and find a way to display enthusiasm as positive for what I believe is right.
Refinement. It seems like such an archaic word, but yet something that I’m striving toward so hard that I almost am missing it even though it’s within my reach. I’m not sure if I will ever reach that moment of “Okay, I’m completely where I need to be with no changes to be made!” Changes are applicable to everyone at every moment. Only one Being is perfect, and it’s the One Above. I’m just striving for enough refinement today to make myself happy, to make Him pleased, and to be able to be of most service to others. All while not shunning my past, but rather welcoming the positive aspects of it with open arms. I am a product of who I am now and who I have always been.