Mesorah (Jewish stuff)

Finding Your Place

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about community, and fitting in, and trying to figure out some way to be able to explain exactly how to do it so that people can experience the warmth and wonder of finding a community.

For some people, that isn’t going to be in the place where they live, and that is difficult. Loneliness is no joke, and fitting like the odd one out isn’t any fun.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I’ve found a direct correlation between the amount of worrying about what other people think/making assumptions about what’s socially expected of me and feeling unhappy in a community.

The less I have cared about other people’s perceptions, the happier I have been.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I completely ignore social cues or certain expectations (not leading with very heavy conversational topics, sticking to small talk when socially appropriate, etc.), but more like spending emotional time and energy on thinking about other people’s opinions of me is something that I no longer invest in.

But how does one do that in a communal world (ahem, Orthodoxy) that seems to thrive on communal expectations and, even, should I say, judgments?

Well, again, I can only share my own experiences, but it seems that having close friends, being honest with oneself and staying plugged into Torah and seeking advice are all extremely helpful. But it’s also such a personal thing, and it’s helpful to be in the right physical, mental and emotional space and sometimes it just takes time.

I’ve written a piece about community over on Hevria today, and it is the reason I have not folded any laundry, prepped dinner, practiced and was nearly late to carpool, so I’d appreciate if you would pop on over there and let me know what you think about it!

Also, brief BuJo goal update, I actually did the thing where I stuck to my laundry schedule and even folded most of it on the days that I washed it and it was GLORIOUS. That was last week. Here’s hoping this week is as efficient in the housework department!

9 thoughts on “Finding Your Place

  1. I tried to post this yesterday on Hevria, but Disqus blocked it as spam! Maybe it’s too long. Anyway, I’m going to try to post it here.

    I struggle with this a lot. I don’t feel I’ve ever really fitted in to a community (any community, not just a frum one) and I don’t know how much is natural differences, how much that I’m almost certainly autistic (pursuing diagnosis) which makes any kind of social interaction really difficult and how much is just my depression and social anxiety making things seem harder than they actually are. It’s hard to tell how much people are really judging me and how much it’s my imagination (or my desire to see myself as a loner). Plus I find making friends really difficult. I’ve been going to my shul for two and a half years and I have about three friends, none really close.

    But even though I hate standing out and would not rebel for the sake of rebelling, I find it hard to make myself fit in if it involves changing something that’s important to me (and, being autistic, even quite minor things are really important to me, if they’re part of my routine and regular way of living).

    It’s complicated by the fact that I would describe myself as Modern Orthodox, but there isn’t really a vibrant MO community in the UK (I mean YU-type level of observance and outlook). I belong to a synagogue that would probably be described as moderate Yeshivish in US terms (I’ve almost never heard anyone say ‘Yeshivish’ in the UK) because it’s the best – or least worst – fit in many ways, but in some ways it’s a bad fit.

    I still dress in a particular way. I’m almost the only person who wears a kippa sruga (which I don’t do for ideological reasons, but because I have dandruff and a kippah srugah can go in the washing machine which a suede one can’t!) and I’m the only person who wears non-white shirts on Shabbat. I know that this makes me stand out and I don’t want to stand out,but I don’t want to change who I am either.

    There is bigger stuff that I keep private, though, certain beliefs and opinions that would not be considered strange in an MO community, but would be here, like attitudes to Torah/science controversies or academic Bible criticism. I worry a bit about people seeing my bookshelves one day. And I’m very worried about being ‘outed’ as a Doctor Who fan which does not seem appropriate. (Last year a friend (not from the community) dared me to dress up as the Doctor for Purim and I chickened out. Not sure what I’ll do this year.) I worry that if the Doctor Who book I’m writing gets published, word will get out in the community and I don’t know what the response will be. People in the community own TVs, but at the same time it’s something that is not talked about and looked down on and seen as a concession to weakness.

    The other hard thing is being single. So much of the frum community is geared up to families. Being an “older single ” (I hate that phrase) is tough. I try to force myself to go to family social events at shul sometimes, but I’ve noticed I’m the only single/childless person there. There are a few other singles in the community (I think mostly divorced/widowed rather than unmarried), but the community basically assumes, with some justification a life trajectory that goes: school –> yeshiva/sem –> marriage –> children and career/housewifing. I’ve missed almost all the points on that flow diagram and it’s difficult.

    Of course, the difficulty talking about autism or depression and social anxiety only adds to the issues – I mean the general stigma around them in any community, not just the frum one (although in the frum world we add in lots of “Bad for Shidduchim” fears too).

    Funnily enough, because I mix in non-Jewish communities (autism and mental health support groups and blogs, Doctor Who fandom), there I experience the opposite, where instead of being the super-progressive and rebellious one, I worry that every sees me as reactionary and bigoted or at least really backwards. So I don’t feel that I fit in completely there either, although I do feel the mental health communities and fandom can be more welcoming in some ways.

    1. I saw it up on Hevria for a minute and then when I went back later, it was gone, I wondered if you had taken it down. Glad to see you over here with your thoughts!

      I think this should be a blog post for you, or a piece. I understand the feeling of being between worlds, liberal in one and conservative in others. I think that’s actually a fairly common experience, from what I hear.

      You have a lot on your plate, and I think whatever progress you make it just feeling more comfortable in your own skin, on whatever level, is a worthwhile goal.

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