Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Things that We Can't Leave Behind

By pretty much any definition, I am no longer an Orthodox Jew. I use electricity on Shabbos and I don't eat only kosher food. Growing up, these were the two things that to my mind were the "make or break" of whether or not someone was Orthodox. You could wear un-tzius clothing, not even know what shomer negiah meant, and never go to shul, but as long as you wouldn't dream of turning on the lights on a Saturday or ordering something to eat in a non-kosher restaurant, you were good.*

*(There were some exceptions to this. Many of the people I knew who I considered Orthodox would eat at non-kosher restaurants but only dairy/only vegetarian. I don't know if this still goes in the Orthodox world, though.)

It's been quite a while since I haven't fit that definition. But oddly enough, I can't just let go of it. What I mean by that: there are certain rituals I hang on to even though they make absolutely no sense at all with the rest of my life. Top of the list? Most certainly, the kosher kitchen.

Now I can give it logical reasons it all I want by saying that it allows me to have kosher-keeping guests over. But here's the thing: that's not entirely true. Because even if I was never to have kosher-keeping guests over, there's a part of me that feels wrong and uncomfortable not having a kosher kitchen regardless. (And let's be fair, many kosher-keeping people won't eat at my house anyway since I'm not Shomer Shabbat.)

And let me be frank. It's really inconvenient to keep a kosher kitchen for me. Most of my friends where I live now do not keep kosher (are not even Jewish) and are always trying to give me food to bring home and/or asking if they can bring something over when invited. It's frustrating and annoying to always have to say no. And since I don't live in an area with a large Orthodox population, it's also annoying to have to drive 40 minutes to buy kosher meat (and way more expensive!).

But I can't let go of it. And it's not just me.

I know lots of people like me who have "gone off the derech" and so many of us seem to have our "thing." For some, it's as minimal as putting mezuzahs up in their houses (I do that too), for some as extreme as putting on tefillin every day. Whatever it is, those of us who do such things just can't let go of them, even though they make life more inconvenient, uncomfortable, etc.

So what is it? What's makes it so that there's some things that we just can't leave behind?

I think, for me, because I was raised with such a strong definition of Right and Wrong ("Right" being Orthodox, in this instance), that there's some deeply embedded part of my psyche that cannot accept myself as non-Orthodox, that is deeply disappointed in myself, even as I don't believe in it anymore. And that part of me somehow defines the kosher kitchen as the final frontier.

There's a level of grief involved in not growing up to be who you thought you would be. Even if who you thought you would be is someone you would never, ever want to be anymore. And the kosher kitchen somehow keeps that grief at bay, at least for the most part.