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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 1/09/09

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Dear Rachel,

Thirty Something’s letter (Chronicles 12-5) touched my heart. I was in a similar situation almost 20 years ago, although I was a divorcee with children, not a never-married single. But otherwise the circumstances were very similar. I could not find anyone suitable in my religious community in Brooklyn. After six years of being alone, I became engaged to a non-religious man whom I had known decades before, and we married in 1992. Because of various things that had happened to me in those preceding six years, I gave up much of my religious observance.

After we moved to this area (Dallas, Texas), the wonderful people in the community brought me back to observance. They did not, however, “reach” my husband. As a result, we are now a “mixed” Jewish couple. I am once again Orthodox, and my husband is non-observant.

In general, we are happy together, and he is good to me. He commutes 100 miles a day because, for me, he moved us to an Orthodox part of town with an eruv. He is a good provider with a stable, steady personality.

His non-observance, however, is a thorn in my side. It hurts when I go to shul and there is a “black hole” on the other side of the mechitzah, or when the holidays come around and he goes to work. He does participate minimally in certain things − we have Friday night dinner together (I make Kiddush), and sometimes we go to friends’ homes for Shabbat meals and Pesach Seders.

In general, though, he isn’t part of the community and doesn’t want to have much to do with Yiddishkeit. He calls himself a “Shabbos goy” and puts on the lights and so on, even though I don’t want him to. He brings treif (non-Kosher) food into the house. Our kitchen is like no other. I have my part of the kitchen – the kosher part – and he has his, the treif part. Fortunately he respects my observances, and he doesn’t make me violate Shabbat, even though he does so himself.

Because of our ages (60s), it’s easier for us than for the average “mixed” Jewish couple, since there are no issues of Taharat HaMishpachah.

I’ve found that I’m not the only woman in this situation, even though for a long time I thought I was. There are many of us out there. We all got here under different circumstances.

My opinion is: It can work. But it’s a very hard row to hoe. You have to realize that when it comes to religious observance, you’re going to have to go it alone. Your dreams of going to shul with your husband probably will not come true. Yes, you can maintain your own observance, but it is very difficult without the support and participation of your mate.

Rachel, if this woman wants to contact me, and if you think it is okay for her to do so, please feel free to give her my personal contact information.

Living Example for 30-Something

Dear Living,

Somehow, though you have managed to retain a sense of optimism and cheerfulness, I sense that had you known beforehand how things would evolve, you’d have opted not to pursue marriage with this man. But of course you had no way of knowing that you would make a turnaround in your religious observance and leave your hubby behind, so to speak, leading a totally separate existence from yours.

To be candid, two people can start out having much in common and being on the same wavelength, yet if one partner grows while the other stagnates and lags behind, problems are bound to develop. (This is not exclusive to the area of religion.)

In your specific situation, I cannot help but wonder – how do you maintain respect for the person (being as he happens to be your husband) who does not share your outlook and religious devotion?

I realize that you may share other interests, but religion is the mainstay that keeps our lives in order and – Orthodoxy in particular – has a bearing on practically every aspect of one’s life. Going to shul and eating kosher are but two tangible characteristics of being observant (though it must be said that attending synagogue on a regular basis is not a fundamental obligation for a female, as it is for the male). A husband and wife are moreover two parts of a whole; in your case, the “whole” has a jagged dividing line.

Many questions come to mind, among them: Do you build your own Sukkah? Do you host “his” and “her” dinners for guests? If there are children who are involved in your lives, how do they cope when they visit? Who sets the model for your grandchildren? Forgive me for asking this very personal question, but assuming there is shared intimacy, how can you be intimate with a man who just smacked his lips after ingesting a ham sandwich?

Your opinion is that “it can work.” With all due respect, I beg to differ. Such a life is extremely compromised, to put it mildly. I do admire you for staying the (religious) course and for staying strong under very complex conditions. Most people would likely not have the stamina required to make it work − and why would anyone, to begin with, enter into a relationship that would so drastically undermine the quality of life?

The goal of building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael is to continue the chain of our heritage that links us to our ancestry, our mothers and fathers who greatly sacrificed for their religious beliefs and who took pains in setting a golden example of a lasting legacy for generations to come.

It is difficult enough to perpetuate our traditions and moral values in today’s unprincipled societies; why complicate matters further?

Thank you for taking the trouble to tell us your story. May G-d continue to keep you strong and faithful to His edicts.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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