07 September 2006

Break down the niches

I want to open this post by saying something controversial: niches are safe. The easiest and most comfortable thing to do when confronted with something or someone new, perhaps different is to put the concept or the person into an already familiar category.

I started down the path of frumkeit ten years ago and I "crossed the line" officially seven years ago. I chose that date because that was when cool yiddish papa and I fully committed to kashrut, Shabbat observance, laws of niddah, and I covered my hair. (Tznua clothing was never an issue because I was never a tank top and hot pants type of gal.)

I can safely say that I became frum mostly for intellectual reasons. Observing the mitzvot just "made sense" and it was always about my personal relationship with G-d, not whether I was "frum" enough for the person next to me. During my journey on the derekh, I have seen people attracted to observance for social reasons and a deep desire to "fit in" with someone. I have also seen people who were very influenced by a charismatic figure and fell under their spell. Even in my own kiruv work, I have seen great potential in truly ehrlich people fizzle out because of childishness.

As I said, niches are safe, but are also binding. Cool yiddish papa and I are currently attending one of the few shuls in town where two men, one wearing a kipa s'ruga and one wearing a shtreimel just daaven as two Jews. The late rabbi, a'h, never closed the door on a Jew who wanted to come and daaven. If a woman showed up in non-tznua clothing, she would be welcomed, with the possibility that eventually SHE would decide to dress differently.

What is a niche supposed to do anyway? Is it to protect ourselves from the unknown or it is a simplified way to put people in their place? I, myself, though, find it a bit amusing that according to some people connected to me via my job, I am comparable to a black-hat Jew (even with my short sleeves and hair showing from my hats and tichels). In the community, on the other hand, I am perceived as "not frum enough" (with the same dress code). The truth is that people don't know what to make of others. It is easier to reject those who are a little different than it is to push a little to see the similarities that we are have.
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