Ever since I stopped observing halacha (Jewish law), the elephant in my room has been: “What will happen when they find out?”
The “they” includes my family members – most of whom are not aware, my old friends from yeshiva and Jewish day school, my old rabbinic teachers, and – let’s call them the tusks of the elephant in the room – all the wonderful families in the Orthodox Jewish community who have welcomed me into their homes and had me over countless times to enjoy Sabbath and Jewish holiday meals with them. When I say “welcomed me into their homes,” I mean it. I never felt like they were doing me a favor or a kindness by giving me a free meal and a warm Sabbath experience. We developed lasting, meaningful relationships. We care about each other’s well-being.
I say the latter are the tusks of the elephant in the room, because when I think about this question – “What will happen when they find out?” it’s usually those wonderful families who are foremost in my mind.
So what, in fact, would happen? I guess either:
a) they would cut ties with me – something that would make me feel sad and offended;
b) they would continue to be kind and welcoming, but their reason for doing so would change, at least partially, from “because we like him and enjoy having him over,” to “because we need to keep him in the fold in the hopes that he’ll “return” someday,” – something that would make things very awkward-feeling; or
c) they would feel and act the exact same way about me as they do now.
Since every two Jews have three opinions, as they say, I speculate that I would experience all three of the above possibilities.
Another concern I have is the self-consciousness I would feel whenever I find myself in the Orthodox community. When I go to the kosher supermarket and see all these people who’ve known me for 10 or more years, the first few times I would probably turn the same color as the beets in the canned vegetables aisle.
One final concern I have: breaking these wonderful people’s hearts! I remember how difficult it was when I was at the height of my yeshivishness and a close family member stopped being observant. I was tormented with “There’s got to be something I could do, something I could say to him.” When he would drive home after the Friday night Sabbath meal – the epitome of throwing off the yoke of traditional Judaism, it would rip my heart out!
And so how could I now go and break the hearts of such good people, who have been so good to me? “What is hateful to you, do not to your friend,” as Hillel famously said.
A fellow formerly observant friend of mine, though, has been trying to help me with this. He says (regarding a specific such Orthodox person I gave him as an example):
I can say very plainly that if she cares about *you*, it wouldn’t make any difference to her whether you believed in an imaginary sky-friend.
In any event, is your relationship with her real if it is premised upon her belief that you are someone different from that which you hold yourself out to be? Can you possibly care about breaking the heart of someone who essentially has no idea who you are?
I think the man is wise. I’ve been thinking about what he said (although not that often, because the whole thing isn’t pleasant to think about), and today I also recalled the Mishnah (1st or 2nd century rabbinic teaching):
Any love that is dependent on something – when the something ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases [Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 4:16].
The rabbis had a talent for laying things out crystally clearly, didn’t they?
I still don’t want to break their hearts, though. And I still don’t want to feel self-conscious or go from being “one of them” to becoming a kiruv (Jewish outreach) case.
I’d love to hear others’ experiences. Thank you for reading.