Posted on | February 4, 2013 | By Guest Contributor | 123 Comments
Since this is an interesting discussion, we’re going to leave this post on top today. – admins
This is probably not the sort of post that you will accept or run on BeyondBT, but it is very sincere and I would love to see what your posters have to say about my dilemma:
I grew up in a normal American town. The town has about the same percentage of Jews as the United States at-large, somewhere in the range of 3-4% or thereabouts (could even be slightly higher than that). That town, the derekh eretz found in it, my non-Jewish father, and my non-Jewish grandfather, are responsible for my values, morals, and eventually desire for Torah. There are towns like my town all over the United States, but those towns do not have sufficient Jewish populations to attract Orthodox shuls, etc. In the case of this particular town, however, it is extremely close to a town with one of the highest per capita Jewish populations in America, so–save for shabbos itself–all of the resources of a Jewish community (including multiple Orthodox and non-Orthodox shuls, mikvah, etc.) are within a ten-minute drive.
My interest in Torah is solely–but thoroughly–religious. I have never had any attachment to or interest in Ashkenazic (or Sephardic) Jewish culture and, with a few notable exceptions, I have never even felt that I “fit in” in Jewish social circles (no matter the socioeconomic strata of the Jews in those circles). Although I have been sometimes-more, sometimes-less observant for more than ten years, I am not going to move to a modern American Jewish community. I have never been willing to move to one, and this is not going to change. I could move to all sorts of towns similar to mine all over the country, but I will not–for reasons firmly grounded in the intractable problems of the derekh eretz that prevails in modern American Jewish communities–move to a Jewish town. I aspire to provide any children that I might one day have with a Jewish education, but–for the same reasons of derekh eretz–to not do so through the mechanism of a private Jewish day school. Instead, I would seek to use the public schools of my small town (or whatever small town my wife and I ultimately wound up in), as those public schools are entirely consistent with real Torah values (and reinforced the values that I myself acquired growing up). For Torah, nach, kethuvim, gemara, and Hirsch, I will use all available resources (for example, my town is minutes away from numerous thoroughly qualified and credentialed rabbis and arranging comprehensive tutoring, and then reinforcing at home, would be imminently viable) to put together a roll-your-own solution that can work.
The vast majority of Orthodox rabbis, and virtually all baal teshuvas, who I have met have told me that no Jewish girl who cares at all about Torah would ever be willing to live outside of a Jewish town. They insist that I am either wrong about Jewish towns, wrong about normal American towns, bigoted, biased, or that I “have issues.” I laughed at these assertions for ten years and then was vindicated when a potential match, who grew up in a Jewish town, attending day schools, and working in day schools, moved to the town and discovered that my only misrepresentation was understating the case. Her disgust with local Jewish communities (she was from another part of the country) and day schools, and her relentless love and adoration for my family, my town, my schools, and my culture, was absolute. Unfortunately, she got homesick and moved back to the big city from whence she came.
Many baal teshuvas find it very difficult to discuss this problem with me because their own interest in Torah was initially sparked by the warmth of Orthodox families and homes. I, by contrast, grew up in a profoundly warm home in which I had dinner with my family at least six–and often enough seven–nights a week. When I first started going to shul, parishioners would ask “Isn’t shabbos wonderful?” I would say “Yes, the prayers, the sanctification of the day, conformance to God’s laws, etc. Absolutely.” They would say “No, I mean the meal.” I would say “Yes, the blessings over the wine and the bread, the grace after meals, etc.” They would say “No. I mean the fact that I actually get to sit down with my family, uninterrupted, and have a dinner during which, without distraction, we talk about each other’s lives, find out what we’ve been up to, and share what we’re doing.” I could only respond “But don’t you do THAT part of it EVERY NIGHT AT DINNER?” They could only shake their heads and say “No. The rest of the week, we’re too busy working.”
In addition, I was never alienated from my normal American town the way a lot of baal teshuvas were. My small town was my community, is my community, and either it or another normal small town will continue to be my community. I never needed the “Jewish community” (which, frankly, does not comport with what community has ever meant to me, as to me, “community” implied far more than a bunch of people with a common “volk” and a common religion; it is something forged over decades, not weeks, and the price of entry is long amounts of time, not a particular religious faith) because my community has always been my extended family.
In order to offer advice or suggestion to me, you would need to take it for granted that the cultural, values, derekh eretz gap really exists. Do not waste time trying to persuade me that a heimishe Jewish town really has the values that I am looking for. It would take ten densely-typed pages to fully explain the derekh eretz differences. What I am looking for (what I grew up with and still have) is just a normal American small town, with normal American small town values. That’s what I want to expose my family to. That sort of town is what I want my kids to grow up in, so that they absorb those values through their family, their community (which would, of course, be largely non-Jewish), and the positive peer pressure of other kids who by and large come from homes with similar values. To deal with my situation, you need to assume that what I want simply is not available as the predominant derekh eretz in a Jewish town. Please, oh merciful please, do not try to persuade me otherwise.
I don’t need a frum girl. If a girl with normal small town American values, who happened to be Jewish, and who happened to have grown up in a normal American small town (and wasn’t merely desperate enough to try one), was somewhat observant but wanted to drive from a town like mine to a parking lot a half mile away from an Orthodox shul in the neighboring Jewish town, that would work. That would be close enough to what I’m looking for that I could make it work.
But I have been told that what I want–a normal American small town cultural and values derekh eretz, and a commitment to living in a normal American small town community (rather than an American Jewish community)–is simply nowhere to be found among American Jewish girls.
What do you think? If it really is hopeless, then after well more than a decade of very ardent effort, I may have to concede that it just isn’t possible and, with a heavy heart, find another way to pray so that I can marry and have a family. I love God and I love Torah, but I am not enough of a martyr to go through life with neither wife nor children in order to prove how committed I am to Judaism. I am at a crossroads and I could use either confirmation that there just are not any Jewish girls who want to live–fully, completely live–in a normal American small town, or a legitimate claim that there are Jewish girls who want to live in a normal American small town.
Over a decade ago, I figured that I would give it a good hard try. And if I met a girl who affirmatively wanted to live in a normal American small town during that time, but we just weren’t attracted to each other, that would be enough to keep me trying for years to come, because that would at least show me that girls of that sort were out there–even if I hadn’t met the particular one of them who was compatible with me yet. But in all these years, I have never met one who actually affirmatively wanted to live her life, to live her community, to live her derekh eretz, in a normal American small town. And I am just about ready to accept that what I want does not exist among Jewish women.
All I want is what Samson Raphael Hirsch called “Torah im derekh eretz.” I just want it in my normal, good, decent, and fully Torah-compatible small town American derekh eretz. And a wife to live it with.