When I was in Stern for college, I was a definite out-of-towner. What defined an out-of-towner was staying in for Shabbos. There were shabbatonim, you singed up, found other people who stayed in for Shabbos. Eventually we had a small group: foreign students and out-of-towners, sharing meals together, at best having fun, at worst, trying to make the best out of uncomfortable situation.
Now, the standard conversation with a girl who lived within tri-state area, while we are taking a shuttle from one building to another:
-Hi! My name is Sarah Cohen. Where are you from?
-Russia (I learned early not to say Moldova, that just confused things).
-Oh! Very nice! I had a cousin who went to a summer camp in Minsk, is that far?
Smile and nod, nod and smile.
-Is your family here?
More complex explanations how they are not.
-Oh, so what do you do for Shabbos?
-I stay in.
-Hey, come to me for Shabbos, OK?
The girl gets off the shuttle. This was in the days before cell phones, so there is no easy way to transfer phone numbers.
Now, dear Sarah Cohen, am I supposed to look you up in the student directory and call you and explain to you that I am that nebach who has no place for Shabbos that you met on the shuttle? Am I supposed to pretend that the whole conversation never happened? Did you mean it about Shabbos invitation? If you did, then why did you not leave any concrete way of getting in touch wit you? Why didn't you say which Shabbos?
No thanks, I will hang out with other out-of-towners, and you can look at us as nebachs. That is my community.
Fast forward to present day.
We have been in this community for two years. Two years of going to shul, seeing people, being seen, attending events, classes, having my kids in camp. My oldest was in school for over a year. This community keeps advertising how friendly it is, how welcoming it is, how it is a shining example of southern hospitality. Yet when I had to be out of town this past Shabbos for my sister's wedding, and my husband had to fly back in for work, he did not have Shabbos meals set up. Moreover, he was still scrambling Friday afternoon trying to find a place.
Our life is not a standard frummy life, with mommy taking a whole Friday to shop and cook, daddy getting home at 3pm with flowers, and a relaxing Shabbos. Our life is full of mommy making everything for Shabbos and then making kiddush because daddy is still at the hospital. Out life is full of Blackberry calls, sudden departures, interrupted meals and mommy traveling alone. Our life is full of Shabboses apart, not by design, but by necessity.
When we got into this community, we were appraised and lumped with the Russians, up to the point that I was confused with someone who looks nothing like me, but is also Russian, so there. When we complained about this to the rabbi, he said that people are supreficial and we better ignore it. Well, two years later, we feel quite ignored.
You know why my husband did not have those Shabbos meals? Either he did not have a conversation long enough to find out that he will be on his own that Shabbos, or there was no offer of a meal. At the end, he made some phone calls, found himself places and it all worked out, but there is no social group to fall back on. This is not college where you find like-minded weirdos, and he spent plenty of years in Brooklyn as a single guy, calling up people for Shabbos meals.
Oh, we do not fit the mold. There is no black hat, our hashkafa is too odd, we are homeschoolers, and I drive across state lines on my own. My husband digs in women's vaginas for a living! I get it, we get get what we signed up for. You cannot be different and belong.
I tried. I made women's shalishides a couple times and got one to two people to come. I tried organizing women's learning on Shabbos mornings in the summer, when there were no groups for kids ( meaning, women could not go to shul anyway) and got one person, once. And standing there in a crowded and noisy social hall during kiddush and talking to random people about where their clothes came from and who does their sheitels is not my style.
We invited people for meals and got stood up a bunch of times. We had some people over and it never went beyond that one polite meal. I am better off hosting people traveling through, or singles, but then I have to explain why my husband is on his Blackberry and how's that halachically OK...
But where do we belong?