Saturday, October 27, 2012

Community, where are you?

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?


  1. Come to Cherry Hill we'll have you guys for Shabbat anytime. :)

    -Rafi + Tovah

    1. So sorry to hear Ilana, especially when it sounds from your status updates like you do try very hard to be involved and have a significant place in the community. I thought your community was known for being very open (I was even contemplating it as a future place to relocate to) but all those things would bother me as well. Maybe Richmond is the most accepting place?!

  2. That is very disappointing that it was so difficult to find places to go for Shabbos. I wish I were better situated myself to host guests. I very much appreciate that you and your family don't fit a standard type. That is why you are awesome!

  3. Rebecca, thanks! And you did host us on a quite difficult Shabbos. Maybe I need to keep on digging deeper and find more non-standard people. Maybe they also do not go to shul and socialize.
    Zippy, having just driven through your neck of the woods, I am glad we are out of there, but the support through the hard times was nice.
    Sho, Richmond is potentially on the agenda ( highschool years), but I would have hard time with split loyalty between homeschooling and RTA.
    Rafi, I'll ship Akiva your way next time life gets too crazy ;-)

  4. Come spend a shabbos in Savannah! We'd love to have you any time. :) We're all a bunch of oddballs here. :) :) :)


  5. I was one of "the weirdos" who shared every Shabbos meal with you back at Stern. I was even weirder because I had no credit card, no parents who really cared enough to even help me pay tuition (I still owe Stern some money that they absolutely refuse to pay...) and books so I also used to waitress every other week to get some extra $$ on my card. When I did get a chance to spend Shabbat with a girl who was kind enough to follow through (and I am really glad to say there were more than I could possibly handle) I was treated like a queen... I still felt like an outsider though. I wasn't rich or fancy or like-minded but it was OK, I had friends who were there for me and kept me going. As part of the "foreigners" we stuck together, we helped each other out and made it a point to make fun of the typical New Yorker JAP. I loved it! In Israel, I feel the same way though I know the language and the mentality, life just has it way of pulling people apart. Lucky for us, my husband isn't shy and knows how to get an invite every once in a while, but the truth of the matter is unless you make some noise, no one really hears you and this is an international reality as unfortunate as it may be. The way we handle things is to have guests over but that's no easy task either... My point is, it's like that everywhere and my conclusions are: 1- Once married and out of college people will never be close again. 2- Don't look for a Community, look for those who want to be your friends no matter where you go. 3- Everyone is weird in their own way and that's Ok, you've got nothing to be ashamed of, so own it because you deserve it! 4- If the Russians "get you" better than the Anglos because they have more in common with you, there is nothing wrong with sticking together... 5- Do not let anyone feel bad about how you choose to raise your kids or what your occupation is. 6- Your husband is a man who does Mesirut Nefesh so new souls could safely be birthed into the world, women should know better than criticize that! 7- Hashem sees all and though you may feel like a 'Nebach' at times, you have made all the right choices and right choices are HARD! 8- Remember that some people (like me) get you and that you are not worth any less than anyone else.

  6. Ilana, I feel your pain. I've never been an "out-of-towner", but I know what it feels like to move into a community where you don't know anybody and feel like a weirdo for a long time. When I first moved to Far Rockaway I didn't know anybody. It takes time to build friendships after college. And most Mommy friendships after college are formed with the parents of your children's schoolmates, so it is doubly hard for you. I would estimate that it takes about 8 years to build real and deep friendships as an adult in a new community.
    Regarding the spouses with weird professions, I think I have you beat on that front. It is more socially acceptable to have a husband who digs in women's vaginas for a living (as you so crudely put it) than one who is a magician (no, he's not a musician, I said magician). I have never heard of a frum community that doesn't honor and revere the local frum doctors. And give them the leeway they need on Shabbos to do what to save lives. Even in Boro Park, people understand when doctors bring phones to davening and rush out in the middle of davening when they get a call.
    I miss you in Far Rockaway, and would love it if you moved back here. Hope things look up soon, or that you find your place somewhere else.

  7. If you're ever in Brooklyn, we can host you (One homeschooler to another.)

  8. Ilana- Thank you for sharing such an honest post! I don't think I will ever think of OBGYN's the same way again (re:digging in vagina's). We ourselves are "in towners" who often feel like "out of towners". My husband and I both grew up in Brooklyn and live here, but do find it hard to fit in. On an aside, I think we may be each other's doppelgangers: Same name, Russian decent, husbands in medicine, bloggers, and homeschoolers....