Thursday, April 26, 2007

Where Do triLcats Come From?

After the post on modesty, I realized that a lot of my readers probably wonder what my background is. Well, okay, probably most of them either assume that I'm a b.t. or they don't care...
If you don't care, you don't have to read the rest of this. If you do, go ahead.

I was always Shomer Shabbat/Kashrut/Chagim and a whole plethora of other things that religious people do. My father was raised religious - his father was a rabbi ordained by JTS. My father is also a JTS-ordained rabbi. My mother was raised in a conservative congregation in Philadelphia, and was sent to Camp Ramah, along with Hebrew School. When she was in high school, she went to Gratz College's high school program. During that time, her commitment to Judaism strengthened. Her parents moved when she was 16, and she asked that her mother keep the new house kosher. From that point onwards, my mother kept kosher.

When she was 20, she married my father. The first Shabbat after their wedding was the first Shabbat that she was a committed Sabbath observer. (she had kept Shabbat before at camp and such).

My father was raised in schools like Ramaz and Yeshiva of Central Queens, and his choice to study at JTS was more based on religious philosophy than on observance level. Those of you who have photo albums from the 1960's will notice that many "Modern Orthodox" women didn't cover their hair back then, and wore pants. In fact, in my parents generation, everyone they knew had mixed dancing at their weddings, including those who were considered Orthodox. Back then, religious schools had school dances.

After he finished his rabbinical degree, my father went to the US Army. At the time, there was a draft, and clergy were expected to serve as chaplains after getting their degrees. My father became career army, which isolated him (and later, us) from the community to a large degree.

Over the next twenty or so years, my family lived in an interesting religious island. We had few Jewish friends growing up, and no Jewish community. From 1966, when my parents got married, until 1980, my parents never lived in a place that had Jewish dayschools. For 6 months in 1980, my parents sent my siblings to school at Hillel, near Deal, NJ.

When we moved from there, my oldest brother was high school aged. We moved to Fort Benning, GA, and my brother boarded with a family in Atlanta, while he attended school at Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. A year later, my sister followed suit.

The next year, my father was sent for Post-Doc studies (don't even ask how he had managed an MA and a doctorate while working full-time in the army...) at Harvard, and my siblings and I went to Maimonides. I was in Kindergarten, and my oldest brother was in 12th grade.

The next year, we moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I remember my family going into a form of mourning when we found out where our next assignment was. My father called the Pentagon and begged for a change of station. Sadly, we were not granted this.

There was no nearby school for my sister (who was going into 11th grade), and my oldest brother moved to Eretz Yisrael to attend Hebrew University. My second brother (9th grade) went to a very small Yeshiva in Dallas, Texas. My sister, my youngest brother (7th grade), and I (1st grade) went to local public schools. My sister, always a bright one, called her previous high school, and asked them to make some changes to her transcript before sending it on to her new school. Because of some careful work, she managed to get the public school to give her credit for all of her Jewish studies courses, so she finished high school in one more year (and she'd started first grade early, so she graduated high school at age 16.)

The next year, my youngest brother skipped 8th grade and joined the second one in Dallas. My sister, who had finished high school, went to college in Israel. (How my parents let their 16-year-old go to Israel back in the days when students didn't have phones in their rooms and there was no email is another story, perhaps for another day.)

At the end of that school year, my parents transferred my brothers from the school in Dallas to the Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis. (There's also a story here, but I'll only say that the school closed a year or two later, and the indications that it should close were already there, so my parents chose to move their sons.)

The next year, we moved to Fort Dix, NJ, and I went to the Kellman Academy in Cherry Hill, NJ. My second brother went early admissions to Yeshiva University rather than change schools yet again. My youngest brother (11th grade) was supposed to go to a Jewish, but not religious, school in Philadelphia. When my parents asked when and where my brother could daven Shacharit and put on tfillin, they were told he could use a broom closet. My parents decided that they would prefer to send him to live in dorms and the week after they dropped the older one off at Yeshiva University, they took the next one to the high school there.

The school I was in was a conservative (Soloman Schechter) school, and I was the most religious child there. As such, I felt very uncomfortable much of the time. For a variety of reasons, the school and I were a poor match. I spent 6th and 7th grade in public school, which was surprisingly a better experience.

Before I started 8th grade, my father retired from the army, and I attended ASHAR in Monsey. That was the first year I found out that some religious women wear only skirts. It was also the first time that I saw women who covered their hair daily and not only in shul. The school only went up to 8th grade.

For high school, I went to The Frisch School. The school is an Orthodox school, but is fully co-ed (except gym class and some sections of the "kedushat hamishpacha" course). Most of my friends, like me, wore pants outside of school (the dress code for school was knee-length skirts & shirts with sleeves) and I certainly felt more tzanua jumping rope and babysitting in pants.

(if you're still wondering where my youngest brother went to college....) When I finished high school, I joined my youngest brother at Bar Ilan University. (Well, he was mostly finished, and was in the army, but he lived near campus.) I was younger than almost anyone, and had a hard time making friends, so peer pressure couldn't get me back into skirts - I never felt comfortable in skirts... By the end of my first year, I was dating a non-religious guy, and I wore pants wherever I could get away with it. Basically, I'd put on a skirt for shul and simchas.

When I was about 25, I realized that if I wanted to date religious men, I might do well to try acting more openly religious, and I wore only skirts for about 6 months. Then I met someone who was religious enough for me and was a very good guy. When we'd been dating for a while, we discussed it and he said that skirts/pants wasn't an issue for him, so I went back to wearing pants. His parents didn't approve of the match (Not because of religious reasons. They felt that we were a poor match culturally.), and we broke it off.

My "rebound guy" was not particularly religiously oriented... so I didn't feel any need to go back to skirts. By the time I'd been with him a few weeks, I was entirely sick of men, so I didn't really care what they thought of me. I didn't date anyone for about 7 months. When I did, I went out with Scott, who wasn't so religious, but realized that I was more religious than he was... so he set me up with his "charedi" friend, Yaakov.

And now we get to the fun part. Of course, for the first date with a religious guy, I put on a skirt. About 2 hours into the date, I asked him how he felt about skirts, and he (forgive the pun) skirted the question and asked me if I thought a girl should be tzanua, which, of course I did. I think pants shouldn't be very tight, and that shoulders should be covered... I never wore short skirts...etc... I mean, jeez, I have standards...

It took a few weeks before I realized what he meant, and by then, it was too late. I was already in love, and I realized it was so crucial to him that I couldn't expect him to change his mind.

You should have heard the fight we had when he told me that I couldn't have bangs out of my head-covering. I cried - a lot.

In the house, I dress "like a normal person," but outside, I basically live up to his standards. Sometimes I find it a real hardship, and I don't find it meaningful, so it's still kind of an issue, but such is life.

And that is where triLcats come from...


Ezzie said...

That's a really interesting and far-reaching background...!

I wonder if you had my FIL as a teacher in Frisch - R' Dr. Luchins.

triLcat said...

Ezzie: Of course, that's why I commented that I'd seen Serach when she was quite little (some 15 years ago.)
Actually, Rav Luchins was only my teacher for 11th grade physics, but somehow, way before that, he became my Rav.
He's one of the people I encountered in my life who I consider myself truly blessed to have met.

mother in israel said...

Of course we want to know, we're reading your blog aren't we? It sounds like you got a strong Jewish identity from your travels. Some families might have lowered their standards when they were out of a Jewish community. At least you probably don't suffer from the rabbi's child syndrome.

frumhouse said...

You have led such an interesting life!! Thanks for sharing your story!

B said...

Wow. That's a great post. Thank you for sharing all of that. You're really very inspirational. Nobody asked me about this whole Tznius thing but just a little secret, the first year + is a time where you get adjusted to covering your hair. I remember not covering my hair at first in the house and then having my non-married friends ask me what I do. I had to really sit down and re-evaluate what I did. In the end I decided that when nobody was around I felt comfortable with uncovering my hair. When my friends visited I covered my hair (as well as when I was out of the house). It takes time to get used to it. It must be meaningful to you in order for it to be real. I personally knew all of the sources and there was no doubt that I would be covering my hair.
Ezzie, I went to DB with Serach (I was shana bet her shana alef).

triLcat said...

I cover whenever a male who isn't a close relative is in the house. ditto for pants. If my dad, brother, nephew is here, I just can't be bothered to cover. Same with female friends. Once in a rare while, if I'm at a friend's house and I know there won't be any men around for a long time, then I will take off my headcovering, especially if it's itchy or bothering me (which is happening slightly less lately - I think it's because everything else is bothering me more ;) )

Happy Mom of 6 said...

Thanks for sharing your history! When people have had such a wide exposure to so many places/cultures/philosphies, I would think that they end up quite settled with their lifestyle. Covering hair is hard for almost everyone - but you get used to it. As with anything- weighed against Shalom bayis - it is probably worth it. I will be back!