I've never had the chance to tell about my family story, on this blog, though I've alluded to it. Usually when a teen goes away to school for their first year of college, the parents are greatly when he or she comes back for the summer. For me, it was the reverse - when I went to College, my entire family converted to ultra-orthodox Judaism. I came home from Freshman year, and got the surprise of my life. The last six years I havd had to struggle to maintain the old relationships I had, especially as it became clear to my family that I did not have the desire to follow them in their beliefs at that (or this) stage of my life. To capture some of this feeling, I am publishing an excerpt of my personal statement that I wrote to get into Stanford. It is dated, but it neatly summarizes my family situation.
In front of me is my past, around me is my present, and in my hands is my future.
“How can one’s past be in front of you?” I am asked. ‘How can it not?” I respond. Our past is directly in front of us staring us in our face. We can choose to look or we can choose to avoid, to perceive or to ignore. Often our choice depends on the difficulty of dealing with the picture before us and our strength to confront it.
I am staring at myself staring at my brother. Last year, I did not see him as he was then, with his black hat that almost covered the curls of hair that circled around his ears and his quiet disapproval of my life. Rather, I imagined him, as he was long before, with his carefree smile, and his body language, which proclaimed me to be his best friend in the world. Once we shared everything, then it seemed as if we shared nothing. It was not an intentional divorce that pulled our relationship apart, I see now and knew then. Rather, different currents of ideology made our lives all but irreconcilable. I chose to continue following a path of secular agnosticism, he chose a new path of religious enlightenment in the ultra-orthodox Jewish world. Where before we could eat a meal at a sports bar while watching television, now neither is permissible. I mourn, yet continue to hope for a better future with one whom I have and always will love.
Around me, in the present, are many people—my own cloistered world of college friends. These peers know that I was raised in a “normal” household, as defined by attending public school, eating at McDonald’s each week, and watching the NFL on Sundays. My college friends are also aware that when I returned home after my first year of college, everything had changed. In the space of that year, my family (parents and two brothers) had become devotedly religious, removing themselves from large parts of the secular society that they now had begun to vociferously condemn.
Those in my present cannot understand how I, the son who excelled at school and had been free of any type of commonly defined (secular) discipline problems, am now viewed as the black sheep of the family, simply because of my refusal to accept this path for myself. My friends are perplexed and even dumbfounded that my parents have refused to meet my girlfriend of a year, only because she is not Jewish. What amazes my friends the most, however, is my ability not only to come to terms with my family’s path, but my refusal to accept their new-found faith as the end of our relationship. I feel their changes do not preclude questioning why the situation cannot be better in the future.