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Friday, November 28, 2014

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I lost a friendship

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The Torah teaches us to celebrate differences, and not to want everyone to mimic one another – whether it comes to personalities, beliefs or religious practices.

– Eli Rubenstein

I lost a friendship.  

When we were kids, all was good. We were the tame rebels with longish hair and bad-ass mouths. We were the curious kids, the overlooked ones. Few adults seemed to be curious about us.     

We went to a boy’s camp, hid our pellet guns under our bunk beds, and waited a tad too long on the train tracks before leaping off. Soon enough adulthood kicked in and responsibility replaced play. We made decisions that sent us off in different directions, and with that came the surfacing of our guilt, fears and needs.

My friend chose to be frum, and I decided otherwise. I think both of us determined our paths based on guilt, stemming from family pressure and a childhood narrative we both knew well, which stated: “There is one right way to live, and that is as frum Jews.” He subscribed to this narrative, and I rebelled against it.

Such a divergence is not all too uncommon as we grow, but it was painful and caused deep resentment. This same thing can happen within families, when a child becomes Orthodox, or leaves Orthodoxy. It can divide.

In my heart, I understand our separation has more to do with the challenges of maintaining a relationship when many of the rules change, not only the spiritual ones. I know this because he has rejected most of his old friends, frum or otherwise. With this in mind, what do I do? I’d like him back. How do I do that? I’ve been working on it for a long time.

There are those relationship sages who have advised me to “forget him.” Others say, “Let him come to you.” I’ve tried talking Torah on the phone with him, to bridge our communication, but it hasn’t worked. I have done my best to harbour few, if any, expectations of our friendship.  

But the phone is still quiet. I was not invited to his son’s bar mitzvah. That was painful. (Man, the “day of” sucks.)  

According to my friend Eli Rubenstein (who was once Orthodox but now adheres to the values of humanistic Judaism), “it’s sad when one person becomes religious and gives up his/her former friends. But the opposite is equally true, when somebody chooses a less stringent denomination and feels they can no longer have relationships with people who are still Orthodox.”

Eli told me he feels we need to recognize, first and foremost, our common humanity that rises above all else, and that we’re human beings first. “Adding religious denominations shouldn’t stop you from appreciating another person’s core humanity and uniqueness.”

Eli and I talked and concluded: “What happens is that people become so intolerant that they can’t see past other people’s religious beliefs. The fundamental truth is we’re supposed to live our lives, ones that are original and that nobody else has. Then we express that in different ways. But the first thing that should come is our individual human spirit. The Torah is meant to be a guide to a life already being lived; not meant to replace our lives.”

 

I miss my friend. Any thoughts?

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. –A. A. Milne

avrum@veahavta.org

 

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