I started “no before no after” at around the time that I discovered that I was off the derech. I didn’t even know what that meant, or that there were others who had moved away from a life long devotion to orthodox judaism. For me, it was an almost indiscernible, decades long glacial retreat. I had managed to find a non-orthodox spouse, we kept kosher and shabbat at home, but he wasn’t kosher or shomer shabbat outside of our house. We moved away from an orthodox community, to a small town where the rabbi was orthodox, the congregation reform, the prayer books conservative.
Disappointment in the part of orthodoxy emphasized by this particular rabbi (women as second class citizens, being denied leadership or ritual roles, but allowing mixed seating and a watered down prayer service; the holocaust as an ever present morbid reason for keeping the heritage alive), led to a broader realization of the flaws of orthodox judaism.
I began to experiment with small indiscretions. Letting my husband drive me places on shabbat, watching tv with him. Eventually I wondered, why not do it myself? As I began this process of extricating myself from orthodox rituals, I was all alone, except my husband and the wonderful non-orthodox congregation that we were part of. But they had never been there, through orthodoxy and then beyond, so I was metaphysically alone, at least I thought so.
At about this time, a chance re-aquaintance with an old friend from college opened up my eyes. I began college following an “inspiring” year in an Israeli seminary, the same year Russian Jews were suddenly allowed to leave en masse from the Soviet Union (do you remember Glasnost?) I am dating myself, I know. I was raised with a modern orthodox philosophy, open to science, questions, wearing pants. Of course in seminary, I had been “inspired” to become more fervently religious, whilst homesickness and recurring depression had me experiencing existential crises. To relieve my anxiety, I jumped into a stricter orthodox observance, wearing long skirts, becoming ocd about kosher laws, encouraged by a more extreme form of judaism in Israeli religious zionism. Ironically, I had my second bout of doubt toward the end of this year (first bout was during the last year of high school, I will get back to that another time).
I had immensely enjoyed meeting the Russian immigrants and was fascinated by their secular culture. When I returned from abroad, I signed up for an intense first year class in Russian and so did another intense woman, who as a fellow Jew, I befriended. I knew she was not religious, and I was intrigued and a little shocked that she had grown up orthodox as well. Over a decade later, we reaquainted online. When she came to visit in person, I was awed that she had renunciated religious observance so young. I had a lot to learn. To my astonishment, she told me there was a growing movement of ex-orthodox jews, especially around New York (I had long ago moved away from the Jewish hinterland). I had no idea that one called such a person “off the derech”, so after she had left, I decided to google “atheist” and “jewish”. As if there had never been such a thing ever, can you imagine?
My first hit was the blog: Jewish Atheist! http://jewishatheist.blogspot.com/
Then I followed the blog “Formerly Frum” https://hayleyamanda.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/welcome-im-so-glad-youre-here/
Abandoning Eden http://abandoningeden.blogspot.com led me to the small burgeoning facebook group “Off the derech.”
“Off the derech”, an unfamiliar term for a formerly modern orthodox Jew, but that’s when I finally found my lancemen (the yiddish term for people from your same town in the old country).