Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ask Chaviva Anything: Parenting and Jewish Divorce

Some great questions rolling in, and I'm so glad I get to answer them. Let's start with what might seem like a tough question, but one that actually has a pretty simple answer.
Hi Chaviva! My question is how would you handle a situation where Ash decides to be less religious or non-religious? I wonder because you fought so hard to become Jewish, so I can imagine that it would be a really sensitive situation for you. Would you accept him if he was not religious? Or mourn him? How would you try to bring him back to Judaism?
Once upon a time, after a very difficult marriage and divorce, I was left spinning, unsure who I was or what life was meant to look like. During that time, I made some questionable choices and ended up dating someone who was not Jewish (this was a few years after my Orthodox conversion, so I was, for all intents and purposes, a Jew). When it was revealed that I was dating a non-Jew (while still keeping kosher and Shabbat), I received hate mail, calls for my conversion to be revoked, comments on blog posts saying that I was the "worst thing to happen to Judaism," and harassment from people who had once been friends (mostly other converts, too). I was being pushed and shoved away from the Judaism that had so nurtured my soul and given me a home. I was being told I was not a Jew, I was being distanced from my family. 

But there were, during this time, a few (religious) friends who pulled me close. They sent me notes, they checked in on me, they reminded me that I had a home, that I was loved and that Judaism was not rejecting me. They gave me the nurturing and love that I needed to make the right decisions at the right time, and they allowed me to return. I really learned who my real friends and family were in Judaism, and I learned who was toxic and insincere. 

What this taught me, this entire experience that still hurts and stings to this day, is that Judaism teaches us that when someone strays or makes choices that don't necessarily jibe with Torah Judaism, we pull them close, we give them a space. If you push them away, they'll just move farther and farther away until they're lost in the crowd. The often-quoted adage is "hate the sin, not the sinner," and those who truly understand Judaism and HaShem hold tightly to that dictum. 

So, long story short ... I grew up not Jewish and found my way here. Mr. T grew up fairly Jewish, attending a Jewish day school and then a boys school and then had some wild and crazy teen years before returning in his early 20s. We've both lived our lives and experienced things that those who are FFB (frum from birth) perhaps not, and that gives us a unique perspective. Sure, I'd love for all of my kids to be as religious as us, but there's always the possibility that they'll be more or less observant than us, and I'm okay with that. Judaism is a journey, and as long as I do my job and give my kids a healthy view of Judaism and the outside world, they'll choose what is right for them and I'll respect that. I'll hold them close, give them a nurturing environment where they know that they are loved for who they are, no matter the choices they make. They will always have a home. 

Next question!
Thank you for admitting that you seeked marriage counseling! Did you and your ex-husband ever go through counseling? How was that experience different? I've been reading for years but I guess I still don't understand why you got divorced. It worked out for the best obviously but I can't help but be curious since it seems rarely discussed in the Orthodox world.
I've actually written about it before, I'm pretty sure. I was much less open during my last marriage. All of our struggles and trials were kept quiet and out of the public eye, contrary to how I live much of my life. My in-laws were shocked, absolutely no one knew it was coming because darn if we weren't good at putting up appearances. I was depressed, anxious, and embarrassed that it wasn't working, but I managed a smile when I needed to. Of the 16 months we were married, we spent a year of that in couples counseling, with me in additional counseling on the side. Despite that, it just wasn't meant to be. It took a meeting with a rabbi, who posed an ultimatum to my ex. When he responded with "I'd like to think I'd choose my marriage," I knew it was done. I had to make the decision, and I did. 

Believe it or not, divorce is actively encouraged in the Jewish community (in the Orthodox world anyway), because if things aren't working out (for any number of reasons), both individuals have the right to move on and give it another go. There are even discussions about how one merits a series of partners (read about it: A Zivug or Bashert?). 

Hope this provides some semblance of clarity!

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