In pop culture, religious people ever only seem to come in two flavors: bible thumpers and one step out the door. The sore lack of middle ground leaves me totally cold 'cause I'm neither. I like my religion very much, but you'll likely never hear me talk about God as my savior, redeemer or what have you-'cept when I'm praying, but those are private anyway.

I'll fully admit that my relationship with my religion is heavily colored by how I came into it. My family is the sort of traditional non-denominational Jew that's standard in the parts of the world where antisemitism is alive and well on a governmental level. When it was time for then to choose an elementary school for my brother and me, they went with an Orthodox day school 'cause they wanted to expose their kids to the religion. The school was kinda terrible, but I ended up feeling like Orthodox Judaism was the right fit for me.

I waited 'til high school though to decide to identify as such. My mom was the sort who helped me dye my hair blue in eight grade and told me the stupidest thing she ever did was save herself for marriage, so of course my rebellion was going to be of the moving rightward sort. It being my first time in a public school probably didn't hurt either. I think taking on religion then gave me a really safe structured way in which to sort out my identity.

I stress identity because I think that's by far the only major struggle I've ever had with my religion. There were some fights with my family, but for the most part my mom's been amazingly supportive-above and beyond what I could reasonably expect from her. I've occasionally missed weird food like escargot, but I'm only ever frustrated with kosher in an "there's nothing I can eat here except yet another bland salad". I was never popular enough for the abstinence only thing to ever be an issue. And modesty? That big bad bogeyman?


Twas ever only a big deal-'cept for the obligatory frustration at trying to find clothes that fit within the constraints I abide by (skirts below the knee, shirts to the collarbones and elbows covered, nothing too tight)-in the ways in which it was wrapped up with other issues. I've hated my body for possibly longer than I've even thought consciously about it as my family was never one of those "you always look great" bunch. This would manifest in all sorts of freak outs about something modest being too body conscious, but frankly I'd had those freakouts long before I stopped wearing pants. And despite keeping to the crazy standards, I still managed to throw in clothes that I'd now consider questionable.


The only other time I ever really felt like I was fighting against modesty was when it came to identity, which like I said above was always my real struggle with religion. Like many of the people I know who choose to become Orthodox, I thought I had to take on the denomination of my friends and the families I happened to be close to. That did not make for a happy me, 'cause my brain just wasn't wired for that brand of Judaism.

I felt guilty for wearing T-shirts with slogans, listening to rock and rap, and liking all sorts of not very PG rated books. It took a couple of years and some deep soul searching to realize that I could be a good Orthodox Jew without living in that world where secular and religious are bitter foes. To me, they're like vanilla and chocolate; fine on their own, but really yummy when mixed up into a swirl.


A lot of my acquaintances who've left religion were pushed too far to the religious that they opted out all together, and some of the most extremly religious people I've met had quite the wildly secular past. They're the people who tend to show up in the media, the sinners and saints. Those of us happily in between? We tend to be on the sidelines, happily eating our ice cream.

ETA: Changed the first sentence from "Religious people ever only seem to come in two flavors" to "In pop culture, religious people ever only seem to come in two flavors" 'cause apparently the context wasn't clear.