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The fence upon which I am sitting sits between two fields of opportunity, one secular and one religious. Each field belongs to a separate nation, one a democracy and one a theocracy. Each nation has its own set of laws and customs, as well as its own set of strengths and weaknesses. While guards do stand at the border, those who are determined enough can survive the journey from one side to the other.
I first encountered this fence many years ago, while still a child. I was born on the secular side of the fence. This side of the fence offered me a life full of choices, yet lacked in meaning. In school, while other children were primarily interested in movies and sports, I read a lot and thought about different topics. I searched desperately for a direction and a purpose in life. I tried to fit in throughout school and discovered that the rigid popularity structure did not leave room for those like me.
I sought a purpose in life, and I found it on the other side of the fence. The pull towards the other side was so strong that I did not delay. I ran towards the fence without looking back. With tremendous effort I scaled the fence, landed on the other side, and began a journey deeper into the frum land. I went to schools with those born there, learned the local languages, and managed to fit in.
Yet I have suffered here. The lack of choices on the frum side are stifling, and underneath the Utopian facade corruption runs rampant. On this side of the fence, there is a singular focus that leaves little room for individuality and exploration. I feel stuck in a world where the home is expected to be the focus of a woman’s life, and it cannot be the focus of mine.
As an adult, I see a different society on the secular side of the fence. Secular society is large enough for everyone to find a place, even those like me. I feel the need to explore, and therefore I long for the choices of my youth.
So I have inched my way back towards the fence, and stared at it with trepidation. I have climbed up that fence one aveira at a time, until I reached its peak. I stare at the secular side of the fence, longing for its freedom, yet unable to jump. I look back at the frum side of the fence, and see my husband and children below. I see a rope and think “Should I bring my children with me to the other side?” I cannot bring my husband with me, he will never come. Some days I think that I will throw the rope, get my children, jump, and run for dear life. But yet something is stopping me. I feel an inexplicable pull towards the frum side that has hurt me so much. Frumkeit has become part of me somehow. I can’t just leave. Yet I cannot stay.
So I remain here on the fence, exposed to the elements. I attempt to straddle the fence and live in both worlds, yet the fence serves as a barrier between the two.
Is it possible to cross from one side to another as needed? Perhaps it is, but it requires so much effort that it will likely wear me down.
So it seems that for now I will remain right here. I may as well enjoy the view.
Originally published on Sitting on the Fence on August 22, 2011, and reprinted here with permission. Authors have asked us to note that as the essays featured in “Best of the Blogs” document journeys of transformation, the author’s views may have changed since initial publication.
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