Last year, I started increasing my observance of Judaism. I began keeping kosher, dressing more tznius, or modestly, and frequenting prayer services. I returned to college this fall with more confidence than ever in my Jewish identity: I labeled my sets of kashered silverware, I hung a mezuzah on the doorway of my dorm room and I planned to become even more involved in Chabad and Hillel.
I went to a babka bake, sang “Shalom Aleichem” with all my heart beside my friends every Friday night and eagerly invited my non-Jewish friends to join me for a Shabbat dinner. I also filled my closet with midi skirts and long sleeves, leaning into modesty. My friends and I jokingly coined the term “Frum Girl Fall” — a play on Christian Girl Autumn — to describe my new wardrobe.
Even with my relatively privileged position as an American Jew without any family in Israel or Palestine, I still hurt for my friends, for every innocent soul and for the land itself. A fellow congregant’s relatives are hostages. Gaza is still under relentless bombardment. Nobody is truly safe. The pain hasn’t ended.
I consider myself on the more liberal end of Modern Orthodoxy, combining traditional halakhic observance with my life in modern society. I thought I had found a solid home in my Jewish community, but the past five weeks have tarnished my feeling of belonging. When I speak out or question anything that the Israeli government is doing, I find myself at odds with many in my community. Just as disconcerting, I wonder if people who don’t know me make assumptions about my beliefs because of my visible Orthodoxy.
When I read the inflammatory and often discriminatory rhetoric from some of the most prominent people of my practice, I experience the fearful urge to hide my observance, to run away from my tznius, my kashrus and my prayers, to distance myself from the people in my community who hold views that don’t represent mine.
But I believe that showing your Jewishness is actually quite important right now, no matter what that looks like for you. I refuse to let the little ways in which my day-to-day life becomes holy be taken away.
Jews are not a monolithic community. There is no one way to be Jewish — not even a single way to be secular, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. By showing my Judaism as I speak my truth, I hope I can dispel stereotypes and open others’ eyes to the overwhelming diversity of my community — of our community. Disrupting the binaries imposed on Jewish identity is not easy. I worry about saying the wrong thing, about messing up. But my spiritual thirst makes it necessary. I lead my life by chesed — kindness — for humanity. I won’t let my observance be turned into ignorance and hate.
My Frum Girl Fall has been more painful than I could have imagined, but it has given me new insight into where my Jewish values can lead me. Every day, I wake up, put on my long skirt from a Hasidic-owned brand, clasp my “Shalom” necklace, bundle up for the autumn breeze and make the conscious decision to let my life be carried by chesed. While the world may not be at peace, I will do what I can to bring peace to those around me — in honor of my Orthodox Judaism.