My parents, both baalei teshuvah, got married when my mother was 19 and my father 29. All five of us kids were born within six years. I was the youngest.
My childhood was tough. My parents fought a lot, and their marriage eventually devolved into dysfunction. We lived in an insular frum community, without any understanding of baalei teshuvah or support for them, and my mother felt stifled.
As their relationship deteriorated, my father used Judaism as a weapon, and my mother responded by becoming less and less religious. She moved us to a Modern Orthodox school. She stopped covering her hair. She introduced a TV to our home, gradually leaving it on more and more, eventually putting it on a timer for Shabbos… and then leaving it on completely on Shabbos. By the time I was in eighth grade, only my father, one sibling, and I were still frum.
I wanted to be frum. I was very involved in NCSY, and I loved Judaism. I fought my entire eighth grade year to go to a Jewish high school.
It was an uphill battle, and the school I was in wasn’t helping any. I was a deep thinker, but my questions weren’t answered. “It’s not part of the curriculum,” my teachers would say. When I wanted to understand Shemoneh Esreh, they told me to just read the English translation. I did, but I still didn’t understand. “Sit down and stop asking questions,” my teacher said. After a month of this repetitive exchange, when everyone stood up for Shemoneh Esreh, I sat down. I was kicked out of the class.
Between the school and my parents, I basically had no positive frum role models; by the end of eighth grade I was living in the perfect storm. I didn’t go off the derech so much as being yanked off by both arms. I decided G-d couldn’t possibly exist. For high school, I went to public school.
Ninth grade was a horror story. The public school was incredibly anti-Semitic. I didn’t know how to process the lifestyle my classmates lived. When I went home to my frum neighborhood, I was the goy; in school, they hated Jews. I didn’t belong anywhere. No wonder I became extremely depressed: I had no place, I had no purpose, and I had already decided there was no G-d, which in my mind, meant there was no point to anything.
My social life went through a series of upheavals. First, I got in with the cool kids, but I couldn’t tolerate their superficiality and superiority. When I dropped them, they tormented me. I found a new group of friends who were underdogs and underachievers. I didn’t think I deserved any better.
One day, I was hanging out with a friend, and we decided to take her boyfriend’s car for a drive. Neither of us were old enough to drive or knew how to, but we didn’t think about that: I just got into the car without even putting on my shoes. I didn’t feel I had anything left to lose.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 645)