Vered’s Story: Chapter 13| January 24, 2023
I’d spent the last few years stressing about what will they think about me
uring my high school years, I found myself beginning a gradual process of reassessment. Everywhere I turned, everyone was trying to fit in. It bothered me. Did it really matter? Did it really make a difference? The changes were slow, but I started wearing less black and more color. My clothing was still tzniyusdig and refined, but I didn’t feel like wearing only black anymore. I also grew out my hair, which I’d cut into side-bangs in order to fit in. Eventually I even stopped ironing my hair. Hashem made me with curly hair, and I liked it! Straightening my hair took so much time. It was ruining my hair, and I didn’t even love how I looked. I relaxed and became more comfortable with myself, happy to be my own person without constantly looking over my shoulder, worrying what people were going to think or say about me.
Then I started exploring the fact that I felt so pressured about what others would think when they discovered I was a convert. I knew that the teacher who had initially given me a more negative viewpoint had seriously impacted the way I saw myself, and the way I thought about others seeing me. But I began to realize that I could choose to change how I thought about that as well. My relationships with my friends changed for the better. They became less stressful.
I was blessed to have a very good friend in high school who also felt that it was important to be yourself, and she was very supportive of me. My family was also supportive. I’d spent the last few years stressing about what will they think about me. It was so liberating to get to the point of realizing how silly it all was.
In addition, the more time I spent in frum communities, among frum Jews, the more I realized there were even more groups and sub-groups than I’d ever imagined. There were endless distinctions and politics between groups. The more I saw, the more it felt like we were moving away from the Torah I’d been taught. I felt that trying to fit into these boxes didn’t make me either better or worse in Hashem’s eyes. This was huge for me, and I realized that this wasn’t something I wanted to busy myself with.
It was a big relief to no longer be worrying about walking the walk and talking the talk and behaving just exactly like everyone else. I could be a solid, frum Jew, have a strong connection with Hashem, and enjoy my life without following every frum cultural norm to a T. Which stores I shopped in — or how many alligator shirts I had — became separate from my relationship with Hashem.
During this process, I realized that now that I was worrying less about fitting in, I could focus more on things I cared about. I became a better friend. With less outside focus, I could help my friends more and be there for them with what they were going through. One of my closest friends was going through her parents’ divorce, and I was able to step out of myself and really be there for her. I didn’t have to measure my words, regulate my thoughts, or wonder what she was thinking about what I said to her. With my mind clear, I was able to be completely present and supportive during a time that was so stressful and difficult for my friend.
I could really hear her, ‘cause all the chatter in my head was finally settling down, leaving me lighter than ever.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 946)
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