The Same Old Thing

It was my first night playing Kings, a drinking card game – which, by the way, is the best combination of fun I can possibly imagine. It got us all pretty wasted. People kept confusing my makeshift Minnie Mouse costume with a puppy, probably because I had painted a big black spot on my nose, but I couldn’t care less. It was the weekend before Halloween. I was having a good time with my friends, laughing and high-fiving random college kids on the street.

No, I didn’t trash talk a cop or cheat on my boyfriend with a scumbag in a back alley. Alcohol doesn’t magically transform you into an asshole. It makes you let go of all the day-to-day stressors in your life for once. It’s actually pretty good therapy.

We stepped into PJ’s to get some pizza. Waiting for our pie at a nearby table, we discussed how we should end our night, and who would crash at our place. That’s when they walked in: two guys, somewhere in their 20s, wearing an odd look of naïve enthusiasm on their faces.

“Who here is a Jewish?” they asked, looking around the crowded room of drunk college students. Their wide-eyed stares reminded me of children at their first day of school. It was unsettling in a way, and strangely familiar. Everyone ignored them, but of course we had to say something.

“We are.”

It was an instinct – one I seriously need to get rid of. That got their attention. They smiled at us, and it almost seemed genuine.

“Really?” they asked as they approached us. “Then you should come to our shabbaton. Do you know what a shabbaton is?”

I sighed. After a decade of Beis Yaakov and four more years of conditioning in high school, I had hoped that maybe…

“Yes…we know what a shabbaton is.”

“Well that’s great. You should really reconnect with your Judaism.”

“I think I’ve done enough connecting,” I heard my friend say.

What did they think they were doing? This was college. We were dressed sluttily, drunk as hell, eating non-kosher food…what made them think a religious ceremony with outdated propaganda would appeal to us right now?

I hoped they would take the hint. I really did. But it was obvious that they wouldn’t. They were too bent on changing people, too convinced of “the light.” They continued to advertise their program, trying to recruit new members for their exclusive club.

All I could do was groan as they recited the same speech I’d heard more times than I wish to remember. Is it possible to be Jewish without being harassed? I was finally out. I was renting an apartment in a college town, meeting interesting people, essentially starting a new life. But somehow, despite it all, they always managed to find me.

“It’s so meaningful,” I heard them ramble on. “Just do it once – you won’t regret it.”

It’s like they were selling a used car with damaged ignition. After a while, we got fed up and told them to leave us alone. But they didn’t. It was almost as though they couldn’t, like something in their being just didn’t let them.

It’s because these people were missionaries – straight and simple. I’m sorry to break the news, but Jews are not the exception. Though they may not bother the fortunate souls who happen to be born into a different culture, the rest of us are targets of their incessant efforts of conversion.

Please do not read this article and assume that I am against kiruv organizations. I am not. I support – rather strongly – their right to exist, as they often do change people’s lives for the better. They are known to help people who are searching for something bigger than themselves. I heard personal accounts of ba’al teshuvas who said becoming religious was the best thing they ever did – and good for them. It’s not my place to say that none of it is real. Frankly, I have no way of really knowing. But one thing is for certain. Not everyone is interested. Some people, like me, just don’t want to hear it.

So here’s a message to those Jewish boys and anyone who dreams of following in their footsteps: please, leave us alone when we ask you to. Though you feel certain you possess the ultimate “truth,” remember that you do not know more than we do. All we want is some respect.
We were raised arguing your positions. We were trained to deny heretical statements and dispel the existence of Biblical paradoxes. This used to be our life, the same way it is yours now.

We want to leave it behind. Most “off-the-derech Jews” you assume are lost and confused are in fact more certain than they’ve ever been. They’re not living in corruption. They’re just living with a different set of values in a different kind of world. They have simply come to see Hashem as another character in a continuous tale that dates back thousands of years. And though you may think it is a sad shame, though you may think it is your responsibility to save us, please don’t. We want to move on. We need to move on. Please, for our sake, leave us be so we can do so.