The Lone­li­ness Of a Sin­gle Ortho­dox Woman

A Guest Among The Ortho­dox

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Laura E. Ad­kins

Idid not grow up a re­li­gious Jew, but for my en­tire adult life, I’ve been a mem­ber of the Ortho­dox world. As a re­sult, I’ve spent a lot of time in other peo­ple’s homes, with other peo­ple’s fam­i­lies; Ortho­dox life is built around the fam­ily, mean­ing that Shab­bat and hol­i­days are des­o­late af­fairs if you’re by your­self.

Count­less fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across the world have gra­ciously opened their doors and ta­bles to me. From the homes of close friends in my neigh­bor­hood to the bois­ter­ous Chabad of Panama City and ev­ery­where in be­tween, every Shab­bat and every hol­i­day I’ve found a place among my gen­er­ous fel­low tribes­men and women.

I’ve never once been made to feel un­wel­come. But I have also never for- got­ten that I am al­ways a guest.

And while I pay my syn­a­gogue dues and give what I can to the com­mu­nal in­sti­tu­tions that have made me who I am to­day, and though I host Shab­bat and hol­i­day meals of my own in my tiny apart­ment, there’s a lit­tle part of me that will al­ways feel like a bur­den, a tiny voice in the back of my head telling me I’ve been given more than I can ever give in re­turn.

It’s not a friendly voice. A child of di­vorce, I hate to need. I’ve been able to pack a duf­fel bag in 15 min­utes flat since age 8. I have be­come a self-suf­fi­cient ma­chine; my first word was not “Mommy” or “Daddy” but “cat.” I’m an in­tro­vert by na­ture, and I live in my head much more than I do in the pres­ence of oth­ers.

But the Ortho­dox Jewish world is no place for such sin­gu­lar­ity.

This point was driven home for me in col­lege dur­ing a sem­i­nar on re­li­gious lead­er­ship. Our first as­sign­ment was to tell a 10-minute nar­ra­tive of our life and re­li­gious jour­ney. When it was her turn, a fel­low Ortho­dox Jew from a wealthy coastal town, whom I’ll call Beth, shared the story of a woman I’ll call Re­bekah, a woman from her com­mu­nity who had no nearby Jewish fam­ily mem­bers of her own. Re­bekah would come to Beth’s Ortho­dox home every Jewish hol­i­day at the be­hest of her par­ents, who made room for this un­mar­ried woman in their hearth.

When Beth was a child, she saw Re­bekah’s vis­its as a bur­den: Mak­ing space in the house, mak­ing space at the ta­ble, and mak­ing space in the fam­ily for a vir­tual in­ter­loper dur­ing the


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