Busted Halo

Monica Rozenfeld moves to Brooklyn with two roommates — a Catholic and an observant Jew — and they each seek understanding of what it means to be religious.

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September 23rd, 2010

How do you define me?


farrahThere comes a time in everyone’s life when they consider online dating.  “Too religious” for JDate (I keep Shabbat and kosher), but not necessarily religious enough for Frumster (I’ve been known to sunbathe on Shabbat), I often struggle with which box to check and which label to apply to my Judaism.  Am I somewhere on the line that spans widely in Modern Orthodoxy?  While applying that label loosely, it always feels like a sweater that never fit right.

Having started my religious journey nine years ago, I’ve had the privilege of slipping in and out of various circles that range from Chabad houses and Upper West Side “fashion show” Shabbats to Kabbalah Centres and soul searchers who are a little lost now and then.

See, I know the lingo now, and I secretly get great joy out of surprising religious men who stick out like sore thumbs in Brooklyn bars with my knowledge of halacha (Jewish law) while I’m wearing clothing that isn’t modest.  The looks on their faces are priceless, and I see the cogs turning trying to figure out how I know the things I do and what brought me to this place.  They don’t come from where I do, and while their Saturday night outing is somewhat of an escape from their sheltered existence, I’m just doing what I’ve always done – grabbing some drinks with my girlfriends, only lately we talk about the coming of moshiach (the Messiah).

Sometimes this doesn’t work in my favor.  Sometimes when I see an attractive man with a covered head, lightly bearded face, rocking tzitzit, I wish I looked like a baal tshuvah stereotype.  The spitting image of a girl trying to fit in and serve G-d at the same time.  Because if I’m not wearing a skirt down to my knees and sleeves that cover my elbows – the Orthodox uniform – how else will he know that we practice Judaism very similarly?  Well, conversation might help, and I might throw out terms that only “insiders” know, but I always feel like I’m trying too hard.  That I’m too desperate to be recognized as “one of them.”

It wasn’t until this past Rosh Hashana that I stopped thinking about how to classify my Jewish identity and I allowed myself to be defined.  When I showed up at my friend’s building, I bumped into another guest who had just arrived.  Because of my outfit (long sleeves underneath an otherwise sleeveless dress), he asked if I was frum (religious).  “Ish,” was my answer.  Later in the evening seated around the dinner table with friends, after discussing with one in particular what a Neo Chassid is, we all had a chance to go around the table and share a story or thought with our fellow diners.  When it was my turn, I shared my shofar experience.  I told them all about how my soul exploded when I heard the shofar blast for the first time this year.  How I had a one-on-one with the Big G.  Offered myself as an empty vessel to be filled with His kindness, and prayed for a joyful year.  I must say, I got some interesting stares.  And then….”Your soul exploded?!  Of course you’re a Neo Chassid!”

A week later I am still embracing this title.  Sometimes I laugh at it and don’t take it seriously.  Isn’t a Neo Chassid just some kid who wants to be spiritual without any religious practice?  Maybe.  Or maybe the new definition can be shaped by the individual.  So my version of Neo Chassidism is being a girl in her twenties who wears pants when she wants to (and if she gives them up it’s simply because summer is too hot for jeans), prays earnestly during soul-shattering Rosh Hashana services, hits up the bar on Saturday night drinking and shooting the breeze about when the Messiah comes, and makes sure to observe the Fast of Gedaliah the next day, even if the religious men at the bar tell her she doesn’t have to.

The Author : Farrah Fidler
Farrah Fidler is a publicist and social media consultant. A native New Yorker, and recent transplant to Brooklyn, she has always been a soul searcher and is constantly looking for new ways to connect with G-d.
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  • Nicole Berkowitz


  • Tom Gibbons

    I often know what you mean about trying to fit in and serve the Divine at the same time. Trust me, you’re not alone in having to contend with codes of dress in your faith traditions, but you have really good insight in trying to navigate the world of “too much” tradition and “not enough.” While I’ve come to see that more traditional codes of dress do have their place in my own Catholic faith, I’ve still struggled at times navigating when those traditions really reflect me and when they don’t. Thanks for the post!

  • Paul

    Keep on blogging/writing! I love your post!

  • Farrah Fidler

    Thanks, Tina. I definitely feel a bit more free since that Rosh Hashana dinner. Although it’s easier to explain to people how you practice by giving a stock answer that’s all-encompassing, I’d rather have people know me for me.

    Thanks Monica. Keep reading :)

    Phil – I’m very interested in what is happening in other religions, particularly my generation where it seems we are changing the menu as you said. Not picking and choosing, but taking control of the way we practice.

    Jah – you are lovely. And I agree that if you don’t know how to be a good person and love your fellow man, then what good is all your Torah? I have an anecdote on that, but might save for another post….that you just inspired!

  • jahfurry

    change your bio to publicist, social media consultant and writer. :)

    there’s only one you, and i’m with Martin Buber, that one of the most Jewish, holiest things one can do is to be YOU, not wear a uniform, or sometimes wear a uniform! but to follow the tradition but to let yourself define yourself, and if there can be so many arguments over what judaism is, why can;t your own individual interp be just as valid as ANYONE ELSES EVER…

    ps a nice not-Frum person is more Jewish than a Frum person who’s a meanie! that’s my two shekels for the day.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    This is wonderful, Farrah. It can be a little lonely or frustrating not fitting neatly into existing labels, but this is an exciting time. New categories are forming in other religions along these same lines — devout faith and respect for tradition, but less strictness in some areas, and leaving behind some things that are maybe anachronisms now. It’s not cafeteria-style; we’re changing the menu. It’s not “spiritual but not religious”; we’re just figuring out how to make being religious relevant. Don’t doubt yourself, you sound like you’re doing just what you should be doing.

  • Monica

    Amen Tina. Love this post, Farrah.

  • Tina

    I say define yourself without strict regard to labels. I have found myself in a similar situation. The way I chose to express myself, my views, my lifestyle can be seen from either extreme depending on who it is that I interact with and what about. Labels are restricting and although brushing them off doesn’t make things any easier as far as social interaction at least you are true to who you are.

  • mare


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