When We Fear The Community More Than We Fear God

Ten years ago, I went on an almost free trip to Israel with other college-age students.

The organizer plopped us into a school much too square for our own good, and walked away as we fried.

I sat in class while the headmaster lectured about her view of history in a way so generalized it scared me. I shoved my chair backwards and twisted past bodies as everyone stared.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled, my face distorted in distress, “I need to leave.”

I flew out of that building and into the tall grass nearby, hiding myself in them, sobbing, horrified by the words I had just heard. Finally, I calmed down and went to buy some pita and hummus.

As I ate it on the street, gazing out at the traffic of Jerusalem, the trip organizer called me. He was not pleased.

“What’s going on?” he wanted to know.

I told him what the teacher had said, and why I had to leave.

“You need to apologize,” he disproved.

“Apologize? Why?” I wondered.

“You don’t want to ruin your shidduch chances,” he said. That was it.

I was flabbergasted.

It took me many years to understand that fear of “what might come” is the glue that holds the antiquated power structure within the frum world together, a structure so archaic for our modern sensibilities that it begs us to break it. 

“What if people think this?

What if people know that?

Then what will happen to the children?”

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Throw it all to the wind. 

Expose yourself, bare and brave. Your substance. With nothing but a brazen neshama screaming from your chest.

Because a few blocks from here, a school stands in waiting.

Chassidim wander around making blessings on the sight of fruit trees preparing for blossom, and the air fills with a sense of possibility.

Moshiach is coming any day now, you can feel it. Probably today, but the girls aren’t in school to talk about it.

Girls aren’t in school because school isn’t in session.

School isn’t in session because teachers aren’t getting paid.

“Politics,” the mothers whisper knowingly to each other. “Someone grabbed all the money first.” 

No one’s pointing fingers because… well… Even though Moshiach is coming soon, probably today, there are other things to worry about. Like all that God doesn’t control and doesn’t care about. 

Moshiach hovers overhead, observing the erratic, nonsensical nature of his people as they forget about him and Him.

He hears them warn each other: “Consider your children. Who will marry them if you are marked a ‘traitor’?”

He sees them put down their phones, suck up their angst, and throw their hands in the air: “What can be done?”

What can be done is everything. What will be done is nothing.

The mothers whisper to each other and the fathers narrow their eyes and bury their souls into their smartphones.

“It’s for the children,” they remind themselves piously. “Don’t worry, Moshiach is coming.”

And the children, the children are out on the street.