In the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the main character says, "Nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies and feed everyone until the day we die." Just substitute Jewish in there and you have my upbringing.
There are many wonderful things about being Jewish: The food is amazing, the conversation is interesting and we are among the funniest people on earth. But Jewish women have certain expectations put on them. Growing up, I heard lectures about the dangers of interfaith dating throughout Hebrew school, and my grandmother was constantly concerned about me marrying since the age of 10.
Growing up, I didn't have a lot of luck with boys, let alone Jewish ones. I'm tall, curvy, smart, independent and loud. I'm not ashamed of having my own opinion, I don't care about what other people think of me and overall, I'm just a pain in the butt. So when an Orthodox rabbi set me up with my ex while I was in college, I jumped at the chance to have a relationship.
However, I wasn't prepared for it. From the beginning, our relationship was very public. Less than two months after we started dating, he was talking about 60-plus years of wedded bliss. It was enough to make any girl's head spin.
My faith taught me that getting married is perhaps the most sacred thing you can do as a woman. So here was a guy who regularly said he loved me, came from a good traditional Jewish family and wanted to marry me. I should be so lucky! This religious thinking combined with my crippling insecurity translated into a serious problem that I would take into my married life.
After two years of dating, there was a lot of pressure to tie the knot. It seemed that we had waited long enough. So he proposed and I accepted, and we married young, with my requirement that we wait to have children.
From early on our marriage was difficult, as if a light bulb had turned off after the wedding. He had the same prerogative that I did: find a nice Jewish spouse. Now that he had done it, he felt like he didn't have to do anything else.
I set up a traditional Jewish home, right down to keeping kosher. I wanted to be a good wife. But while I was committed to being observant, he violated Jewish law by making me have to beg for sex throughout the marriage (in Judaism, it's an obligation for a man to have sex with his wife regularly). He got argumentative and would talk dismissively to me. For a person who grew up so traditional, he certainly didn't know how to treat others the way they wanted to be treated.
Almost two years into our marriage, I had a terrible medical scare. As a result, it became very unlikely that I would be able to have children. This comes with a multitude of issues, but there was a distinct Jewish issue for me: From a young age, I was expected to have babies and raise my kids to be Jewish. Now I wasn't sure I could. It was a traumatic discovery for me, one that shook my faith.
As time went on and my marriage became even rockier, I began to question the way I was observing my faith. I love Judaism because great rabbis encourage you to ask questions. There is an explanation behind every law and commandment -- a portion of the Torah, rabbinical commentary or just a story.
At one point, I thought about giving up on keeping kosher. We were poor, we could barely afford the high price of the meat and my diet was suffering. I asked my ex if he would ever consider it and he said no. I asked why. His response: "Well, I've always done it this way, and I see no reason to change." Not even a reference to Jewish law.
Those words struck a chord in me. This is not how I believed G-d to be, nor my faith's intention. Sure, my ex and I were both Jewish, but that didn't make our marriage harmonious. I could have found someone who believed what I did and was observant for a reason -- not "just because."
Although divorce is allowed in Judaism and I received a religious divorce as well as a civil one, it's not looked upon favorably. I have spoken with people, even fellow Jewish divorcees, who have said it's something we shouldn't talk about in public or tell others -- we don't want a reputation. It shocks me sometimes that there still is this stigma in a faith where divorce is not only allowed, but is encouraged if the marriage isn't working.
I have never been ashamed of my divorce, particularly as a Jew. In fact, I feel I am a better person now simply being observant and doing what was expected of me. My goal is to live my life fully while serving other and repairing the world, which is what my faith is about at its core. I'm not the world's best Jew, and you would never hear me proclaim that I am. Instead, I am becoming the person that G-d intended me to be, imperfections and all. For me, there is no higher calling than that.
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