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Walking the Tightrope

Walking the Tightrope

Taking the Wobbly Steps Towards a More Torah-Observant Life

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There are true stories of women who lead double lives. There's that school librarian, all quiet and serious, who preaches the importance of literature by day and then finds herself addicted to useless reality television by night. There are the thousands of newly unemployed individuals, going to job interviews and trying to project a confidence in themselves and in their future employment that is virtually impossible to feel in this tumultuous economy. And what about the small duplicities in all our lives- exhorting our kids to eat healthy while we settle for a "breakfast" of coffee as we rush off to work?

Any kind of duplicity is both a talent and a burden. And I lead such a life. I am a Jewish woman walking the line between belief and practice.

Transformation is a process that takes time Let's be honest, it is a very rare case that a woman falls asleep with a Big Mac in her hand and wakes up with a kosher kitchen. The entire transformation is a process that happens over time. For some it can be a few months and for others it takes years. However, one thing that we all share is that "in between" phase. That time when we know in our heart of hearts that we shouldn't eat the non-kosher steak but it is just so unbelievably tempting!

It's also that time when your favorite music group is coming to town on a Saturday and because you're not quite fully observant of Shabbat you buy the tickets anyway. All the while, this back and forth is going on where the things you've been doing forever and the things you would like to be doing are confronting one another in a great war that takes place deep within your soul. So what's a girl to do?

Although I'm not completely done with my metamorphosis (far from it), my advice is to acknowledge what you're going through, understand that it's normal, and then find someone whom you can talk to about it. Personally, I find the situation both difficult and comforting at the same time. What we all seem to forget some time or another is that we are all here doing what we are doing because this is what G‑d intended for us.

This past Labor Day weekend, I felt like I had been thrust upon a very narrow tightrope. For me, it's not a question of moving forward or backward. After learning a lot about Judaism over the last two years, and with the support of my husband, family, and friends, there's just no turning back. Nor would I want to.

Something is keeping me in balance Instead, it's a question of where will I fall? Where do I belong? This is the difficult part. And this is where the duplicity comes in. Here I am, on Labor Day weekend, fumbling for the number to the mikvah and at the same time looking up the address to a local festival where I'm positive that it will be impossible to find kosher food.

The next day, I find myself saying the bedtime prayer of Shema only hours after eating at a non-kosher barbecue. It's like an endless cycle of one step forward and two steps back. Yes, this is the difficult part.

As crazy as it sounds, it is all still very comforting as well. When I take a proverbial step back and look at myself on that tightrope walking the line, I notice something very interesting – I'm still on the tightrope. I haven't fallen to one side or the other.

Something is keeping me in balance. It's those mitzvahs again. You know, those things that Jews are supposed to be doing as much as they can? Well, guess what? No one can ever take your mitzvah away from you. Don't get me wrong, we should all strive to do as many mitzvahs as possible, but just because you are not yet at the point where you eat kosher food every day doesn't take away from your mitzvah of lighting candles on Shabbat.

The details are between you and G‑d alone I find this fact very inspiring and when I think about it, it always makes me want to do more. And even though it's scary at times, just to be on that tightrope means that you've made great strides. You're no longer in the audience. You're the performer and you're walking the line. This is the comforting part.

As much as I know I can share my highs and lows with some of my friends, no one experiences this the exact same way. This struggle is a very personal one, and the details are between you and G‑d alone. It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to become a tightrope walker. Are you ready to forgo a Saturday concert for Shabbat at a friend's house? Maybe you're as far as retiring all of your pants for beautiful skirts. Or, maybe you thought to yourself that this all sounds pretty interesting and you should ask someone about it to learn a little more.

Whatever your situation is, only you know what side you're leaning to that day. As for myself, I've been very wobbly lately. But wobbly means progress and so even though it is hard at times, I'm continuing to strive for a new balance in my life and resisting the temptation to simply fall back to my old habits. I hope to one day walk with full confidence as I continue to grow and strengthen my Jewish commitments, but even when my footing is far from secure, I'll try to enjoy each and every mitzvah along the way.

Angela Goldstein is a wife and mother who divides her time between family and a passion for writing and exploration. A freelance grant writer, she has several years of experience writing grant proposals for organizations in multiple disciplines. She also sits on the Boards of two non-profit organizations and is currently working on her first non-fiction project.
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Diane Albuquerque, NM & Maine March 10, 2016

Thank you for this article I am also on a tightrope. I try to keep Shabbat, but live 8 miles from Chabad so end up driving. I have lights I keep on all day & night, but I have an electric hospital bed that I need to adjust depending on my esophagus. I have a habit of highlighting when I read, & am working hard not to pull it out on Shabbat. Besides who highlights Chumash commentaries? Me. I want to set up kosher kitchen, but too expensive to order kosher meat online. Can't afford to buy all new appliances if can't kasher dishwasher or refrigerator (I do unplug light in it though). Haven't found reg size urn for hot water for coffee, so use Mr. Coffee pot. Eat egg salad sandwiches on Shabbat. Husband & I can't eat after 1pm, so light Shabbat candles, do kiddish over Kedem grape juice, & hamotzi & eat some challah for Shabbat meal. Try to buy kosher items, check for a hechsher. Doesn't matter which. Can't be choosy.
Dress modestly. No jeans. Shacharit nearly every day. Siddur I& Tehillim are lifelines. Bit by bit! Reply

LP Laurelton, NY June 24, 2012

Totally relate... I'm so glad that I read this article. I too am on a tightrope - trying to navigate my way.. I love that you said that the details are only between you & G-d. Reply

Ilene Rosenblum February 15, 2010

Thanks Thanks for sharing part of your journey. Closing the difference between where we are and where we want to be is a lifelong journey, but the important thing is not to get frustrated and to accept yourself for where you are at along the way. Having a rabbi or trusted mentor and supportive friends are invaluable in helping you realize this. Reply

Anonymous W. Hartford, CT November 4, 2009

Patience Been there, done that - doing that. Hashen blessed me with a wonderful husband along the way who was also walking the tightrope. Now we, and our children, are helping each other. One of us moves up the ladder and gently brings the others along. And we are even gently and slowly bringing my mother along. Be patient with yourself and you'll find your way, Trust Hashem, He'll help you. Reply

Victoria Barmak st. Louis, MO November 4, 2009

Thank you!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I have always hoped that being wobbly was OK, but, nevertheless felt very guilty about it, and almost resigned to the fact I probably just lacked commitment. Your article, however, made me realize that being wobbly (I love that word! It is so perfect in this case) is much better than not trying at all, and it is, as you say, progress. Reply

Anonymous Johannesburg, South Africa November 4, 2009

A Comfortable Tightrope I'm also in the middle of the tightrope! I love the connection that prayer gives me to Hashem but I really resonated with your comment about saying the bedtime Shema after eating non-kosher! I just find that there is a way to compromise and do 'frum' in my own way. I can't stand the arrogance I see in my frum community and I can't associate myself with that. I'm lucky in that I've found people who feel the way I do, and we've found a way to do it 'our' way. It's difficult when you feel isolated but you have to keep going and do what's important to you. Reply

Richard Raff BonneyLake, WA November 3, 2009

Madam Goldstein I am a non Jew by blood,I am a Jew spiritually 100%.When I started observing Judaism and the mitzvahs that go's with that. I had to learn to how to except the Yoke of G-d. I must of looked pretty whobely.and acted very awkward. I still kept walking thou,walking that tightrope you are talking about. Like Indiana Jones taking that step of blinding faith to get across that canyon of doom, I closed my eyes and went for it.Now every Shabbat I light the candles and I try to sing the kiddish and I turn off all energy eating objects .I do get rest that G-d intended for me to have and I slowly get consumed towards emptiness then to sleep,I really love that time. Reply

JM NY, NY November 3, 2009

great article I think your reflections echo what a lot of people who have a limited background of Judaism go through. I especially like the phrase, "the details are between you and G-d alone". It feels good to know that other people go through this tightrope walk.

This Yom Kippur, for example, I thought I did everything right. It was the first Yom Kippur where I abstained from the things that are required. I even bought a pair of canvas shoes hours before the holiday began. But during that holiday while talking with others between services, I came to understand that writing was prohibited. Although I had thought I did everything right, turns out I have even more to learn for next year's service, which is OK!

What I've come to realize is you do the best that you can. If you have support from family and friends that's the best case, but being by yourself is tough. Judaism is best when observed by a team. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami, Fl November 3, 2009

A short prayer for every Jew upon awakening I wrote this short prayer which should be said every morning Angela. It will help you through the day:

"Dear G-d,

I will not be ashamed to be a Jew today, but will be ashamed of the Jew I am. Reply

Anonymous Edmond, OK November 3, 2009

I'm there too If it were easy everyone would be walking or trying to walk this path, but it's not...it is a daily but incredibly rewarding struggle as I grow closer to Hashem. Hopefully via mitzvah's we can encourage more and more women to take one step at a time toward observance. I laughed (and cried) as I read this article because I related so well. My strength to continue comes from Hashem, of course AND close contact with my Chabad community, (Rabbi and Rebitzen are awesome)! Also, I'm dedicated to giving my 3 yr old son a strong jewish upbringing, torah and education and finally I read, read, read...prayers, psalms, bible,(JLI) classes, books from the chabad library, and articles on this website. Thank-you, Hashem for all of these. Angela, a wonderful article...thanks for sharing with us. Reply

Mary St. Charles, IL November 3, 2009

Pork I am a bat Noach (non Jew) so I am not in your position; however, I have managed to give up pork and all the goodies made from it (bacon, pepperoni, hard salami, ham sandwiches) by thinking about all the cholesterol loaded animal fat I'm avoiding. Maybe if you focus on eating healthy it will help you to avoid at least some treif foods. Good luck and G-d bless you in your effort to increase mitzvot. Reply

RachelbasSarah Bklyn, NY November 3, 2009

some points... When I lived in Crown Heights, the idea of a tightrope didnt exist-a community to live in, being surrounded by like minds working on the same goals, is very different trying to be observant in a non-Jewish environment. I work at a college with 'educated' people who think religion is for primitives, illiterates and the un-evolved. I am no longer physically in CH, my heart remains there, I've come to believe after being out for 25 years that you cannot have one foot in and the other out-this is playing at being religious until you can make time to do it right...like choosing to refuse work on shabbos even when the employer demands it-I went home, lit Shabbos candles, and shabbos morning had to be at work at 8am. We have many names for being weak and lacking courage, we even have laws in books that allow people freedom to practice-yet the reality in a non-relgiious environment is quite different. I hope that Hashem allows me enough time to complete working & return to being observant. Reply

Angela (the author) Bethlehem, PA November 2, 2009

Thanks for your comments! Wow, I was not anticipating so much wonderful feedback. Thank you! I see now that I'm not the only one in this boat. But yes, it can be tough and the best thing we have is each other. With that said, please feel free to look me up and friend me on Facebook/Twitter (Angela Goldstein). Thanks again for your comments and support. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, PA November 2, 2009

Walking the Tightrope I definitely know the ambivalance! I keep reminding myself that it is a process and I don't have to decide today!! Thanks for your wonderful article! Reply

Anonymous Daly City, CA November 2, 2009

Middle of Tightrope I'm right in the middle of the tightrope and this article describes it so well. I feel isolated at the moment without close friends to talk with. That's a time when this website and these articles are so important. Hopefully, I will find a supportive community, soon. Until then, thank you for reminding me that I'm not isolated and there are many others out there in a similar place. Reply

Hinda Schryber jerusalem, israel November 2, 2009

ive got news for you great article, but ive got news for you - after 30 years, im still wobbly sometimes. And you knwo what thats o.k. as long as you just keep going forward, one small step at a time.
Go for it! Reply

Chana Oslo, Norway November 2, 2009

beautiful article!thank you for sharing with us, Angela. I'm in these stage now. Thank you! Reply

Dr. Amy Austin Rancho Mirage, CA/USA November 1, 2009

One foot in... One foot out... Angela,
Thank you for sharing honestly and openly. For years I had one foot in the secular door and one foot in the observant door. I vacillated between two worlds, sometimes with frustration and most times with acceptance of the process. In the last two or three years, I started to cover my hair full time. Then, my last dinner at a non-kosher restaurant. And, last year my rabbi gave a blessing on my birthday, Simchas Torah, that I should move closer to my shul. I had already put my house up for sale. Finally, a year passed and my house sold. I found my new home near my shul, the timing was perfect (even in this down market) and the rest is hashgocha protis. Now, both feet are comfortably in the observant door. I am finally home, spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I can't tell you what it meant to have a minyan in my sukkah, guests at my shabbos table, people coming in and out to eat, pray, learn. I am living my dream. May you continue to find yours in your own time. Reply

Anonymous Bradenton, FL November 1, 2009

thank you I have been wobbling for a long time now, but I go to shul at least on Friday night (and try to go Saturday morning), say the Shema daily and remember to bless my food...as a vegan, the kosher part is not too tough for me, but my kitchen is not really "kosher" ---there is just no meat in my diet! Slowly, with intent, the transformation will happen totally! Reply

aunt robin brooklyn, ny November 1, 2009

walking the tightrope as usual, your writing is clear and insightful. not only is what you say applicable to religion, but it is true of life as well. just because something is not 100%, does not disavow the percentage that it is. i am very proud of the young woman you have become in all areas of your life. Reply

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