Dear Rachel,

I’ve gradually become religious over the last five or six years. Along the way, I’ve met new people and made new friends. I’m very happy with my life now and feel I made the right decision. The problem is that my old friends think I’m a fanatic. They say I can’t hang out with them anymore because a lot of the stuff they do includes eating nonkosher food, having parties on Shabbat and engaging in activities that don’t seem suitable to me anymore.

When I try and explain my point of view, they say I’m intolerant, and they cast all kinds of aspersions on religious Jews. If I say something against their secular lifestyle, they reply that I think only my beliefs are right and that I don’t respect anybody else’s. I’ve been very hurt by all this. Do I have to choose between my religious beliefs and my friends?


Dear Fantastic,

Think for a moment: If you were being offered a great job in another city, would you have to choose between your job and your friends? If you were getting married, would you have to choose between your spouse and your friends? If you decided to move to Israel, would you have to choose between your aliyah and your friends? The answer to all these questions is “yes” (at least partially).

Life is dynamic. Any change we make brings about changes in our attitudes, feelings, beliefs and priorities, which will affect our relationships with other people who haven’t gone through the same experiences.

The more drastic a change we make in our lives, the harder it will be for people who shared our previous lifestyle to understand it and even accept it, since it is a rejection (however subtle) of the life they decided to keep.

But this particular lifestyle choice may be especially difficult for your friends to accept. They feel that you perceive your beliefs as right and theirs as wrong. And in order to defend themselves, they call you a fanatic. Nobody wants to feel on the wrong side of G‑d, truth or life’s ultimate purpose.

So here are a few tips to maintain your friendships:

1. Don’t lecture, criticize or judge. When a person becomes religious and “sees the light,” there is a tendency to want everyone else to see it, too. That doesn’t help relations with people who are trying to adjust to the new you and not feel judged.

I once attended an event held in the studio of a nonreligious Jew. As I left after the program, I instinctively reached up to the mezuzah, but it wasn’t there. When I asked the owner why there wasn’t a mezuzah, she became defensive. A little while later, someone brought her a beautiful mezuzah as a gift and helped her put it up. She was very happy, gracious, grateful and not the least bit resistant. While I made her feel attacked and judged, this other woman made her feel cared about.

2. Find common ground. Think of ways you can spend time together that everyone can enjoy. For example, invite your friends over for a Shabbat meal. Good food, good company, and perhaps a few l’chaims are a nonthreatening way to show them the beauty of your lifestyle without encroaching on theirs.

3. Show the love. Your friends need to see that becoming religious has not changed you into a judgmental, condescending person, but rather has helped you become a more accepting, loving person. Do what you can to be there for your friends when they need you, and they’ll see you’ve changed—but for the better.

There’s nothing quite as valuable as old friends who knew you back when. That being said, if you’ve tried the above tips and you still feel that your friends are rejecting you for who you are now, it may be time to let go. A really good and loyal friend wouldn’t ask you to choose between your beliefs and your friendships.

On the whole, you’ll find that the old friends you keep are the ones who, like you, have evolved and changed and grown in a similar direction. And like you said, you’ve also made new friends. Our friends reflect our transformations, and we draw new people into our lives as we recreate and renew ourselves.

King Solomon told us to learn from the wisdom of animals. Lobsters grow new shells and shed their old ones to accommodate their growth. They do this throughout their lives as they continue to constantly grow. During this process, they are very vulnerable.

Growth implies vulnerability and change. You may feel that you underwent changes slowly and gradually, but perhaps the best indication that you are a different person is the fact that your friends view you as such.

And that may just be a cause for celebration, not remorse.

Keep growing and evolving in Torah, and be the best lobster—er, person—you can be!