So, I decided to start this blog, inspired by some of the other ex-frum blogs out there, to talk about my experiences going off the derech and becoming an atheist. I recently moved to NYC (astoria), and in trying to find other people like me, people who went through the same hardships in going OTD, I found some really cool blogs on which I've lurked for some time now. I figured that I would join the fray.
I grew up in Monsey, in a family that was a wierd mix of chasidish, yeshivish, shephardi and modern. I went to Sqvere every Yom Kippur, but wore sephardi tefilin. Went to YSV, a typical kid just doing the basics. In eighth grade I realised that some of the more shtark kids, started wearing only white shirts after they became Bar Mitzvah and keeping their tzitzis out. Because being shtark was equated with being good, I decided to follow suit. I had always enjoyed learning, and I found that wearing the outfit of a 'learner' helped me become just that. Fueled by what I thought people would expect of a real bochur, I buckled down and began earnestly shteiging away.
After finishing eighth grade at YSV, I went off to learn at Ner in Baltimore. Honestly, I wanted to go to a more yeshivish place like Riverdale, where my cousins went, but the more modern elements of my family prevailed and off to Baltimore it was. When I got there, I immediately threw myself into my learning. I really enjoyed the give and take of gemarra, and I excelled. But I found something new there as well - Mussar. Looking back now, I think something I Loved about mussar was that it eliminated the guesswork. 'These things are wrong, these things are right - the end.' It made me feel good to know that I was doing the Right thing. By the end of ninth grade, I had full Brisker payos, thick tzitzis out, and wore my jacket and hat whenever I went outside. By the end of eleventh grade I felt like my path was set on becoming a real Rav, and that was exactly what I wanted. I was waking up between four and five in the morning to be the first one in the Beis Medrash and take the chairs down. I would spend some time with another bochur, just us, learning mussar for an hour before other people would start filtering in, when we would switch to halacha and gemarra. During seder throughout the day, I was one of the people that other bochurim would come to when they had questions on a shvere sug'ya. After night seder and maariv, I stayed learning until at least midnight, usually closer to one or two. My rabeim all loved me.
At some point during all of this, I got into the idea of kiruv. It occurred to me that we spent all of our time learning gemarra and halacha, but not about why we believed what we did. Now, it was obvious to me that what we believed in was true, but I wanted to know how I could prove it to other people - frei people. And so I jumped into that, learning all I could about proving god and yidishkeit to people who didn't believe, without ever questioning my beliefs for myself. I even started learning the first part of chovas halevavos which I was told explicitly not to. My rabeim warned me that it would just confuse me. In that first part, the chovas halevavos deals with the idea of first cause. And while it readily became clear to me that the proofs made no sense, my faith was still unshaken. I knew that while I may not understand the proofs, my god was still god.
Now, during all of this I was also subjected to an english education. But being as frum and shtark as I was, I never took it seriously. When I was younger I had a voracious appetite for reading, often I was so lost in a book that I couldn't hear people calling my name a few feet away. Once I got to yeshiva, I channeled all of that into learning. At Ner I did the bare minimum to satisfy my english requirements. I even took the rare option to take on extra gemarra seder in exchange for english credits. But Ner does take its secular studies program more seriously than other yeshivas, so there was a decent library for goyish books. Not that I ever challila used it. Feh.
In twelfth grade, I was at the top of my game. I was learning non-stop. Unlike many of my classmates who were going to Israel for a year, I was going to Philly, a top yeshivish yeshiva. I had people calling ahead to ask if I would be their chavrusa for seder. My rabeim were asking me to grade other students' bechinos when they didn't have time. During this I had an english project that needed to be taken care of. I had to write a paper on a writer of my choosing. Going into the library (for maybe the second time in my almost four years there), I scanned the books for a well-represented author, who would present no real challenge, so I could get back to my learning. I chose Mark Twain, remembering that I had heard he had good things to say about jews and thinking that it was a quick, easy and painless choice. I was wrong. Mark Twain changed my life. He let the mysterious stranger in.
To be continued...