I grew up black and white.
I had the usual Chabad experience. Yadayada garbage. And then I moved to California and things changed. I found myself following a different script. It was a different script in CH.
A complete change of my location, a complete change of my Mazel. There were beaches
There was sunlight.
Girls in bikinis. I felt different.
Emotionally free to do what I want. And I did. You named it. I tried it. It was nice. For a while.
I had an intellectual reason for everything I did. And why I would never be able to do this in Crown Heights. And so I did more and more. It became this cycle of breaking the image of myself, from my upbringing. It was like I broke out of prison. And it felt damn good.You know you tell a Lubavitcher to put on tefillin and he puts on two. The chassid always tries to against the norm. And so I did, in the other direction.
In LA almost everyone has a good reason why they were living there. Not just the good weather, I am talking about Chesky Melameds who are learned in a trained craft.
Well among my mitzvoyim encounters, I met noted intellectuals in the Hollywood community. And people like them made so much sense. This rational frontal cortex was new to me and very exciting. One podcast, then two audiotapes, before you knew it, I was a junkie who never saw the beach. I became devoted to this new mission- to use this new muscle- rationality.
Yes it was new to a Lubavitcher like myself. And so I thought and I watched philosophy classes. You name it. I thought about it.
Then I thought from the perspective of the bochur in Crown Heights. And my concept of Chazal totally changed. They were not how I remembered them growing up. They were real people with day jobs just like the rest of us. And so I thought harder. About my Rebbe, who I grew up with. My Rebbe was the best, the holiest of all of those actors. Then I thought. Maybe my vision of the Rebbe was just like it was skewed about Chazal. And so I thought harder.
And then I started to feel enlightened. I started to feel unique. I suddenly felt disillusioned. Like I had come to spread the truth that my knowledge of history and and science have brought me into. And how we were actually meant to live as morally responsible human beings. And so I thought some more. About the Rebbes mission of bringing geulah and how we have to do that through being true yidden in the rational world. No, I wasn’t a misnagdid. I thought about the Rebbe and yechi. And how it was impacting my life. How were these thoughts moving me forward as a citizen in this world? In my relationships with people, in my professional life.
I said I would rather live a life under the rational part than any irrational “beliefs.” And so I chose. Many of us do chose to go off the derech. Not just a Lubaitcher bochur like me. Even the Tanya defines the derech as either the short or long way. And so I thought. And chose. A life of a secular LA yid. Sounds too familiar to you, I am sure.
More than scoffing at my community, I felt betrayed by my own family who were not able to give me the tools to fit into the modern world and really thrive. I was tired of hearing shenangians of how moshiach is. “Make Lubavitch in America” was a tribal message I heard way too often. How about make MYSELF in America as a respectful honorable mensch? And that’s when I got into my career in computers, high tech media, and landed my first job. With benefits and important stuff like that. And that’s when it hit me. I reached my version of the Jewish American dream.
I still had relationship issues. I still hardly knew how to talk to a girl. My mother meant well preventing me from socializing with girls. I was even disgusted by my own sister who tried touching me and I made a face of disgust (we have a picture to prove it). Out in LA, away from the shidduch world. I was alone. By myself. Without the proper skills to engage properly with the other sex. And so I dared myself to just practice a woman.
It happened randomly at a bar. And she said yes. Maybe she didn’t fully understand my background but she nodded the universal gesture of agreement. The universal nod and a look in my eye. And I knew. She was mine. I didn’t have to say over a maamar. She loved me for me. Without the proper social skills and grace. I felt loved. And I knew.
Every Jewish girl I had dated had fed me lies about their needs from me or insisted I wear some religious mask or hat to send them a picture. I just wanted to be seen for my own independent thinking. For my independent self. Outside of the Rebbe, outside of my mother’s head where everything was a must, a chumra but never a mutar. And so my mother’s voice continues to speak in my mind until this very day.
This Asian woman wanted me for me. For my little experience in the bedroom. She graced me with her bosom and held me tightly. In an embrace.
And so I proposed. Never forgetting that embrace. Without my family support. I continue to hold onto that embrace more than any kiss my parents ever gave me.
The Rebbe’s message was to love another Jew, but what if you felt so confused by your past that you had no love to give? How about the love for those who are different from Jews, like those of non-Jews? Maybe I need to love them greater, I rationalized. And rationalized until recently. Years later.
Was my chassidic upbringing just folklore and pure mysticism? I am not sure. But that embrace from my Asian wife is forever.