I told a friend who is in the conversion process that I still read stuff like the Sookie Stackhouse series and watch stuff like the show True Blood (though I wish they’d move it to the USA cable network so they could “clean it up” like they did with syndicated episodes of Sex and the City). She was shocked. She wanted to know if my husband approved. Somehow after a couple of emails back and forth, the conversation ended with me saying: “I don’t think my husband thinks I’m going to have premarital sex because I’m reading Sookie Stackhouse books. I mean, I’m married already!” Yeah, and now I’ve immortalized this on my blog. Thank G-d he doesn’t read it.
But since becoming Orthodox, I read and watch things through very different eyes. I’ve very cognizant of the strangest things, like people touching each other (even just affectionately between men and women, nothing graphic) on film and before I see someone eat something on TV, I say the blessing in my head for whatever they’re going to eat. I notice when women are dressed immodestly in a way I know I was desensitized to before. But do I think watching and reading these secular TV shows and movies “pollute” my head? It’s a risk I’m willing to take. My love of film, TV shows and books of all kinds doesn’t come between me and my Judaism. I doubt that reading a few vampire novels is going to make me go bite people. I’m not reading or watching this stuff brainlessly and not thinking about what it says and what it’s trying to tell me. In fact, I think much more sensitively of the stuff I see in the media and in Hollywood.
Lately I’ve run into too many converts who are peer pressured by mentors (rabbis, friends, other converts, etc) to leave more and more of their secular lifestyle behind. Okay, giving up pork is one thing but giving up all the movies you like, all your non-Jewish friends and family, all your books and stuff in quick succession smells like brainwashing to me. If it feels good, more power to you. (I was elated to give up pants so I didn’t have to do “the dance” to squeeze myself in them.) But it might be brainwashing if well, you feel awful all the time for one and then you find yourself “reverting” and hiding the secular things you still want to do. Basically, you’ve quickly been turned into one of those ultra-Orthodox people who have a TV hidden in the dark room in their house that nobody knows about because everyone in your community would shun you if they did.
Yes, your lifestyle’s going to change dramatically when you convert to Judaism but if it’s giving you an ulcer or post-traumatic stress disorder then you’re going to fast (easy does it!) or you’re in the wrong community for you. There are many different movements within Judaism (even just within Orthodoxy itself). One synagogue in one little neighborhood is a world unto itself, I think, sometimes. There’s a lot of things people should be ashamed about but on the whole, I think that even most of the crappy stuff we did in our past life molded us into the person we are today and we wouldn’t have gotten to this point if we hadn’t done it.
This statement always cracks me up and I probably can’t pull off the coolness required to deliver it but remember you gotta “do you.” This is your life and you can’t spend the rest of it hiding in a dark room sneaking movies. Or well, if that is what a fulfilled life is to you then you gotta learn to roll with it I guess. Okay, now I’m starting to sound like a mini-Oprah. It’s time to log off! Yoga, physical therapy, medication, sleep, stretch, gym, stationary bike, repeat, rest.