On the Before and After

On the Before and After

Before leaving and after leaving

This cartoon was commissioned; I was asked to draw a before and after with approximate instructions. When it was done, I immediately worried about the before. The family looks too warm and sane. Doesn’t the official “before” picture come with an abusive rabbi in a dark basement or some dysfunctional family which festers dark secrets behind closed doors?

I suppose, I thought, after my pencil had brought to life a crowded and safe home, for me this is how I remember it. A religious childhood home can be safe, and warm and rich with tradition and it can still be stifling and oppressive and limited. It’s what makes leaving so damn hard.

Most of the time the journey from Hasidism out is depicted in a before and after template, the before picture consisting of a droopy nosed Hasid in a wild beard and a bride in frightening eighties wedding gown and hair that stands as wide as the shoulder pads. The after picture is glorified by a full shave, a target tshirt, the dippity do from the payos now in the hair. All of it, the critics say, very superficial.

So I took it upon myself to conduct a longitudinal survey with forty samples and find out what their before and after is like in words. The scientific approach behind it was to post the question on facebook and ask people to describe their before and after. The first thing the study proved is that OTDs are a group of wise guys – which we knew already. And more seriously, and interestingly, that for most people the journey of before and after is the process of embracing individuality; tearing yourself out of a strong communal setting that leaves little room for the individual and making something of yourself. For many, it is not even a matter of rejecting religion. It is simply rejecting the groupthink. Here are some I got:

EM: Before I obsessed over making every minute of the day meaningful for the afterlife; now I make my life meaningful to me, in this world.

MW: Before, I was a cog in the wheel. Now I’m in the driver’s seat.

YM: Before I was Gd/religion centric and squished myself in wherever I could ; now I am me centric and fit in religion wherever it enhances my life.

CCN: Before I my kids were only nachas machines and ways for me to serve an unknown God, spending my time not with them but trying to appease God; now I actually listen to them and do things with them “just because” without any goal.

AK: Before I was following them… now I follow my heart, my God, my ????

SK: Before I did everything for the After, now I am undoing everything from the Before. (FV: lol!)

YS: Before, there was an after. (FV: and after?)

PS: Before I was “it”, now I am ME.

CS: Before I was humanoid and annoyed… I’ve since joined the humans, and now my life is enjoyed and amusing.

CW: Before I lied to and hid from my children, now we are working together to embrace an honest future.

Fred MacDowell: Before I liked cookies. Now I bake cookies. (FV: for this before an after we do actually need a picture.)

AB: Before my life belonged to others. Now, it belongs to me.

AB: Before I spent all my time delving into the gemara. Now I spend it on Facebook.

Ha ha. You gotta admit, it’s the (after) life!

  • David dew
    Posted at 01:07h, 12 March Reply

    Sorry that I didn’t responded to your request to submit a before an after, I just didn’t thought that it means me also, after all I still somehow in the ‘before’ stage (read: in the closet).
    So my before and after view:
    Before: I wasn’t a person at all, I didn’t do anything good because I’m good, I did it because of God, I didn’t earn anything from working, everything was God, I didn’t feel an accomplishment after learning something, because that what I need to do for god, etc.
    After: I found a life, and I found self satisfaction from ‘me’ in life, if I’m doing something good, its because I want to help people, I’m accomplishing stuff in life, I’m educating myself, because I like knowledge, and so on.
    So I really think I made a good deal!!

  • Yoelish
    Posted at 02:12h, 12 March Reply

    And all the ostracization was worth it so that he could change the color of his sofa? Silly boy!

  • prag
    Posted at 08:32h, 12 March Reply

    The before may be a little idealized (it exist though) the subsequent image is equally idealized (a globe and books?) where’s the shicsa and the beer?

  • Baby god
    Posted at 14:53h, 12 March Reply

    This is so accurate.
    Before my continues search for meaning was full of angst cuz it dependent on something that has too many holes, questions and requires more answering every day
    After all you realize that all your core belief is baseless so all this pressure of doing what’s right and finding tr ultimate truth is chasing after the wind
    Well it doesn’t have to make you the happiest person in the world but you can sure start to hear own voice and get to decide what works for you and what doesn’t

  • Shragi
    Posted at 17:40h, 12 March Reply

    Before, I felt guilty eating cookies with my pre-shacharis coffee, now I don’t.

  • Ashmedai
    Posted at 10:28h, 14 March Reply

    Identity. Crises.
    Listening to an NPR interview with the famous celebrity/fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz, there was something she said about her very early career that I cannot forget.
    She said that when she went to a photo course there was another student in whom she saw “brilliant photography”… “who was a great influence to me” said Annie.
    This anecdote made me think. What happened to that fellow student? Was he even more brilliant then Annie? What has the world missed out on because this person chose (or was forced by circumstance) a different carreer path? Did he become a data entry ‘specialist’?
    I begin thinking about Einstein. Was there an even bigger genius in his class? What about all the other great writers, poets, scientists, mathematicians….. Physicians? Could cancer, aids, heart disease and diabetes been closer to, or even cured?!
    I’ll tell you why this question plagues me. It’s because I know at least a dozen people in my heimishe community, who I went to school with, that are funnier then Woody Allen!
    I’ve met more brilliant legal minds than some of the greatest legal minds in this country etc.
    The takeaway being that in our community it’s almost insurmountable to be the “brightest” the “best”. Certainly not at things which are valued. Cartooning for example, is not valued. How can each and every one of us be brilliant in what we do and be appreciated? Truly appreciated!! Not lip service bullshit. And ve know the difference tenk you veddy mach.
    The “values” at the tippy top include dollars. many dollars. the more the merrier. and the thoroughbred. Yichus. Reminds me of the saying “in the rat race, win or lose, youre still a rat.” Thoroughbred or not, say I, your still an effin dog.
    Of course theres Torah too.
    On the “outside”, while many don’t have dus lush’n (the language), in many, many, ways we are special. smart, talented. And appreciated. Appreciated and accepted in all ernestness for who WE are- not dad. Or his cash. Not for our great great great grandparents. Many of us feel like a newly discovered Kennedy who was lost in Africa at childbirth when we realize just how great a celebrity each and every one of us really are.

    Posted at 21:38h, 10 April Reply

    So, what comes after the current “after”? Based on the feedback, it appears that most respondents are in step two (i.e. about me, interesting rewarding, unsuppressed, unstifled, etc.) But b’teva, we as a people, always seek something more; something higher. What comes next, after step two becomes selfish,empty and depressing? May I suggest exploring yiddishkeit on your own terms? It looks completely different when willingly explored (much more like that indescribable tranquillity hovering just above your “before” drawing).

    • Shragi
      Posted at 21:51h, 10 April Reply

      Where can I sign up foe your program and learn more about this awesomeness?

  • MFM
    Posted at 13:29h, 11 April Reply

    Your mistake is in assuming that step 2 is static, rather than the rest of your life and part of lifetime of growth, joy, pain, pleasure, learning, celebrating, overcoming, etc. You know, it’s life. I don’t think you’re the first one to discover that a static state and a hamster wheel life leaves one wanting.

    • wbbeinuni
      Posted at 13:42h, 11 April Reply

      Shragi: while I trust that your comment was intended to be sarcastic and cynical, I will respond as though it was serious (just in case):
      Put all biases out of your mind a purchase the two volumes of chassidus mivueres on moadim. Work through one piece before each Yom Tov. Guaranteed things will look completely different as you willingly approach each mitzvah with a new depth of understanding. The feeling of accomplishment is beyond description.
      MFM: I do not assume that it is static at all. That is my point. Instead of focusing on the mechanism, I am suggesting that the absence of any truly meaningful (one that will be just as relevant to you in ten or twenty years as today) goal and purpose cannot quench any Jew’s thirst and as a result stage two, notwithstanding its opportunities for limited growth and self-discovery become stale relatively quickly.

      • Shragi
        Posted at 13:55h, 11 April Reply

        I did work through chassidus mevueres, not only on yom tov, but all year. I found it to be a defense of a very static “stage 2”, as you call it. Focusing on how you can feel better about yourself and not feel like you’re drowning in oilem hazeh. It’s really no different than the concerns all the people quoted above have in their lives.
        Now, why don’t you put all biases out of your mind, go out and buy Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie and learn how to move on in life and not get stuck in stage 2. You’ll also learn a new definition of what is “truly meaningful”, see what’s “truly meaningful” to you may not be truly meaningful to someone else.

        • wbbeinuni
          Posted at 14:09h, 11 April Reply

          In that case we are at a stalemate. (I am guessing that I am much older than you.) I have been where it sounds like you are and not only read books such as the one you describe, but wrote two and gave (very succesful) courses on the subject to boot. All that, only to give what I had turned my back on another more objective look. The difference between the two is so striking that I must presume that for some sad reason (perhaps one described in an elul discussion there) you are currently unable to see it. So as things stand now, we are at a stalemate. I suggest that most people will not share your experience when approaching the title I recommended on their own terms as opposed to being forced to study it.

          • Shragi
            Posted at 14:23h, 11 April

            Sorry professor, you are making too many assumptions. The reason I saw what I’ve described above in the sefer is because I read it on my own terms, not a terribly sad reason, I think.
            I didn’t say the two were the same, I only suggested that you might find true meaning in a title like the one I suggested, I know others have.

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