When I was in high school it was cool to be depressed.
Not like actual clinical depression that requires treatment, but emo depressed.
The type that sees kids from upper middle-class families with nothing really to be mad about, somehow get mad about everything.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a select few with real challenges. But most of us were well fed, clothed, loved and had fancy roofs over our heads.
This didn’t stop us from blasting Eminem music, pretending we grew up in Harlem and finding less than apt outlets to drown our sorrows.
From roughly grades 8-9 there was no consoling the trapped souls that inhabited the bodies of we seemingly regular teenagers. Not even parents who chaperoned kids from piano to ballet and handed out credit cards during every new sneaker craze.
Luckily, by the time 10th grade came around we collectively realized that having a good life and making the most of it was way cooler.
I don’t cringe looking back, because such a phase is almost inevitable. Little did I know, social pressure doesn’t stop short at 13.
When I became observant I struggled with a lot of things. Getting my sheitel to sit straight, remembering to say a blessing every time food came into my mouth and trying not to swear in a public setting (still working on that one).
Most challenging of all was overcoming the narrative that life as a religious woman was archaic. That in a time when women were taking on the world, I was stuck making kugel and bearing children.
I had turned down a lot: Law school, figure skating and other great opportunities. Normal friendships, popcorn at the theater, the thrill of using a fake ID. People looked at me with pity and mourned all that had gone to waste.
Of course, I fed into this narrative. Newly married and not completely at peace with myself, I would look in the mirror and no longer see a tanned, blonde, healthy girl ready to take on the world, save the whales in China and fight for human rights pro bono - because who needs to get paid anyway? Instead, I was met by a disenchanted woman. Her skin was pale, her golden locks now covered by a wig that resembled a helmet. She was frumpy and pregnant, her skinny jeans replaced by a bulky down coat. I resented that image.
Over time, things changed.
I became a mother and stepped up to that role like no one (especially me) ever thought possible. I stopped reading articles on Reductress that made fun of stay at home moms and started writing my own narrative instead. One where the protagonist lives by the values they carefully cemented through research, contemplation and study. The question, “What do you do?” no longer made me feel inferior. Nonchalantly, I would respond “Pilates.”
I could talk about how I found my voice like never before. How I get to write and speak. How I found a way to communicate my message in a meaningful way and not feel like a moment of life is ever wasted. How I got to work for multiple non-profits whose causes I truly felt passionate about.
But you know when I feel most empowered? When I’m at home. In my fortress. When I’m cooking dinner and getting the kids clothes ready on their beds. When I’m Whatsapping my husband advice for work and when I’m inviting guests into our home for Shabbos. When I’m trying to answer kids’ questions that I don’t have the answer to. When I’m giving medicine in the middle of the night and singing Jewish songs with the kids while we bake Challah.
The Jewish women who surround me are some of the smartest, most capable -and opinionated- I have ever met. I have no doubt their fate as Fortune 500 CEOs would have been sealed had they so willed it. But not for a second do I think these talents were wasted. Rather, they are invested in the best possible way.
That’s not to say orthodox women don’t pursue professional careers; they can, and often do so successfully. But there are still multiple options for those who don’t choose that path.
I mean, have you seen whats going on in Instagram? Religion is dominated by women who have made careers out of their passions. Passions such as cooking, fashion, parenting, writing, comedy, kids clothing and much more. These are female entrepreneurs that are not only profiting, but doing so on their terms, expounding on the values they see fit.
Then there are the numerous women who at a young age confidently set off to lead Jewish congregations, inspiring, counseling and befriending congregants double their age.
I’m a religious woman and the focus of my life is my family. I dress modestly and have always been respected by the men in both my family and community. My opinion is heard and I have no problem not being required to pray three times a day in synagogue. I would much rather stay home with the kids. I realize this has not been everyone’s experience, but it has been mine. And although this may not fit the mainstream narrative, I am not only content, but very happy with it.