(Frum is Yiddish for pious/devout. The German word is fromm. Basically, it refers to someone who’s religious, and frumkeit means “frumness.”)
My senior year of university, I fell in love for the third time, and ended up very hurt and heartbroken by this guy, who was two years my junior. Second younger guy I liked. But I won’t rehash that in public so many years later, though I’d still like an apology for how he led me on and his atrocious behavior over my first Alumni Weekend. Thank God I withstood temptation and didn’t give him my antique virginity. That’s one thing you can’t get back. I gave that to someone else when I was older, and I was one of the 20% of people to graduate college as virgins.
I lived at the Hillel building my senior year. Back in the Eighties, it used to be a frat that was busted for like 89 kegs of alcohol at a party. Prior to that, it was a sorority that got busted for prostitution. The building’s history explains why it’s on frat row. Every year, a couple of sorority girls live there for the proximity, not because they’re religiously involved. But the year I was there, one of our sorority girls was rather involved in the community. There are always exceptions.
In late February 2002, I decided to take an Orthodox friend up on his invitation to go with him and a few other friends to Chabad after the Hillel services and dinner. I believed all these stereotypes about the Orthodox, and had been afraid of having to endure sex-segregated services. But he said we were going there for dinner, not more services.
It was such a lovely community. I immediately took to it. It’s easy to dismiss something when you’ve never experienced it, but when the real and the ideal conflict, you often change your perspective. I suddenly wasn’t offended at the fact that I couldn’t shake hands with the rabbis, or that men and women had to dance separately, or that the married women wore wigs.
At the end of March (turned out to be the day the Queen Mum died), I bit the bullet and went for a Saturday morning service. It was my first time at an Orthodox service, and I ended up really enjoying it and feeling at home. I really liked the separate davening (praying), and how we have our own secret little world the men don’t know about. It’s easier for me to concentrate behind the mechitza, and I like the old-world feel to it. There tends to be a smaller crowd in the women’s section, and I’m usually one of only a few women who’s there for the entire service instead of popping in and out, but that just makes it feel more special, gives me even more private space to talk to Hashem.
For the first time, I was called by my Hebrew name, Chana. My full name is Chana Esther Dafna, but it’s not always easy for people to remember a triple name. A lot of frummies have double names (like Sarah Esther, Devorah Leah, Avraham David, Levi Yitzchak), but a triple name isn’t so common. So Chana I was. Everyone was called by Hebrew names there, a custom I used to wish my current shul used. I guess the much-smaller crowd made it easier.
I became Shomeret Shabbat and everything. It was so hard having to go back home after graduation, no longer in such a beautiful frum community. Over time, I was no longer able to be fully Shomeret Shabbat, and I went back to wearing pants more often. And I never became Shomeret Yom Tov, and wasn’t in a position to have a Glatt kosher kitchen.
It’s so important to me to raise any future kids in an observant household, in a vibrant Jewish community. I don’t ever want them to know the isolation I knew in my first few years after graduating uni. They deserve to always know the beauty of frumkeit, even if I might never be 100% Orthodox but only 90%.