Rev. Chani Getter, LCSW
March 9, 2021
I am not someone who watches the news, or much TV, and so I know very little about celebrities and their lives. When I heard about Prince Harry giving up his title as senior royal, the story began to tug at my heart. I did not know why at first, but something felt familiar. I kept noticing how much empathy I had for him. I could almost feel the loneliness of walking away. I had never followed a single story about him or Meghan Markle before and yet, I began to devour information about their story. When I heard Harry and Meghan had granted Oprah an interview, I felt compelled to make time to listen.
I often say that those of us who come out of fundamentalist religious communities only do so when the pain of staying becomes greater than the pain of leaving, we rarely leave before then. Leaving… the only home one has ever known, the only community one has ever been a part of, the only life one has ever imagined for oneself does not happen on a whim. When the pain of staying becomes too great to bear, when the realization that the community will not change – for you or anyone else in pain – the inevitable terrifying choice becomes to leave.
I remember about 10 years ago sitting with someone who actually told me that they believed that that was the “right” way to be Jewish but that they couldn’t do that themselves so they donated a lot of money to organizations to make sure they brought people back to “the fold”. Families are so close, the community is so caring, etc. ALL of which can be true… and at the same time, the price one pays for being in that community is to give up part of one’s self. To wear what the community deems appropriate, to learn only what the community deems appropriate, to marry who the community deems appropriate, and to be dependent on their approval for everything – especially one’s livelihood.
Oprah shared that Meghan told her that she was asked by royal insiders if she could be only 50% of herself. Suggesting that 100% of her was entirely too much. How can they ask someone to do that? How can anyone be 50% of themselves?
This was something that was said to me over and over and over again, so often that it became my nickname. At the time, I didn’t know how to ask, “Who should I be if I can’t be ME????” “What should I be, if not me?” How do you tell a youngster, “Don’t be who you are”?
Meghan, be 50% of yourself… be less than who you are… make yourself small. Almost every one of us living in an ultra-religious community that is afraid of our power, our individuality, our questions, our queer selves gets this message in one way or another: Don’t be that, don’t show that, don’t say that, don’t air our dirty laundry, don’t wear that, don’t stand out, be like everyone else.
Harry said in the interview, “I was trapped, and I didn’t even know it… my father and brother are trapped…” How many of us leaving the religious world feel that way about the people we leave behind? Seeing the palaces for what they are – cages. Seeing a community, a tradition, for the system that it is – which does not allow individuality or independence.
Harry spoke of both the loneliness and the gift of he and his wife having each other and having their child. For many of us, when we walk away from our religious upbringing, we leave behind our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings and far too often, even our own children. That tears at us, even as we live authentic, autonomous lives. The pain of those we leave behind, and the pain of not being able to raise your own children is heartbreaking. Can you imagine how much pain we were living in that some of us are willing to risk that?
Some of us can’t imagine that our kids will be taken from us. We are like Meghan was when she entered the Royal Family, naïve, believing them when they said they will protect her, that they will protect her future children. We believe the Rabbis who tell us they will protect us, and then these same individuals either fight us in court or help to poison the minds of our children against us. They do that in school, in the other parent’s home, in our parents’ homes, and sometimes even in the therapist’s office.
The Jewish Holiday of Purim is behind us, and as we begin to prepare for Passover, I am contemplating freedom and the price we each pay to live ours.
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