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!