Before leaving my apartment in Crown Heights, I nervously turned to my friend and asked if what I was wearing was okay for the scene. Our childhood friend got engaged and we couldn’t be happier.
My roommate looked at my loose-fitting black dress and said I had nothing to worry about. I had heard stories of the “tznius police,” people saying crass comments and giving a piece of their mind to anyone they deemed immodest.
I always try to be respectful, and as I walked in with my thought-out outfit, I wasn’t worried about “judgey” stares or comments. Honestly, all I was thinking about was how happy I was to be there for my friend’s Mazal Tov.
After the hugs and the greetings and the pictures, I sidled up to the food and started scooping sesame chicken on my plate. I felt a tap on my arm and turned to see a lady standing next to me. Thinking she wanted sesame chicken, I said “mazal tov” with a smile and started moving out of the way.
She then grabbed my arm.
“You’re not tznius,” she said.
I continued smiling. “Thank you for letting me know. That’s my business.”
I thought that was the end of it and tried to turn away. She kept holding my arm.
“Hashem doesn’t like you,” she said quietly. “He’s going to punish you for what you are.”
I was shocked.
Anyone who knows me would describe me as someone who is outspoken and doesn’t shy away from confrontation in the slightest. I’m not someone that can get silently bullied. I think this was the first time in my life that I was speechless. I was so deeply hurt by what she said that I honestly just started crying in the middle of the hall. My friends rushed over and helped me pull it together.
I tried to put it out of my mind for the rest of the night. I suddenly understood the rage that I think a lot of people of my generation feel.
Yes, I would be classified as “modern” by some, but it never stemmed from a place of negativity, anger, or rejection. It’s simply the way I live my life. It’s the point from which I am serving G-d. Through positive religious experiences, I’ve become open to making religious choices that I never thought I would have been open to.
I understand that one woman’s opinion of where I am in my spiritual journey is irrelevant. But, if one comment could spin me into this black hole of negative thoughts, what is it doing to the people who endure this negative energy throughout their life and education? I can only imagine the bitterness people feel toward our religion that has so much power to enrich our lives with goodness and positivity.
I hear so much talk about what’s wrong with this generation; that the world has crept in and infiltrated the frum community. This may very well be true, but instead of focusing on what’s “wrong” with this generation, I think we all need to examine our approach and ourselves.
Yes, change is scary. Things aren’t the way they used to be, and I get that it’s scary. But I guarantee that hateful words and intolerance will not be the catalyst to incite the change you wish for. It will drive the younger generation away, sustaining this vicious cycle of anger and bitterness on both sides.