If I knew you, I may or may not like you. But I probably wouldn’t want to live by you. Now, that’s a difficult thing to admit for a Black girl from Detroit, who is old enough to have participated in a protest against apartheid in South Africa, albeit mostly because she wanted a morally legitimate excuse to skip out on a highschool history test that she had not adequately studied for. I have personally lived happily in communities comprised of all different shades, and religions, with the ultimate example being the apartment I was living in on the night of the great American East Coast blackout of 2003, when there was a block party catered by the anarchists, lit by the Buddhists, and bike pedaled by the Mormons.
But all that was before I became a religious Jew. We moved into a frum neighborhood that was mixed more in theory than in practice, and our house was nestled in the heart of an area referred to as “Kollel Heights” since so many Kollel families lived among its three blocks. While there was the occasional non-Jew living amongst us, they were hyper-aware of the tone of the community, and you could only tell when a new family had become the replacement WASP contingent because of a costumed child wandering on Halloween, forlorn and disappointed, either rebuffed at each successive house completely, or given that dusty emergency can of water chestnuts in a misguided attempt at being neighborly. By December, that family’s Noel decorations would be kept indoors, with the exception, perhaps, of a tasteful wreath.
And how comfortable I became living there. Can’t get that Sukkah down immediately after Simchat Torah? Weeks would go by with what looked like portable homeless shelters falling apart on driveways, without a visit from the Public Works department. If snow fell early on Friday morning, chances are that it would be there until late Sunday afternoon, emergency orders notwithstanding. An inmate once escaped from a nearby jail on Shabbos, and the police surrounded the perimeter of our neighborhood because of how few people would have learned about the jailbreak otherwise.
When we made Aliyah, I didn’t worry about moving to Modiin. I mean, it was a mixed city, but we were all Jews, so how bad could it be? And that is when I discovered what Shabbat can mean if you’re secular. Our neighbors threw parties on Friday nights that left us deaf, and worse, left our toddler and preschool age daughters sleepless, which for that alone I was ready to see if a literal interpretation of an eye for an eye could be applied. Saturday was reserved for boisterous concerts in the park across the street, with bikini topped performers that made me doubt the laws of physics when I pondered how so much mass could be contained in so little fabric. After a year, we gamely admitted defeat and moved to a religious yishuv.
Our yishuv does have an acceptance committee, and we were interviewed in a fairly unobtrusive manner. I’ve heard of committees that require graphology reports and psychological profiles, and between my handwriting and my therapy bills, I’m sure we would still be homeless if every community had those hurdles. Still, it was made fairly clear that Shabbat observance, along with kashrut, were not only expected, but were requirements of remaining there. I don’t think anyone is tracking the other pillars of observance, but this is Israel, so I wouldn’t exactly be surprised.
And you know what? I like it that way. I like quiet on Shabbat, and that my kids only have to watch for ambulances and the security jeep when taking an afternoon walk. I like not having to worry about swanky-frankies being served as an afternoon snack. I don’t want to live with people who are going to disturb my peace of mind, and I don’t care if you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or anything else. And who would want to take all the restrictions I follow upon themselves if they didn’t believe in it, anyway? While I do know people who live in purposefuly mixed cities, like Kfar Adumim and Tekoa, who are happy with this arrangement, it’s a lot of work, and I’m just too lazy to pull it off.
Look at it this way, it’s not you, it’s me. Except it’s you. And that’s OK. For you. But for me to be able to be happy, we need to spend some time apart. I’d even be OK with the establishment of cities reserved for the secular, as long as they were as far from major urban centers as communities designated religious tend to be. But sometimes, to preserve a state of general goodwill, you have to stand up and say “Don’t you be my neighbor!”