Malkie Grozalsky
Opinionated, post-denominational, NY Jew

Standing For Something

“If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for”

I’m back to thinking about Hamilton this week, although truth be told I never stopped. As we get closer and closer to Election Day here in the US, I can’t think of a more appropriate soundtrack. As ear-worms go, this is not a bad one.

This is not a political post, or maybe it is. I guess that will ultimately be decided by those who read it, as well as the way in which it is received. That being said, let me make some things clear at the outset. I am a left leaning liberal who waiting 1.5 hours to vote early for Joe Biden. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, or why the other guy is bad — there are plenty of other folks filling that space and need. I want to focus on myself and the ways in which I’ve changed and been changed by the last four years. This isn’t about Donald Trump, or maybe it is — but ultimately it is about me.

I graduated high school in 1988 with a class of 100 other girls. Of those 100, I remain connected with 2 of them. That number may seem like a lot, or it may seem like very few – the perspective changes by the way one looks at it is. Granted, I didn’t have a huge group of friends when I was in school; we were a class full of cliques and there wasn’t much crossover, but the small group that I had grew even smaller as our lives took very separate paths. For close to thirty years post high school, I had a pretty good relationship with three, even though only two of us lived in the same state – and one of us lived outside the country. Through Facebook I reconnected with another friend, but that friendship stayed outside the original three. Over time as our lives became more and more different and distant, it became harder to maintain real connections outside of an occasional phone call or exchanging yearly birthday greetings. Despite that, I knew that if one of us really needed the other(s), we would be there for each other.

And then came 2016 and everything changed.

Let me take a step back and set the scene. When we spoke, my friends and I would never talk about politics, it didn’t have any place in our shared past and it would only serve to highlight all the ways in which our lives were different. My friends all live in right wing Orthodox communities, and while there is some variety in practices, levels of observance, clothing styles, and education, they are all the same when it comes to a single line issue: ‘but is it good for the Jews’. My friends generally don’t care about abortion rights, equality for the LGBTQ community, the treatment of undocumented immigrants, or black lives. It isn’t that they are callous, uncaring, unthinking individuals, it’s mostly that they believe that these issues have no relevance to their lives and so they aren’t even discussed. If you asked those three friends if they care about me, they would all respond in the affirmative and probably be upset that the question was even asked. One might even point out that she was an advocate for a queer teen in her community. They know me and they know my family, and yet I truly believe that they don’t understand how these larger issues affect me personally; I’ve never felt that it would be a worthwhile effort to explain. I want to be clear that I don’t say any of this to pass judgement or be critical. If I had followed the path and lived the life that was expected of me, I would be exactly the same way. I’m sure my friends have their own feelings about the way my life has turned out, as well as choices that I’ve made — and we’ve always respected each other enough to ‘live and let live.’

And then came 2016 and everything changed.

I noticed one day that I was no longer Facebook friends with the adult son of one of the three. This was the friend that lives close by, and the one with whom I have the strongest relationship. I had been pretty heavy handed with the political posts and I jokingly said, “did x unfriend me because he didn’t want to see what I was posting?” I was really surprised when she responded seriously, “no, he unfriended you so you wouldn’t be upset by his.” Another friend and I got into an online argument when I pointed out that I was more invested in how the election results would impact my life in America, and less interested in what it meant for hers in Israel. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I know it was heated and I’m fairly sure I said some nasty things; it ended with me unfriending her and her siblings, all of who I’ve known since I was 11. We ultimately worked it out and tried to move on, but I don’t think it was ever the same. We never really had another conversation about anything ‘real’ until we did last year, which ended pretty much the same as the first one did. My third friendship of the original three had no dramatic ending. There were no volatile arguments or hurt feelings, really. It’s just been a relationship that has been dying slowly over many years. In the past 15 years, I can’t recall one in depth conversation we’ve had. It’s become an ersatz friendship, devoid of any substance or real connection. We still call each other on birthdays but I honestly don’t know why we bother, or for how much longer we will pretend that there is anything left.

I can talk about why I felt so strongly in 2016 that I was willing to let go of thirty year old friendships. I can also talk why I feel even stronger today, but I don’t think I have anything to share that hasn’t been shared many times over. I have no need to preach to the choir, nor the energy or headspace to convert the rest.

“Rise up
When you’re living on your knees, you rise up.”

I’ve been thinking less about why I let some friendships go, and more about why I didn’t end them sooner. Why did I hold on to the idea of having longtime friends even as these relationships became nothing more than placeholders for moments in my past?I have been select in the friendships I’ve made as an adult, and save a few lapses in judgement, I’ve managed to keep away from those who either don’t make me feel good about myself, or don’t make me feel good about the way I act when I’m with them. I try to surround myself with people who lift me up, but will also not hesitate to call me out when I’ve done something wrong — and it doesn’t make a difference if we speak everyday or twice a year, we still bring value to each other’s life. Why did it take an ugly fight, or a slow drift further and further apart to allow me to finally recognize that holding on can sometimes be more painful than letting go? I’m not sad that those friendships have ended, but I am sorry that my old friends are no longer a part of my life. I’m also sorry that one of those relationships ended with anger and hurt instead of mutual agreement that to continue would only be destructive for both of us.

Of the original three I am still only really friends with one. We are more like family than friends, and though we no longer have much in common anymore, she holds a special spot in my life. I am also still friends with the one that was outside of the original group. We’ve been friends since the 7th grade and though we lost touch for a bit, I’m grateful that we’ve reconnected. Like me, she is also a left leaning liberal, and no longer Orthodox. Perhaps the lesson here is to stick with those who act like you and think like you do, but I don’t believe it’s quite so simple. What I’ve learned over the last four years is to cultivate and grow relationships with people whose values system is in alignment with mine. I’ve seen quite a few memes recently that convey the following sentiment although not exactly with these examples. The memes generally go something like this: we can agree to disagree over skirt lengths, the validity of the Eruv, and whether you can use a timer to turn on your tv on Shabbat, but when it comes to matters of dignity, equality, and human rights, there is no middle ground. I think this is the lesson I take away from this experience.

I didn’t set out to tie this to the Torah portion, but it’s only fitting as we read Lech Lecha this week.
Sometimes we need to leave the familiar in order to grow and become our best selves.
There is a time to “rise up,” even if the only act of bravery that follows is walking away.

About the Author
Malkie Grozalsky has spent all but 5.5 years of her life living in Brooklyn, NY, and is proud of both her accent and her attitude. Malkie was raised in an ultra-Orthodox home, belongs to a Conservative synagogue, and has a graduate degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. When Malkie is not at her job as a synagogue administrator, she can be found cooking, baking, and micro-managing her spouse and three sons.
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