Greg Leake emails: Hi Luke,
you know, I am not unsympathetic with your situation.
You have had to shave off your beard and move out of your residence all at the same time. Maybe you’re taking this with equanimity, but I would find it disturbing.
I’ve had a few beards, but they were simply because i wanted to look at certain way for a while, and they really had no other purpose aside from hiding aging facial features.
However, in your case this beard has meant something to you in a social/religious context. It offered you a degree of protection from detractors and also a statement of affirmation for Orthodox Judaism and the strength of your resolve to be affirmative about Judaism. With your background regarded as unsavory by so many of your Jewish peers, the beard really offered you an opportunity to let everyone know that you were modern Orthodox, irrespective of how they felt about it and that you were completely down with Jewish propositions relative to Jewish social and religious life.
The hovel was certainly modest, but it gave you some insulation from the rest of the world. I know you were in some kind of a fenced-in situation, presumably overlooking a private yard with a house somewhere at the other end that kept idle pedestrians at bay. You have lived there unobstrusively for quite a number of years. it apparently is smack dab in the middle of the Jewish community and easily afforded you the opportunity to walk back and forth to your shul without being disturbed by goys or others who simply think you’re doing some weird costuming. It’s been a shelter and your beard afforded you a psychological feeling of solidarity and identity with who you are and where you fit in respect to Judaism and the Jewish world.
And now in one quick sweep of the sword the beard is gone, and soon the hovel will be gone, and G-d only knows if the new location will be as compatible to Judaism or as protected from random thoughts and speculations about you. What you had wasn’t much, but at least you had that.
I can relate to all this more easily than you think. Six years ago my wife and i were living in one of our versions of ‘Dillon, Texas.’ We were in a 2-story home directly on a lake, in three easy walking blocks of a small downtown section with a courthouse in the middle and various coffee shops and restaurants scattered around. the buildings were done in the same old stone as old-timey Texas, and in fact some had been standing for a hundred years. Life was good. In 5 minutes we could be far enough outside of town so that you would not know towns existed. One local road had to be avoided when the river was high because the car might stall out trying to cross. Otherwise it was a lot of fun to drive through that river under the sunlight and the Texas sky. I could go on, but suffice it to say that life was good.
Various financial and career dealings forced us to abandon this situation over a 2-week period. We lived in a Hispanic, middle class neighorhood for a while and then moved here. My wife would tell you i have never gotten over being jerked out of my territory, even though we made the right decisions at the time. Now, thank G-d, we will be going back to a place similar to the one we left, and I feel almost like i’m going home.
So as you can see, getting jerked out of your environment and the way you look is something i can probably relate to, to an extent. I’ve been told that when an animal is taken out of its territory, it loses all its power. That’s the way I felt for a long time, even though we were doing OK financially. And so i suspect you are feeling some of those same diminishments of identity and power and psychological security.
It will get better as time goes on. And I do sympathize with you.