BY KATE SAMPLE
Kate Sample decided to become an Orthodox Jew in early 2010 and prepared for her first Pesach by watching a Passover-themed episode of Gossip Girl. She has been trying to successfully balance modern life with observance ever since, and considers it her mission to dispel the idea that belief in G-d is unfashionable. You can check out her blog athttp://challahbackgirl.com
"The transformation didn’t happen overnight, but I have slowly
evolved into more of a person and less of a persona."
A Convert's Struggle With Dressing Modestly
These are words I’ve heard often enough, from Jews and non-Jews alike. Although I had an Orthodox conversion, accept the Divine origins of the Written and Oral Torahs, and keep kosher and Shabbat, I have not yet mastered tzniut. It’s not for a lack of caring about or understanding this particular mitzvah. In fact, it has totally changed the way I look at clothes. For someone who’s been obsessed with fashion since childhood, that is no easy feat.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s part of my obstacle. As much as I love food, keeping kosher came easily to me, probably because I never attempted to define myself by cheeseburgers or shrimp cocktail. Cocktail attire, however, was another matter entirely. I never wanted to blend in; I always had to stand out. Green wasn’t really my color, unless my accessories were causing someone else to turn that shade. Looking back, it’s hard to believe these were my priorities. The term “slave for fashion” gets thrown around in the industry, and that’s exactly what it feels like. I can remember many a late night spent hunched over my laptop, determined to be the first to wear the next new thing and combing through shopping sites like a maniac in order to achieve it. When I read a Rabbi’s commentary on the modern forms of slavery to which we chain ourselves, these episodes popped into my mind. I didn’t want to be a slave for fashion anymore. I wanted to be known for something other than my shoes.
The transformation didn’t happen overnight, but I have slowly evolved into more of a person and less of a persona. I have gotten so far from my former self that I don’t say the blessing over new clothes often enough to have it memorized and I always have to look it up. It is because Judaism has helped me get to this point that I trust I will be totally tzniut someday, even if I’m wearing pants as I type this.
The hardest part, of course, is being accepted as a sincere Jew by my fellow Orthodox. I always dressed properly in the synagogue out of respect, and I was very open about my challenges with the people closest to me. So I never dreamed it would be a problem until I added some women from shul on facebook, where they could see photographic proof of my lack of modesty. To say there was a palpable shift in how I was treated would be an understatement, which is why I had to write this and push back a little bit. This isn’t Mean Girls; this is Judaism. I don’t want to be defined purely by what I wear, in any sense.
Finding Judaism is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m grateful to have found a Rabbi who trusted that I would keep growing as a Jew and helped me to become one. My conversion wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning. Some mitzvot are more hidden and others are not. The challenge I’m currently working on happens to be really obvious, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying. The bottom line is that I don’t want to perform the mitzvah of tzniut to be accepted or to prove I’m a good Jew. I want it to blossom in my soul and grow until it’s a part of me.
“I love how you wear your spirituality on your sleeve.” One of my closest Orthodox friends once said this to me. Little by little, I improve, and that sleeve is now both literal and figurative. At first glance, I may not always look Orthodox. But if you get past that and have a conversation with me, I hope you’ll see my sincerity. My friend’s kind words speak to what I really love to show: my love of G-d.