A new beginning: A painful departure from Orthodox Jewish life

The negotiations about child custody are agonizing.

October 4, 2017 15:44
TOVA MIRVIS says when she used to sit in synagogue, she ‘wanted to be moved but it was a performance

TOVA MIRVIS says when she used to sit in synagogue, she ‘wanted to be moved but it was a performance I’d seen too many times.’. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The voices that tormented Tova Mirvis’s agitated mind were not fearful of condemnation from a God she always doubted; but frightened by the wrath that could befall her if she shed her Modern Orthodox upbringing for a secular life. She was afraid of losing the love and acceptance of her parents and friends and fellow congregants. More importantly, she was terrified of the reaction she would incite in her husband, who found her increasing unhappiness baffling and destructive to their family life, which consisted of three gorgeous school-age children. She was almost 40.

Mirvis is a strikingly beautiful Jewish woman with a cascade of curly hair that frames her sensitive face, which is usually smiling sheepishly. She grew up in the Orthodox community of Memphis, Tennessee, and attended Orthodox schools where she tried desperately to be the good Jewish girl she was expected to be.

Her older sister Dahlia remained Orthodox and single until 37 when she finally married and got pregnant after years of working as a therapist in Manhattan. Her brother Akiva and his wife became adherents of an ultra-Orthodox hassidic community in Israel where they now reside in Safed. Mirvis matured without causing too much distress to her parents, but inside she was plagued by feelings that she was an impostor of sorts; convinced that some of the other women in synagogue must feel as she did. When she would watch the rabbi, she was turned off by what felt to her to be a shabby presentation of sorts, claiming: “I wanted to be moved but it was a performance I’d seen too many times. Here is the part of the experience where you sit. Here you stand. Here you bow. Here you proclaim unwavering belief. I stared into my prayer book, hoping my face gave nothing away, but just in case, I pulled the brim of my black silk hat lower – as constricted as I felt by it, at least it provided a place to hide.”


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