I joined the Hasidim when I was sixteen. You’ve seen them, men with full beards and black hats, long black coats on the Sabbath, women in wigs and careful modest dress. All those years in my Hasidic community, we didn’t own a television, read secular books, surf the net, watch movies or go to restaurants. When I left that life that had formed me in so many ways, at forty-five, I stepped into a place I’d shunned since adolescence—the real world.
Here’s a scenario from twelve years ago when I first stepped out: I meet new friends in a restaurant. When we start thinking about ordering, someone nods at a dish on another table and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” They all grin. My face goes blank. I have missed decades; don’t know even the classics that seeped into culture long before, never heard of Harry or Sally. One friend tells the others, “It’s a Rip thing—she went to sleep for thirty years.” Then the waiter comes. The others order, they are casual and quick about it, but I have to read every line on the menu. Such abundance without doing any of the work! My friends pick at their food, chatting away, but to me, after years of kosher restrictions (and the novelty of food I didn’t cook) every morsel is amazing.
As I eat, I listen to the conversation as if I’m an anthropologist. I note terms and references, and try to discern what these women value, how they hold themselves in the world, how they spend their days. Then the waiter brings the bill and my friends have to show me how to figure tax and a tip.
It’s been a lot of years now of re-learning the world. I’ve come to love travel and the outdoors.
While writing my memoir, Uncovered, I became fascinated with the intertwining of sexuality with a sense of spirituality. Both seem to go to the core of who we are. Both can trigger passion and desire and need.
But my great love is listening to voices other than my own. Check out the projects I’ve done based on interviews. The immigrant journeys will astound and move you.
Leah Lax was raised in a Jewish family in Dallas, Texas near her immigrant grandparents so that, growing up, she learned both to crochet and ride a horse. Grateful now for second chances, she has published award-winning fiction and nonfiction. Her work for stage includes major production with both the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony.