Looks like this is “how to” month here on OOTOB, but this is a follow up from my post about intuitive eating, and I think it’s important to address here because a few people have observed the “frum 10” (also known as the “frum 15”) which is the weight you gain when you become Orthodox and start eating Thanksgiving dinner twice a week plus a bar mitzvah or wedding thrown regularly into the mix.
Last night I had a nightmare.
It was Friday afternoon and my Shabbos candles were all prepared. But I was busy doing other things and lost track of time. I finally, panic-stricken, looked at my watch and noticed that it was 7:38 pm. I asked my friend Rivki Silver, “What time is shkia (sundown)??” But she just looked at me sorrowfully and shook her head from side to side. I then saw that her candles were lit, understood that it was already Shabbos, and realized that my hands were still busy with non-Shabbos activity.
I started to cry, gazing at the pathetic sight of my unlit and forgotten candles, overwhelmed with loss, grief, and regret. I could never redo this moment. Never. I woke up, still making crying sounds, flooded with relief that, indeed, it was only a dream.
I am so confused I don’t know what to think. When I started studying about Judaism with you, it sounded so beautiful, sweet, and positive. I met so many nice people who warmly welcomed me into their homes. I wished I could have that Shabbat experience, faith, and love in my home.
Now it is a few years later. I have become much more observant, maybe even what you would call “Orthodox.” I see the flaws in the community. I see that lots of people are not sweet or warm. I see judgmentalism and rudeness. I feel kind of deflated. Why didn’t you tell me?
Let me begin by expressing my dismay at your disillusionment. You seem not only dejected and therefore possibly stunted in your Judaism, but also that you feel I have done you a disservice by not opening your eyes to the flaws and difficulties of observant life in advance.
WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME
Imagine that you are dating a guy that you are really excited about. Finally, you feel like maybe this is Mr. Right. He’s kind, sweet, thoughtful. You meet a married girlfriend for coffee and fill her in on your life. She says, “Oh, honey, they all start out that way. Let me tell you what married life is REALLY like. He’ll leave his stinky socks on the floor and gain 15 pounds. He’ll ignore you when the football game is on and burp loudly even though you hate it. There are going to be times that you’ll wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea. And THAT,” (she drops her voice ominously) “is with a GOOD man.” (Deep, long-suffering sigh.)
Has your friend done you a service or a disservice? Is she right?
You schedule a meeting with a new school for your kids. You meet the director of admissions who shows you around, and extols the virtues of the school. You ask good questions and get good answers. You like the look and feel of the school. Everyone seems to really like it there. You join.
After a few months you start to notice it’s not all roses. There seems to be some underlying tensions between some of the administrators that filters down to staff satisfaction. Some of the policies of the school don’t sit well with you. But you still like the school in general, and are happy to spend the extra money to send your kids there.
Was it the job of the director of admissions to inform you of the politics and every policy of the school? If a friend would have filled you in on all the behind-the-scenes negative stuff, is it a favor? Is it right? Would it have changed your opinion?
GIVING UP ON THE ORTHODOX
Is there any institution, school, company, family, religion, community, city, that doesn’t have flaws? That doesn’t have negativity? That doesn’t contain people who aren’t good role models? Does that mean the institution or community is inherently flawed?
Here’s what Elie Wiesel said on the subject:
“A credo that defines my path:
I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.
Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one, therefore, turn away from humanity?
The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves. Or not.”
You wonder why people in the Orthodox community are flawed. It’s because humanity is flawed. But let’s not give up on Torah, on mitzvah observance, on humanity. You may wonder why the religion didn’t “make” those people better. It’s because religion can’t “make” anyone anything. A
religion can’t make someone better, because he has to do the work to bring it
from his head to his heart to his actions. Free will is the arbiter
here and I don’t think anyone would want it taken away.
So, to my dear burned out friend.
Remember the day you discovered your parents weren’t perfect? Didn’t know everything? Wasn’t that devastating? But now you probably see that although they’re not perfect, they did much good and taught you a lot.
WHO ARE THE “REAL” ORTHODOX?
I hope that you can see the meaning and beauty in the life that Torah outlines despite the fact that not all its adherents lead wonderful lives. I could extol the virtues of the mitzvah-observant “lifestyle” and even its community with so many examples of truly incredible people who lead beautiful and wonderful lives, both in and out of the limelight. But this is neither the time nor the place to do so, because you know they’re there. You’re not talking about them. You’re talking about the others.
Who are the “real” Orthodox? The great role models you encountered at your gateway to observant life, or the poor role models that you met later on in your journey? I can’t answer that because Orthodoxy is a human invention. But I will say this:
To the extent that a Jew is following Torah, his actions will be beautiful.
Because the same Torah that says to keep kosher, enjoins us not to judge those that don’t.
And the same Torah that says to have humility and modesty begs us not to gossip about those that don’t.
And the same Torah that pleads with us not to neglect Shabbat forbids us from embarrassing another human being.
When you find Jews who are keeping all the man-to-God commandments, and are neglecting the man-to-man commandments, you have the most toxic, ugly mix possible. You have a classic chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). You have before you a person for whom there is a total disconnect. For whom his relationship to God is stunted, confused, or dead. For whom Judaism is in his body but not in his heart. Maybe he is keeping the external ritual laws out of habit or social pressure, but this is incomplete and warped Judaism.
But this is the human condition. You are disillusioned, yes, because to think that Orthodoxy can magically transform us from all our human flaws of impatience, rudeness, judgmentalism and the rest – is, indeed, an illusion. When you sign up for Orthodoxy, you don’t buy a KGB of rabbis who force you to comply with anything. You’re on your own, there. And if you want to keep Shabbos and be rude, yes, you will have the free will and the space to do just that.
WE ARE REAL PEOPLE
Did you know that Orthodox people struggle with the same character flaws as everyone else? WE ARE REGULAR PEOPLE. We are trying, but we’re not perfect. We are learning, but we may not always apply what we learn. We are all different. We are not lumpable together. Our rabbis and teachers constantly tell us not to judge. Although we sometimes fail, can we try together to succeed?
I know we’ll both be richer for it.
My interview with my Chassidic friend Libby was such a sensation that I thought I might do a series on a variety of Orthodox people I know… problem: they all responded, “Well, I’m not as interesting as Libby…”
Which is OK. My point here is to show that there are lots of really nice, normal Orthodox people who like being Orthodox, and that there are lots of ways to be Orthodox, too. So I intend to proceed (without worrying about competing with the world’s fascination with all things Chassidic).
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog about JFX.
JFX is an organization that my husband and I and some friends began 7 years ago. We were back in Cleveland after having lived in Israel and Buffalo Grove, IL, and were running some Torah classes with some folks that my husband had met at bris ceremonies. And they said: “Who knew Judaism was so cool??? Will you teach our kids?”
And we said: “Yes!”
And JFX was born.
At this point we run 10 different kinds of programs such as Sunday school, Shabbat events, Bnei mitzvah, holiday celebrations, classes of all kinds, and Israel trips. And that’s all very cool, and you can check it all out on our (shameless promo) website: www.jewishfamilyexperience.org. Be sure to check out the blog too – it’s fun.
But that’s just the face of JFX. There’s a whole other part to us: the soul.
Basically, we’re a family. A community. My husband and I, we’re like the parents. And then there’s all this extended family. They’re all my friends. We like hanging out with each other. We invite them for Shabbos and they invite each other. We take care of each other in joys and sorrows. No, we’re not all the same. Some keep Shabbat and some go to Vegas Friday night. Some keep kosher and others… don’t. Some don’t gossip and some wear skirts. Some kids’ go to day school and some to Hawken and some to public school. Some wear kippahs and some lay tefillin and some are atheists. But, I dunno, it works.
And we all are investing our kishkes into our kids. Making sure they stay Jewish. Making sure they love it. Making sure they find it cool, fun, and awesome. Making sure they know the Rabbi’s cell phone number.
JFX is so special to me. I feel humbled and loved and enveloped and grateful.
JFX… I love you.