I was taken aback that my post on The Danger of Being Orthodox has, in two weeks, quickly climbed to being my third most widely read post since I began my blog back in July. I’m not quite sure why that is, but the phenomenon, and its follow-up conversation that it engendered, What I’m Thinking When the Orthodox Make Headlines, have really got me thinking. And I’ve decided to address this, then, to my fellow Orthodox men and women – of all stripes.
So we’re all in this Ortho-boat together. We have a lot in common. And we also have our differences. Sometimes enormous differences. In fact, one could argue that the Jewish relationship to the world in general may parallel the relationship of the Orthodox to the Jewish community in general. Another post for another day. In any event, my specialty is public relations. So communication is a must. Here’s what you may already know. Or maybe you know it but forget sometimes. Or maybe you have no idea. I’d love to know which it is. Ready? Let’s go, in no particular order (but regular readers already knew that).
1. You are public.
You may be totally wired to the internet, or shun technology entirely (I personally have family members in both categories). Either way, it is terribly important for you to know that, perhaps completely unbeknownst to you, your actions, decisions, insular school systems and social habits are being noted, observed and recorded. Either by impartial journalists, judgmental bloggers, angry former Ortho-folk, or anyone. Please don’t assume that anything you do is ever private. Because it’s not.
2. Be a mensch.
Because you are Orthodox, people think you think you are better than others. You may truly think that, or you may not. I don’t know. But the best mitzvah/custom/spiritual rite you can perform is called “being a mensch.” I did not make this up. It’s all over our liturgy. Also, everyone is looking for it. “Those Orthodox… what good is it to keep kosher if you’re going to be rude on the airplane??” When you keep the ritual stuff and aren’t a mensch, you make the ritual stuff look bad. When you keep the ritual stuff and ARE a mensch, you make the ritual stuff look good. It’s never been divisible, and now least of all.
3. Be proud of who you are.
Not proud as in arrogant or superior. Proud as in take pleasure and joy in your different-ness. There’s no need to be “just like everyone else.” People truly respect those who live by their principles (as long as you’re a mensch…see #2). Have a lot of kids? Wear only skirts? Need to do your praying? Do it with joy, and unapologetically! You do both yourself and your religion a disservice when you try to under-represent what you are. It’s so awesomely cool to be Orthodox – and if you don’t feel that it is, that’s something to think about. I have seen with my own eyes that proudly observant Jews garner respect (as long as you’re a mensch…see #2).
4. Keep learning.
Being brought up Ortho is not the end of the story. You need a community, support, inspiration, and sources. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing, and if you aren’t growing, you’re stagnating. You don’t “arrive” till you reach the pearly gates – the journey keeps going.
5. Ask yourself if God is in your life.
This may sound ridiculously superfluous, but it’s not. I’ve stated a number of times on this blog that being Orthodox does not equal having a relationship with God – and many times the folly of #2 lies precisely in this very area. Do you talk to Him? Do you ever ask yourself if He’s proud of you? Do you feel His presence in good times and bad? Do you think He loves you? Do you love Him? If it’s been awhile (or never) since these questions have been thought about, or better yet, talked about, there’s a problem. You may be Orthodox, but what about being Jewish?
PS As a disclaimer, because I know the above can sound kind of preachy, I’d like to acknowledge the obvious. I am a regular girl, far from perfect. I am hyper-cognizant of the above, not because I am a superior specimen of Orthodoxy, but simply for three reasons:
One, I am married to an incredible human being, who is my teacher in so many things, and especially the above five. And mostly, in the hugely important #2. For that, I will forever be humbled and grateful.
Two, my experience in Jewish education and Jewish unity over the past 13 years have taught me a thing or two. I’ve tried to learn from my own mistakes and from those of others.
And three, my parents, my siblings, my upbringing, and my schooling have given me such awareness in all of the above. There is not enough gratitude in the world for the priceless gifts they have given me.
And finally, I’d love to hear from you. What are your thoughts of the five? What might your list look like?