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?
Amazing. Tears . . .
This is a great list, and I agree with every one of them.
1) Too many people think they can do things and be inconspicuous, and that is very false, especially since we are more noticeable in public than most anyone else out there. I get stopped and asked about things all the time because of my kipa or tzitzis.
2) I think this ties into #1. If we don't show proper middos, we create an instant chillul HaShem that is nearly impossible to fix – ever. Which ties into…
3) Thinking that we're better than everyone else creates a boatload of problems. We shouldn't be afraid to be publicly Orthodox, and have handy/ready explanations if people ask us about things, but we're supposed to be visible as role models. The whole ohr lagoyim thing isn't for nothing.
4) Absolutely true! Even if we learn just a little bit each day, we can accomplish a lot because it adds up faster than you realize. Don't be brought down by the idea that there is an infinite amount of Torah to learn and think you can't accomplish anything. Be confident and keep learning anything and everything, especially areas that appeal to you. Still, try to be balanced and get a dose of various things to round out your knowledge.
5) This is HUGE. I've experienced this a number of times when becoming frustrated with davening or learning and not realizing why I'm doing it or WHO I'm doing it for. This is extremely significant and easily gets lost in the shuffle of daily life as we grind along in routine. Being able to truly live this as a mantra is difficult, and requires constant reminders – so thanks for reminding me!
This is one of your best posts.
Also, Ruchi, when you think critically of us "angry former Ortho-folk" try to imagine how you might have ended up not only without the benefit of the three influences you listed, but with all the drawbacks of the opposite influences.
It's wonderful to imagine that you would have come out unscathed, that you would never look like us, but we all imagined that kind of stuff until we got here too 🙂
Wendy and SOG, thanks for your responses.
Anonymous: I woke up at 5 am and couldn't fall back asleep. I decided to read my emails, and I read and published your comment, and have been lying awake thinking about it since. I think that in order to do justice to the both very valid and very important issue you raise, and have obviously experienced personally, I will dedicate a future post to its response. Finally, I am deeply impressed that despite the negativity you experienced, your comment was expressed calmly, intelligently, and respectfully. Thank you for being a part of the OOTOB conversation.
Thanks for this, Ruchi. Good points all around. I should write these down and put them on my fridge. In fact, I think I'm going to…
Very good post!
Shades of Grey you have a point. But the truth of the matter is that, with regards to #1, being a mentch is not necessarily the issue. In fact, I think that, as often as not, the real issue in relation to this is #3. Many of the things that really throw people off have nothing to do with mentchlichkeit. You can't deal with that by saying "OK, so we'll keep it between ourselves". We need to always understand that in all likelihood, someone will see it, so we had better be ready to answer in a confident and secure way. No excuses, but as much explanation as people are ready to hear and conviction that we're doing the right thing.
@anonymous. Your post is one of the many. It shows little being formerly Orthodox has to do with G-d. I wish people could take responsibility and blame the people that hurt us instead of G=d who did not. I do not blame you. As an educator and counselor who has worked with teens (I believe in disclosure) I see an educational system that does not teach #5, a relationship with G-d, as THE stumbling block and source of the rest of the problems. To have a relationship with someone you have to get to know Him. Unfortunately, those works that show His personality, so to speak were the baby thrown out with the bathwater when our people had to circle the wagons in history.
Thank you so much for this post. I am now following you and will look forward to more.
I am the proud owner of a Frummie daughter! *LOL*
Joking aside.. from a pretty average observant but-not-frum home, orthodoxy seeded itself in my beautiful eldest child, who took me with her in the side car as she began her journey, which finally took her to a life in Israel, where she lives in a frum yeshuv, and is so happy it is palpable. When I say 'taken in a side car' I mean it in this very important sense: She did not demand of me, her dad or her siblings that we grow in the same direction, and fully respected our wishes, but I tagged along, all the same – as moms tend to do. She has a wonderful fulfilling life, with a loving husband and 5 (bless them) little ones, and I am deeply proud of who she is, and how she got to be there.
This is a terrific post. fwiw, I am not Orthodox, but I hold this list up as an example for myself, too.
Just found your blog through a FB friend, and would like to introduce myself as The Real Jerusalem Streets and a recent post on the role of women in Jerusalem not all religious, but impressive Women in the News http://wp.me/pEpmV-2ixs
ps any connection to Bev Koval, a true eshet chayil.
Thanks so much to those of you that have been so positive and have reposted!
Anonymouses, Gill, Leeba, Rachel, Sharon: Welcome to OOTOB! So glad you've visited. I will be checking out your blogs and look forward to future interactions.
Gill: your story really warmed me. Many can learn from your approach.
Sharon, yes, Bev was my husband's aunt and our next door neighbor for 9 years. Couldn't agree more with your assessment. The link was broken…
But love and memories aren't destroyed
These are very rudimentary goals .
The ocean is deep and you learn very little in shallow water.
Having lived on the outskirts of the frum community here for 20 years, let me tell you that on most days, for most of the women in the shops etc, rudimentary goals would actually be a STRETCH…
With great respect to the person who wrote that these comments are "shallow water", creating a relationship between yourself and G-d, the One who created, watches over and guides us in life, is THE most fundamental aspect of life. That leads to how we behave, because we believe that "some being " is watching over us. But, life and existence take on new meaning and brand new dimensions when we become aware that we were created for a purpose, both individually and as part of Am Yisrael. Living is not just functioning, right now. G-d created each of us with a purpose, and He / She aslo created us as part of a Sacntified, unique Nation with special responsibilities, which affects and will affect the whole world. Life and history don't just happen and pass by. Being a Jew is to be part of something BIG! All of the above points come into focus even more when they're put into this greater context. We are NOT alone-we don't live in a vacuum. We may FEEL alone, but each one of us is being developed for our purpose and to do something which will significant for the People of Israel. Let our being and actions be a Kiddush Hashem and we will have a positive effect on …everything around us. Let's concsiously be part of something GREAT( Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Pirkei Avot, etc)
@anon: There but for the grace of G-d, go I. Seriously, I spent so much of my younger life "being Orthodox" on such a superficial level. Don't get me wrong – I was considered cream of the crop and all that in school/seminary/etc. but, I know that my observance was often about going with flow with bursts of inspiration here and there. And then, fairly recently, I discovered G-d. I mean, a G-d with which I have a relationship(see #5). Who knew? I must have skipped school that day! Which goes to show you the importance of #4. In my own quest to learn more and to gain deeper understanding into my Judaism, I have been blessed with transformational insights. Of course, the course of learning never ends and living with G-d and walking with Him requires constant exercise to develop my consciousness. Without the learning and introspection, G-d consciousness fades ever so easily. And, as Ruchi poignantly pointed out, you don't arrive until you've reached the pearly gates. Here's to the journey!
Ruchi, as always, thank you.
David: thank you for that.
Ayelet: wow. And you're welcome…
Great post. I'd add that even if a Jew isn't observant, the same rules apply. The world is still watching and measuring. On the other hand, I believe that judgements and comments say more about the speaker than those he/she is speaking about. Doing what's right is important for its own sake.
I hope and pray that I'm teaching these values to my kids.
Keep writing and inspiring Ruchi!
wow, i have just discovered your blog and …wow! I don't think i have ever said this about any other blog post I have read but this should be read in each and every yeshiva and beis yaakov. They should put this up on bulletin boards in yeshivot everywhere. In short… I could not agree more! Keep up the good work, you have just earned yourself a fan.
Laya and anonymous, thank you so much! Welcome to OOTOB.
Very, very well said. I especially agree with #2 because i've seen it. That and #4 are actually connected in a discussion in the Gemara. In which the Rabbis have an argument about which is more important, study or action. The Rabbis rule that study is more important because it leads to action. Therefor action is more important. This is a message that needs to be strengthened around the Jewish community. Thank you very much for making your ideas public.
Thank you so much Anonymous. Torah learning is like food for the soul. Of course you need to do other things in this world, but without food you can't do any of it.
Ruchi and Anonymous: After seeing so much negativity elsewhere, you have no idea how much I respect both of you for the conversation here. That's what it is – a CONVERSATION, with real interaction and consideration of the points made by the other person, as opposed to just throwing extreme opinions and put-downs around the web.
Jrkmommy…thank you. Until I started blogging I actually had no idea how ugly much of the online interaction is. It has only motivated me further to create a sacred space of respect.