A while back, an online friend of mine, Allison Josephs (aka Jew in the City) posted the following video, entitled “Orthodox Jewish All Stars.” The tagline was: Are all Orthodox Jewish men rabbis? Are Orthodox Jewish women allowed to work? Find out from these Orthodox Jewish All Stars!
I loved the video. Especially the part about Tamir Goodman, a neighbor of ours and personal friend of JFX, my organization. But something about it niggled in the back of my head and kept rattling there. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I ignored it and figured that it would go away.
Another blogger who always makes me think, PopChassid, wrote this little number, and as soon as I read it, bingo. I knew.
It’s all about defining normal.
Much of the time, I, too, try to show the world that yes, I am Orthodox, but I’m still normal. Which means I like stylish clothing and looking good. I like to be in the know when people crack pop culture jokes. I like to be up-to-date, respected, by the standards of the world. <—– See that? By the standards of the world.
In Allison’s very excellent video, which addresses a real misconception, she shows how wonderful the “all-stars” of Orthodox Judaism are. But by whose standards are they all-stars? By the standards of the world. They are quintessentially normal. No, better than normal. They take the standards deemed “normal” – successful financially, famous, esteemed – and excel therein.
But why are we buying into those standards? To me, a Jewish all-star is someone who excels in being Jewish. In promoting and living Jewish values, such as kindness, Torah, humility, generosity, faith. Granted, many of the all-stars featured are doing both – for all I know, they all are – I don’t know them all personally – but this is not exactly what they are being lauded for here. They are lauded for their cool careers that are normal by the standards of the world.
Why am I being critical? It’s not really my style.
But this was a very important recognition for me to make personally. When I think of myself as “normal” (by the standards of the world) I may fail miserably. I have a lot of kids. I only wear skirts and dresses. I cover my hair. These things aren’t particularly normal. And that’s what I walked away from this whole tararam with – that while my lifestyle, personality, and personal practices may sometimes jive with the world’s standards of normal, and that’s all fine, I shall be equally proud where they don’t.
Now, my chin lifts with pride and gratitude when someone asks me if my youngest of seven is my fist child. My heart soars with coolness at my somewhat counter-culture skirts. My mind expands to recall that my covered head is an external sign of my status as a married woman.
These are things I need to remind myself of. Because I, too, am subject to everyone else’s standard of normal. And I wish I weren’t.
PS Update/response from Allison Josephs:
I’m not sure if you noticed me say it, but the line that sums up all the “success” is me saying: what makes this group extraordinary is not just that they thrived professionally, it’s that they stayed true to their Jewish heritage while doing so even when it wasn’t always easy. Now that’s what I call an all star.