Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Both sides against the middle

Little did I know.

When I was younger and even less knowledgeable about the Jewish community than I am now, I used to think that the Orthodox were divided into only two camps, namely, the Chassidim and the "regular" Orthodox Jews.

As I grew older and lived in New York City longer, I became aware that it was possible to be a right-wing Orthodox Jew without being Chassidic. But I didn't even know the word for that approach. Chareidi? Vus is dus? (What's that?)

Now that I've (a) been living in NYC for well over 30 years (more than half my life), (b) have been working for an Orthodox Jewish non-profit organization (first as a temp, now as a permanent, full-time employee) for considerably more than half a decade, and (c) have been reading blogs since 2004, I can practically name the "Orthodox observance spectrum":

(a) what Chana calls "cultural Modern Orthodox" (they like the name but don't always play by the rules of the game);

(b) left-wing Modern Orthodox (where you won't get thrown out of synagogue for starting a women's tefillah (prayer) group, or, maybe even (gasp!) a "partnership minyan";

(c) right-wing Modern Orthodox, also known as Centrist (may or may not permit women's tefillah groups, depending on the rabbi and/or synagogue and/or community);

(d) "Yeshivish";

(e) Chareidi (fervently Orthodox, of both Chassidic and non-Chassidic [mitnagdic?] varieties).

Figuring out the "Orthodox observance spectrum" and its dress code is certainly something interesting, educational, and helpful that I've learned through surfing the Jewish blogosphere. But a more important thing that I've discovered specifically as a result of reading blogs is that not only is my Conservative family not the only one that feels as if it's living in a "Little House on the Prairie," there are some Orthodox families in remarkably similar situations.

It's not that our family is in the boat as these fine frum folks, but rather, that we're on the same lake. The difference is that their boats are being pulled so far into the deep end that the occupants risk drowning, whereas our boat is being yanked so far into the shallow end that we risk running aground.

And how do our children react to being in the middle?

Our son still hates synagogue, and has little interest in practicing Judaism in any form at this time.

Other young people, more traditional, observe their place in the Orthodox world and can't really figure out quite where their piece of the puzzle belongs: "i have never really been acquainted with another family like my own, which i think is really half and half. by which i mean half 80s action films and half minyan points. "

Serious advice to home-seekers: If at all possible, never move anywhere without first spending a Shabbat in your prospective new neighborhood. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I realize that, if we had spent just one Sabbath at our current local synagogue, it would have been patently obvious that we would be complete misfits, both in terms of our level of observance as compared to that of the other parents of young children, and in terms of the pathetic number of children who attended synagogue on a regular basis. The fact that I got yelled at for bringing a pre-schooler to synagogue should have been our first clue.

Some people will end up, for various reasons (e.g., proximity to educational institutions and/or place of employment and/or family), in neighborhoods in which they're the minority, religiously. I suppose that the only feeble advice I have to offer is to be aware that raising kids as a minority within a minority is a major challenge. An open mind, a good sense of humor, and the ability to withstand, politely and respectfully, the pressure to conform (including a willingness to stand your ground and stick to your own principles, when necessary) probably help.

Update: See my guide to the Orthodox observance spectrum and my "levush" illustrated.


Blogger PsychoToddler said...

It definitely helps to know what you're getting into.

I think I made an observation somewhere about choosing schools--don't look at the kids, look at the parents--or maybe I stole that from someone (maybe my mom is right).

You can say the same about congregations--look at the congregants.

That said, some of us will never fit in anywhere. I recall when we lived at Einstein we felt it was too left wing for us--they let people bring in Frito-Lays for kiddush. Some nonsense like that. The women didn't cover their hair enough.

I really think it's all narishkeit. Just be yourself and the heck with everything else.

Tue Sep 04, 11:00:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Don't look at the kids, look at the parents. Don't look at the congregation, look at the congregants." Good advice. Forget about the gorgeous building and check out the people inside. Someone in my local shul is always quoting a rabbi--not sure which one--as saying that any synagogue without strollers in front is a dying synagogue. Also, given our experience, I think it may be a good idea to "try out" a shul twice--once on a "junior congregation" Shabbat/Sabbath and once on a non-jr.-cong. Shabbat. (This may be more applicable to a non-Orthodox synagogue.) If there are hardly any kids there on the non-jr.-cong. Shabbat, that may show a certain lack of commitment on the part of the parents, who probably aren't there on non-jr. cong. Shabbatot either.

Hmm, Frito-Lays--do they have any kind of hechsher (symbol of rabbinical supervision to ensure that a product is kosher)? I'm more of a cookie than potato-chip person, so I can't even remember. I can't remember the last time I bought any, though.

"The women don't cover their hair enough." Darn, I should have put that into the "levush" post. "Six degrees of . . ." hair covering:
1. None
2. Symbolic ("doily"/"chapel cap" [depending on your neighborhood] in synagogue only
3. Minimal (small scarf, or the like)
4. "Bowl" (hiding the bangs and all hair to roughly the base of the skull, with hair visible below. The most obvious example would probably be a baseball cap, but many married Orthodox women tie their scarves in that manner.)
5. All-but-a-tefach/handbreadth (usually leaves only the bangs showing at the front of a tichel/scarf, snood, or fall.)
6. Complete (a hat, tichel, snood, fall, or sheitel/wig covering the hair completely, or as completely as possible).

I think that about covers it. :)

Thu Sep 06, 12:47:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"some of us will never fit in anywhere." . . .

I really think it's all narishkeit. Just be yourself and the heck with everything else."

Indeed, we fringe dwellers/square pegs just have to try to resist the pressure to conform, and politely and diplomatically stick to our own principles. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you did the right thing.

Thu Sep 06, 01:00:00 AM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a traditional Conservative Jew, my family and I are often thought of as "Orthodox" - this reflects lack of knowledge among those who affiliate Conservative. On the other hand, variations of beliefs and practices make our Orthodox friends scratch their heads - this reflects lack of knowlege among those who affiliate Orthodox.

Bottom line, in my humble opinion, being a mix of Conservative and Orthodox is probably closer to what the Rabbis in the Talmud had in mind. So being a square peg is more authentic. Focus on that instead of feeling inadequate or out of place. Perhaps your attitude will rub off on those less enlightened!

Shana Tova!

Mon Sep 17, 09:15:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., been there, too. When we first married, some members of the family who had little Jewish education actually thought that I was Orthodox just because I lit Sabbath candles. At the time, I thought that was amusingly ironic.

The folks at our traditional Conservative synagogue also don't know what to make of us, or perhaps I should say "me" rather than "us." I'm relatively observant, by our shul's standards--I can think of only one member of the synagogue who's within hailing distance of my age who's more observant than I am. On the other hand, I'm also one o' them thar feminist hippy radicals who wants to throw out tradition (the proof being that I'm often the only person, male or female, wearing tefillin at a weekday morning minyan--and they'd probably blame me for that, too, if they could).

" . . . being a mix of Conservative and Orthodox is probably closer to what the Rabbis in the Talmud had in mind. So being a square peg is more authentic. Focus on that instead of feeling inadequate or out of place." Being a square peg is more authentic? Well, I don't think my Orthodox readers would agree, but personally, I think that's a perspective that's worth considering.

Mon Sep 17, 05:19:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course Orthodox readers wouldn't agree. They see themselves as the only true Jews, practicing the only authentic form of Judaism. They also think the way they observe and believe is how Jews have always observed and believed. It's their fantasy and they have a deep-rooted need to believe it it. It's too dangerous to think that there's been a lot of "gray" and "variety" within the Jewish world over the centuries.

Being that square peg is "odd" in Orthodox circles, but it shows bravery and a refusal to submit to their "groupthink."

The real irony is that there aren't enough passionate and knowledgeable Conservative Jews around to make you comfortable enough to keep from wandering to other shuls.

Tue Sep 18, 05:05:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"The real irony is that there aren't enough passionate and knowledgeable Conservative Jews around to make you comfortable enough to keep from wandering to other shuls." That's what makes me a wandering Jew. :) It's certainly an interesting experience to pray regularly at two different Conservative synagogues with completely different perspectives.

"Being that square peg is "odd" in Orthodox circles," but, as I said in my post, some Orthodox Jews are, nevertheless, square pegs in their own synagogues. I was surprised to discover, through blogging, that there were "fringe dwellers" all along the "Jewish observance spectrum," from the Reform Jew who felt her congregation was becoming too traditional to the secretly-sceptical Chassid.

"They see themselves as the only true Jews, practicing the only authentic form of Judaism." Sounds like a discussion I just reread recently on one blog or the other. The commenter said that it's hardly abnormal for people who think that their way is the right way. The important thing is not to impose on others, and to be respectful.

"They also think the way they observe and believe is how Jews have always observed and believed." That depends on whom you talk to. I don't think that many of the folks who comment here believe that Moses went up to Mount Sinai wearing a beaver hat and a long black coat. And I've seen considerable diversity of opinion among the Orthodox as to what one must and/or must not believe to be a Jew.

Tue Sep 18, 08:27:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can relate: i go to a C shul and an O shul with a yeshivish rabbi (and a more mixed congregation, but definitely a heavy yeshivish quotient though I suspect RW MO is more typical), and feel like I'm on the fringes of both. If I lived in a bigger city I might find someplace that's a fit (as in fact I did in Philadelphia)- but as long as I'm in a one-of-every denomination city, I'm a man without a country!

Sat Sep 29, 11:01:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Woodrow, it has been a great surprise to me to realize just how many square pegs there are across all denominational lines. The biggest surprise for me, probably because I'm an outsider, has been that it's possible to be completely shomer mitzot (a person who observes all the religious commandments) and still be a misfit in an Orthodox congregation. I guess I'd gotten used to the broad spectrum of observance and perspective in the Conservative Jewish community, but I hadn't realized that there was such diversity of observance and hashkafah/religious perspective among the Orthodox.

Sun Sep 30, 12:30:00 AM 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>