Thursday, June 12, 2014
The Treasures of Home- My Journey From and Back to Modern Orthodoxy
[It is the short time period between the yahrtzeits of my parents A”H. The following is a reflection on some of what they gave me. May their memories be blessed.]
Stories abound of people leaving home to find riches, only to return home to discover that they were sitting on treasure all along. I am not alone among my friends and peers in having gone through such an experience in my religious life.
I was raised in a Modern Orthodox home. My mother received a limited Jewish education growing up, and my father received even less. My mother was the impetus behind their keeping a religious home, with some assistance from my brother. Our parents sent us to day school and made many personal sacrifices to pay for it. We kept Shabbos, without knowing hilchos boreir, and kosher where a K with any shape around it was good enough. I went to schools and camps where the boy-girl interactions were, shall we say, quite different from Satmar. Neither of my parents could translate a Rashi on chumash, let alone a mishna. They did however teach us some things which were more important than that. That being religious had to involve being a mentsch, that a businessman or politician with a kippah had to be incredibly careful about ethics, and to care about those who were less fortunate. They taught us that taking fancy vacations was less important than a solid Jewish education, that we should feel privileged to live at a time when Israel and Jerusalem were “ours”, and that kindness and honesty were as Jewish as Shabbos and Yom Kippur.
For me, this wasn't enough. I yearned for the real thing. To keep every part of Shabbos, the highest level of kashrus and to make Torah learning a more serious part of my life. I saw the “yeshivah world” as the place where those things could be found. I assumed that I would find the bein adam l'makom component on which I'd been raised, emphasized to an even greater degree. And I did, except for when I didn't. I met many people who saw Orach Chaim as much more binding than Choshen Mishpat and the “fifth cheilek” of Shulchan Aruch. I saw people who thought that outside appearances were more important than the inside, and who told their daughters that if you don't marry someone in kollel, you are only getting second best. Don't misunderstand me. I met some incredible ba'alei chessed in that world, people who took all areas of Torah seriously, whose actions met their learning. When I looked around however, I realized that there were also people like that who wore crocheted or suede kippot rather than ones made of velvet. I saw battei midrash filled with Bnei Torah, who also serve in the Israeli army, and chessed and educational institutions run by wonderful and sincere Modern Orthodox Jews. In short, I realized that no group had a monopoly on truth, Torah or sincerity; or, unfortunately, on laxity in observance, nastiness or haughtiness.
I came home. Not to the exact same place as my parents, but at least within the same figurative neighborhood. It's nice to be back, although I'm saddened by the amount of time that it took, both in terms of my parents missing out on my “return”, as well as a lot of decisions I wish I had made differently. Perhaps it is inevitable that most of us can only appreciate home only after we leave. I would advise you to look carefully at everything you have before you decide to look elsewhere.