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04/20/2020 12:21:21 PM


Lisa Septimus

I grew up "Modern Orthodox." At the time, what that title meant to me was I could dress like and be tuned in to the same TV shows and movies as the rest of the world – but I also kept Shabbos and went to a Jewish Day School.  I can't exactly say that I felt pride in being modern orthodox as opposed to any other type of observance level on the religious spectrum. I think what I felt can be better described as relief that I could more easily blend-in than Jews more to the right. Even if I didn't always feel like I could blend in with other Jews.

My teens was the first the time I experienced Modern Orthodox insecurity. I was at the airport on a flight filled with Orthodox Jews but it looked like we didn’t belong to the club. "Mom," I said a little too loudly, "did you pack my Chumash?". Yet, during my teen years I was developing a firm sense of identity, not just self-identity, but communal religious identity as a Modern Orthodox Jew. I was studying gemara in school and attending mishmar. When I found out during high school that not all Orthodox girls were given access to these texts, I felt proud and grateful for my modern community.  Twice a week we had a class called Judaism where we explored basic Jewish beliefs and concepts. That is where I was first introduced to the term Torah u'Mada – realizing then that Modern Orthodoxy was an actual philosophy and not just a classification. I was learning the teachings of Rav Soloveichik for the first time. Certain ideas were over my head, but overall I was taken by the way psychological concepts were woven into an understanding of Torah and Man. 

After high school I went to study in Israel for the year. I learned a lot that year and became more committed to Torah and mitzvot. I also traded in my old jeans and baby doll t’s for a biz skirt and longer sleeves. I looked different to my parents (and everyone else), but I assured them that I was still Camp Modern Orthodox – only now I understood more of what it stood for. That I was simply aware of more mitzvot and therefore could not neglect those new ones as I had done in the past.  But, whereas my change seemed like the next step in a straight line, I saw some friends with the same background as mine – particularly some of the young men – mock or reject the MO and Daati Leiumi communities, and be drawn to Rabbeim or communities of "shtarker" haskafot.  For young men, there was something more enveloping, more passionate, more intense, more heimish that was being offered. They seemed to find it irresistible. But, for a woman with my experiences and mindset, there was no appeal and no open door. I was continuing my study of gemara which was forbidden in that community and the great tisches and soulful tefillot that went on were generally for men only. 

Fast forward to the Young Israel of North Woodmere 2008. A warm, small, diverse shul hires a proud Modern Orthodox Rabbi and Rebbetzin. It feels a lot like the Modern Orthodoxy of my childhood. Warm, open, but somewhat lacking in that sense of passion for the entirety of Torah u'Madda's ideals – that delicate balance between serious Torah and mitzvot while also embracing higher education, science, and the secular world. I also noticed hints of that old MO insecurity of my youth. People feeling judged for the way they dress or the missing hat or sheitel. Every emphasized 'Good Shabbos' reminding me how I once deliberately asked my mother if she packed my Chumash. And as the community expanded and grew – with each new shul and shteible – the Modern Orthodox insecurity factor grew as well.

But, this is not a time to feel distant, insecure, or separated from people of all hashkafot. This is a time for the opposite.

We face the same fears, frustrations, and losses. We are not only facing the difficulties of home schooling, economic challenges, and socially distant mourning – but we face the great challenge ahead of safely re-opening society without a second wave. And, no shul or hashkafa will be spared severe trauma if we fail at this.  

As one of the most established Modern Orthodox shuls in the neighborhood, we must stand up loudly and proudly. We can bring the community together as the most inclusive shul, comprised of people from all backgrounds; a welcoming place for all men, women, and children. Our hashkafa is built on synthesizing Torah with tremendous value for Science, Humanities, and learning from secular society where appropriate. Many of our own members are the doctors and nurses who are now not only caring for us, but also guiding us during these confusing and scary times. 

I am proud. Proud of our members, proud of what we stand for, proud of our continuing to wrestle with that balancing act between our Torah values and the modern world. 

For too long, we have been insecure in the face of the broader Orthodox community. We need to come together as a community more than ever.  We should do so with a sense of belonging and a sense of pride.

by: Lisa Septimus

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783