I was recently explaining JITC’s mission to someone I had just met at a party. And this wasn’t just anyone: this was a doctor who has lived and worked in Manhattan – presumably around many Orthodox Jews – for years. “JITC’s goal is to show the world that there are many educated, open-minded, kind Orthodox Jews out there.” I told him.
The gentleman interrupted me, “So is this a new group within the Orthodox movement?”
I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by his question. I mean, I started JITC precisely because several years ago I realized how many people misunderstand our community. But to see the misunderstanding so blatantly and from such an educated person living amongst Orthodox Jews, well, it surprised even me.
“No,” I explained. There have always been “normal,” balanced, open-minded Orthodox Jews out there. But you never hear about us in the media. The headlines always capture the worst in our community and well, in really every community, I guess. The TV shows and movies always depict us in the most over-the-top ways. Because traditional media isn’t interested in covering the boringness of our “normalcy,” for many people, it’s as if we “normal” ones don’t exist.”
I went on, “And in terms of real life, for those of us who “blend,” you might not have realized that we are Orthodox. For those who blend less, you probably never got a chance to speak to them and understand that while they might look different than you, there’s a lot you have in common with one another.”
The doctor was intrigued.
I was inspired all over again. Our brand has been hijacked by criminals and extremists, and it is up to us to reclaim it.
“Judge all men favorably.” “Distance yourself from dishonesty.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “[The Torah’s] ways are those of pleasantness, its paths are those of peace.”
These are foundational Torah principles which guide the lives of many, many Orthodox Jews. Are there bad guys out there, who dress the part, but don’t live up to these values? Of course. Are they the majority of the Orthodox community? The cynics tell me they are. I don’t believe that is the case. I’ve never done a formal study, but I believe that when you keep hearing about the bad guys again and again, it feels like they’re taking over.
And that is why the good guys must make more noise. Normalcy and decency may not be enough to make the headlines in old media. But thankfully, and with your help, we are making tons of headlines in new media!