It was the best community. It was the worst community. It was a God of love. It was a God of terror. It was a school where children thrived. It was a school where children were abused. It was a time for exploring all the kosher parts of God’s glorious world, it was a time for everything to be restricted. It was an age with deep wisdom. It was an age where questions were forbidden. It was an epoch of honesty and truth seeking. It was an epoch of hypocrisy and fraud. It was a season of tolerance. It was a season of judgment. It was a spring of hope. It was a winter of despair.
For years, I was only exposed to the best of the Orthodox Jewish world. Sure, I’d occasionally come across someone on the street who gave me a judgmental look, but since I become observant over 20 years ago, living mostly among right-wing modern Orthodox Jews, but having yeshivish, Chabad, and hasidic friends, I was privileged to see the best.
I was privileged to discover a loving God, who holds me through life’s uncertainties. I was privileged to be around healthy people who mind their own business when it comes to my religion, but overextend themselves when it comes to my well-being. I have been privileged to have wonderful, compassionate rabbis who not only have a balanced and thoughtful approach to Judaism, but who have always have considered me as a total person whenever issuing a ruling. I have been privileged to be exposed to beautiful and deep Torah wisdom, which has enhanced the meaning in my life and allowed me to freely question. I have been privileged to marry a man I love who is giving and caring, kind, and hardworking. And I have been privileged not only to get to enjoy so much of the world’s kosher delights, but to give my children the same and raise them in a school where they are getting a deep and meaningful Jewish experience, that is their foundation of their lives, while at the same time, they are being educated in a way that will land them in top positions in well-paying fields if they so choose.
It has been the best of times becoming an Orthodox Jew. In fact, I couldn’t fathom a better way to live. I was able to take the happy and healthy secular life I was leading and add spirituality into it. My entire family joined me on this journey. But then I met the people who were failed on multiple levels in the Orthodox Jewish community through our work at Project Makom, and I realized that there is a whole second world of Orthodox Judaism.
So many of our members have been raised with a God of terror who not only punishes them, but delights in their suffering. So many of our members have been judged and belittled for stepping outside of community norms in even the most insignificant ways. So many of our members have been tortured by rabbis who not only lack any basic compassion, or common sense, but in some cases actually abused them. So many of our members were never exposed to a Judaism that allowed mitzvos to be enjoyable or Torah to be deep, in fact, they had large swaths of Torah not even taught to them and when it was taught, all nuance was missing and any questions they had were considered heretical. So many of our members were forced into marriages that they never wanted, only to continue to be abused in their adult life after suffering as children. So many of our members were not allowed to learn much about or enjoy the kosher parts of the larger world either in home or at school. For many of them, this not only limited their ability to appreciate all the wonders that Hashem created, but also their ability to make a livelihood.
Despite hearing so many horrific stories on a regular basis, I am still so positive about Judaism. I am still so hopeful. People are confused by this, but to me it’s simple. The Torah of truth and compassion and thoughtfulness is the real Torah, and it has always been the real Torah. And when I get to see one of our members meet the kind of Orthodox Jews that have been in my world, experience mitzvos like I have and learn Torah as I do, meet the rabbis that I know, and see the beauty that is there, it is the best of times for them too.
Of course it is a tremendous task to ensure that every Jew has knowledge of and access to this type of Orthodox Judaism. But what is the purpose of privilege if not to share it with those who have less? So I plan to spend my life publicizing this message to every Jew who has seen this beauty so they can help us gather the tremendous resources we will need to help those who have not yet had the chance. And perhaps, with God’s help, one day, there will only be the best Orthodox Judaism.