Dear Matzav Shmooze,
With all the recent attention given to the tragic stories of the many who, after leaving our way of life, find themselves with a deep sense of loss and displacement, I found myself terribly saddened.
Had this heartbreak been limited to those that left it would be easier to excuse the status quo as it is. But it’s not only those that leave. The pain also extends to the families they leave behind who become torn as well. Torn, trying to make sense between the love they feel for their family and the love they have for the Aibishter. Torn between the community they live in and the people they can’t live without.
The first struggle is an internal one, one that must be resolved on an individual level; how can I relate to a family member whose choices are so different from my own?
But the second is a community conflict, one that we must tackle as a whole; namely, what place does an OTD person have in our community, if any? Should abandoning the strictures of the community cost you the loving structure of the community?
Maybe it’s time we realize that these people were born into this community just as we were. Their lifestyle may be different now but the mere fact that they still want to feel welcome should be enough to embrace them as our own.
But how to see them as “one of us” when the choices THEY’VE made have defined themselves as outsiders?
Perhaps we start by separating the Bain Adam L’Chavero from the Bain Adam L’Makom.
Kindness, humility, integrity, and honesty, among other character traits, should become the scale by which we measure people.
Shabbos, kashrus, skirt length, tefillah, while so important and of utmost significance, should not and do not define a person. I think we all can come up with a few examples of people who are machmir on so many mitzvos and yet fall short when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The same is true vice versa.
We can still daven for their return and give mussar where it will be accepted. We can also believe they are falling short of the lifestyle that a Yiddishe neshama yearns for and that in the Olam Ha’Emes they will realize and regret their actions. But let’s let Hashem be the judge of their neshamos. We of This World will judge people for their earthly attributes.
The goal is to create a community where a religious person will look at his estranged brother, not with condescension or patronizing “acceptance,” but as an equal; a worthy and valuable member of our society. A place where a non religious person can feel confident meeting eyes with the Rabbi, knowing he’s being evaluated by his Bain Adam L’chavero choices not his Bain Adam L’Makom, and that by that standard he or she can measure up to their frum brethren.
We’ll know we have succeeded in this when our eyes don’t automatically shift when we greet a person, checking if their yarmulke is too small or skirt too short. When our first thought when greeting someone is “How are you doing?” not “What are you doing?”
In this holy Kehilla, there is no concept of being ashamed of an OTD relative because a relationship with the Borei Olam is deeply personal and individual; frumkeit shouldn’t be owed as payment to feel loved by your family and accepted by your community.
Yes, we will have to worry about the influences “they” will have on impressionable youngsters, that is true. But we will be confident in the truth and beauty of our Yiddshkeit and have faith in the amazing role models who embody our way of life to serve as a counterbalance.
(Besides, unless we are willing to shun the outside world and live like the Amish, the outside world is already very much part of our culture in the 21st century, unfortunately, yet we manage to keep most of our children frum despite that.
Unless the real threat of accepting OTD people is that it tells children that you can do what you want and still be one of us. If that’s the case, the question we must ask ourselves is as follows: Is that how we want to keep our children frum? By keeping the underlying threat of banishment and ostracization at their necks? Are we people of faith or people of force!?)
Yes, there will still be a gap due to cultural differences and families may still struggle to bridge that chasm. But where there is love and a willingness to find commonality, a relationship can flourish.
This is no longer a question of bringing “them” close or pushing “them” away because we are no longer conflating their frumkeit with their value as people. They have personalities and characteristics independent of their lifestyle. If you want to love them, love them. If you want to hate them for personal reasons, you can do that as well. But let’s not alienate “them.” In fact, let’s rid ourselves altogether of this notion of “them.”
There is no “them” there is only “us.”
Some of us seek Hashem in shul and in the Bais Medrash while some of us try to seek Him out through other means. Some of us don’t seem to be seeking at all.
But all of us are on the same path whether we realize it or not. Can that be enough of a basis from which to build our community?
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