I grew up in a very tight-knit orthodox bubble in New York and since then have moved to a relatively tight-knit orthodox bubble in Israel. Here I meet people of all types of backgrounds, but having left America at 16 and never really having met a Reform or Conservative Jew, I’ve come to idolize the other streams a bit.
In my childhood mind, there were two types of Jews; Orthodox and non-religious. I had no knowledge of the fact that other streams of Judaisms had institutions, federations, schools, camps, or youth groups. I assumed they were just assimilated into the non-Jewish world. What’s left of Judaism outside of Orthodoxy?
Then I grew up a bit but in Israel; in a place where Conservative and Reform Judaism isn’t thriving and is barely existent. Most of what I’ve learned is from the internet, official responsa, stereotypes, and a bit of talking to people who grew up in those backgrounds.
I matured since moving to Israel and radically changed. Binny 5 years ago would be terrified at what I am today. In my mind my Orthodox upbringing and the Orthodox community is “old Binny”. That represents closed-mindedness, shtetl-like behavior, slow progress, and socially conservative values. Values that I have distanced myself from. On the other hand Conservative and Reform seemed to be the promised land of openness, acceptance, liberal values, and no fear of progress; in essence, who I am today.
I just finished an amazing and difficult week at Hartman Institute’s Community Leadership Program. There were many types of people there from many different backgrounds, but my dad and two others were the only people who identified as Orthodox in the group of about 150. It was the first time I was so engrossed in something Jewish and so radically not “Orthodox”. I’m finally with my people. Right?
The program itself was absolutely amazing and perfectly as I expected in regards to the openness. Hartman involves and has programs for Jews of all streams, Muslims, and Christians. We had Torah classes given by a non-Jewish woman named Christine, a gay Orthodox Rabbi, a conservative rabbi, an orthodox woman, a secular Israeli, and more. Hartman really was the beacon of light I expected it to be.
But Hartman wasn’t representative of everyone on the program. One person told a story of his sister who wanted their father’s unveiling ceremony to be done by “those Orthodox guys in black coats who wait in the cemetery for unknowing people like my sister”. Excuse me? Another asked a question regarding “those settlers”. Another said all Arabs “only have values of honour and shame”. You were supposed to be my saviors from my childhood closed-mindedness! You were supposed to share my values of open-mindedness and acceptance! What is this?!
It reminded me of a time I went on a trip with Rabbis for Human Rights to go olive picking in Palestinian olive groves and one of the woman described settlers as “vicious dogs”. I yelled at her! How dare she make such a ridiculous generalization! Such stereotyping! She obviously viewed things differently from me, but we were on the same trip.
Last year I attended the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance and after the stabbing there was a woman there yelling against “the religious”. I approached her and yelled “I’m religious and in the parade!”. She switched her rhetoric against the ultra-orthodox so I yelled “I’m ultra-orthodox!”. She looked at my knitted kippa (not indicative of someone ultra-orthodox) and said “you’re not ultra-orthodox!” I replied saying “I won’t define you based on what’s between your legs, and you don’t define me based on my head-covering”. Her anti-orthodox rhetoric continued.
About 4 years ago I had a life-changing experience. I went into a Palestinian village with my friend Eliora for an iftar. It was an amazing trip (and she wrote about her experience here) but by the end of the night we weren’t sure how we’d get home. Eliora writes in her article “In the corner, I spot a strange head covering, the last I would expect here: a yarmulke. This Gush Etzion resident ends up driving Eitan and I right up to my friends’ home in Efrat”. (I’m under the pseudonym Eitan).
Still to this day that’s one of the most surprising images I have in my head; deep in the Palestinian hills in some village, I see a giant kippa-wearing settler. What?! All the people in attendance of this iftar were from all different “others”; we had Palestinians, Jews, settlers, Tel Avivians, Muslims. What did we have in common? Our common denominator was that we didn’t see through that prism or talk in such language. We didn’t have “others” except for one; those that do have “others”.
This is something I saw 4 years ago in that village, I saw it with the olive picking, I saw it at the pride-parade, I see it in the Hartman Institute, and finally picked up on it this week. The “us vs. them” I feel is “us” being people that create bridges and “them” being people who destroy them and create walls. This dichotomy cuts through political camps, racial camps, national camps, gender camps, and stream-of-Judaism camps. In all these camps there are bridge builders, and there are wall builders. No camp has a monopoly on either of them.
Be Orthodox or Reform. Be right-wing or left-wing. Be Israeli or Palestinian. Be Cis or Trans. But what are you building? Bridges or walls?
The bridge-builders from all camps that have to understand that they’re after the same goal, and have to build it all together. No one or two people or camps can do it alone.
And those that place themselves in the bridge camp must realize that we come from all types. We have settlers, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, cis, trans, gay, straight, and everything in between.
וְהָיָה בִּמְשֹׁךְ בְּקֶרֶן הַיּוֹבֵל, בשמעכם (כְּשָׁמְעֲכֶם) אֶת-קוֹל הַשּׁוֹפָר, יָרִיעוּ כָל-הָעָם, תְּרוּעָה גְדוֹלָה; וְנָפְלָה חוֹמַת הָעִיר, תַּחְתֶּיהָ, וְעָלוּ הָעָם, אִישׁ נֶגְדּוֹ.
And it shall be, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the horn, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall go up every person straight before him.’