Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Welcome?- An open letter to the Modern Orthodox community
I’m still on a high from this past weekend when I attended and spoke at a Project Makom shabbaton. Project Makom is an organization that was started to help charedim who want to transition to a more moderate community.Still, a comment from a friend has me thinking, and a bit concerned. When my friend, who is Modern Orthodox as well, heard about Project Makom, he suggested that the Modern Orthodox community might not be so welcoming. My first instinct was to think of all the wonderful people I know in the MO world, and those people who offered to host charedim who would like to spend Shabbos with them, and yet, upon further reflection, I wonder if my friend might be partially correct.
A different friend, who grew up in a chassidic community, recently walked into a Modern Orthodox shul. He noted, and yet, sadly, was not surprised by the fact, that almost nobody welcomed him, or said Good Shabbos. He was not surprised as this was not the first time that he had an experience like this. Lest one suggest that the same thing would happen if the situation was reversed, and a MO person were to enter a chassidish shtiebel, my experience and that of my friends have been quite different. I have always found chassidish shuls to have a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
While the amateur psychologist in me might be able to explain why this difference exists, I’m not sure that the reason really matters all that much. Modern Orthodoxy has improved in so many areas, with our shuls offering numerous minyanim and opportunities for talmud Torah for both men and women. I’d like to see a greater emphasis on hachnasas orchim join the list.
Of course, I’m hoping for something greater. What would happen if someone from a chassidic community wanted to join your community? Not just for a Shabbos, but for good. Would they be welcomed? Would there children have friends to play with? Sadly, I have heard stories of families who tried to integrate who were not made to feel welcome, and ultimately left. We can do better. We need to do better.
Allow me to conclude with the story of Franz Rosenzweig. At one point in his life, Rosenzweig, who would go on to become a serious Jewish thinker, had been ready to convert to Christianity. Shortly before his conversion, he attended a Kol Nidrei service in a Chassidic shtiebel. Rosenzweig was so moved by the experience that he decided not to to convert. Nobody knows exactly what he witnessed in the shtiebel, but it was enough to change the course of his life. Had Rosenzweig been a chassid who entered one of our community’s shuls, would he have remained a Jew?
With hopes for the redemption,