The Orthodox Community I Know
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The Orthodox Community I Know

The Orthodox Community I Know

What do you envision when you think of the Orthodox Jewish community? Here’s an accurate portrayal based on real life experience.

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The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.

Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.

My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

Nine months later we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy -- an accountant -- who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

After a quiet Shabbat with our new baby the doctors told us that they had detected some abnormalities on x-rays that they had taken. While they told us not to be alarmed, they were concerned and wanted to transfer her to the intensive care unit at the children’s hospital. So the day after giving birth to our baby girl, we were in an ambulance being transferred to a high risk intensive care unit for some unspecified condition. Not exactly what we had been planning.

Friends in our community heard what was going on and told us not to worry about our two kids at home. They would take care of them. They arranged sleepovers and carpools and meals. Bikkur Cholim received a notification that we had been moved to another hospital and contacted us and asked if we needed continued meal service. Grateful, we accepted.

The idea that my kids would let a bunch of strange girls give them a bath was, well, laughable.

We also received a phone call from another organization called Chai Lifeline. They are a charity dedicated to helping sick children and their families. They had heard about our situation and wanted to help in any way they could. They offered to take care of our older kids for all of Sunday so that we could stay with the baby at the hospital. They said that they would take the kids out for the day and have them bathed and ready for bed when we returned in the evening. When I heard this I actually laughed out loud. The idea that my kids would let a bunch of strange girls give them a bath was, well, laughable.

Sunday night after a long day at the hospital I returned home to find my kids playing with a Chai Lifeline volunteer and they were in their pajamas, and…

“Why is your hair wet?” I asked my daughter.

“They gave me a bath,” she said nonchalantly.

?!?!

Stunned, I sat down at the table and had a bite to eat while I listened to my kids tell me about their amazing day. Then I heard the water in the sink running and turned around and saw the Chai Lifeline volunteer washing our dishes. Washing our dishes! “You don’t need to worry about washing dishes right now,” she said.

That is the Orthodox community I know.

Word started getting out in our community, and I cannot count the amount of people who approached me in shul and asked what they could do to help. And help they did. For three weeks we didn’t cook a meal because people in our community rotated, cooking meals on our behalf. A few people asked me for the baby’s Hebrew name. They wanted to pray for her.

That is the Orthodox community I know.

After two weeks in the hospital, the doctors told us we could go home. In the end, they said they would monitor her condition, but over time it would likely go away on its own.

Our two kids at home were delighted at the return of their baby sister. They helped her and cared for her and nurtured her. As a parent, there’s no better feeling than seeing your children care for one another. Likewise, when God watched how my community took care of my family in our time of need, I think He too had that parental pleasure, so to speak.

I wish I could thank my community publicly for everything that they’ve done but I am writing this under a pseudonym to protect the privacy of my family. But I know that my community doesn’t want a public thank you. They were just doing what they do.

That is the Orthodox community I know.

Published: March 16, 2014


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Visitor Comments: 45

(33) Elinor, April 5, 2014 4:12 PM

I am a Noahide and I know what you mean

I was in a couple of Jewish communities when I had decided that I wanted to convert to Judaism, it was amazing to be next to a Jewish community and see the prayers, the supportive rabbis who help you and whenever you need help you see the taces of their presence, helping you directly and indirectly. When you live there, you understand how the world revolves around Shabat and how exciting it is to be there when fammilies are preparing for Shabat, how much excitement, the prayers in the synagogue, the movement in the kitchen, the littiel kids preparing the table all for shabat, waiting for the fathers to come back from the synagogue, perhaps with a couple of guest, and the best of the songs sang, the best of the food served, and the candle lights remind you of the beauty of being in LOve with the Creator and living and pleasing him with observing his covenant. One cannot understand it unless one goes there and sees it and feels it. I was not able to complete the process, but I have the best of memories from the moments I was there with the community and in the families, in the synagogues, observing men and women who are there, praying so devotedly, who celebrate, men who dance and sing and celebrate the gift of life that their father has bestowed upon them. Of the things I loved was continuously asking the kids the blessings of food and different types as I am so forgetful and the kids so patiently telling me again and again, like a mother :) Isn't that cute? :) My prayers and greetings go to all the Jewish communities around the world :)

(32) rachel, March 25, 2014 10:36 PM

smaller communities can be better at this

I was desperately ill while living in a small shul community, and people were amazing. When we used to live in a city and attended a biig shul, the personal connection just was not there.
And I would be remiss if I did not also note that a very different kind of community, my federal agency colleagues, also offered tremendous support. None were orthodox Jews. They included an Arab American, several African Americans, Catholics, Protestants, and non orthodox. I will always care about and respect them, just as they did for me. So while its truly wonderful that we orthodox take such care of each other, I hope those reading the article do not get the impression that we lack positive relationships with those outside our religious community.

(31) Sarah, March 24, 2014 12:27 PM

True story

This is great! Reflects on our family's journey also--I had gravitated to an orthodox community while my husband continued to work out at the gym on Saturdays. Then he got cancer (now cured--cancer free for 16 years) and we experienced that same level of love, support, medical advice and care from the orthodox community. This was in stark contrast to a different Jewish community in the area which, when my son was hospitalized, couldn't be bothered to even call us......

(30) Reuven, March 23, 2014 2:39 PM

It is not really about the people

I liked the article and I am very happy to see that the author found a warm and kind community; they exist and nobody ever disputed that. I will not even use the cliche and long time known of everybody ''you can not generalize''.I myself am pretty orthodox and have been in contact with different communities, having gone through thousands of different experiencies, from the most frustrating to the most positive one.
What I see as wrong in this article is that might lead people to fall in love with judaism under false premises; what if someone decides to try an orthodox community and meets one that is NOTHING like that?Should he or she give up judaism? Most probably the disapointment will lead them away from judaism even more. What if someone reads this article and bumps into a hindu community which behaves just the same? So there you go, he can join them and has even the support from a jewish orhtodox source to '''base'' himself on.

What if the author himself one day meets a community that acts differently? So should he give up Judaism?

Torah is of course also about behavior and dealing properly and kindly to each other,but I would say that even mor ethan this,it is about Truth.Even if someone checks EVERY orthodox community in the whole world and they are all behaving as idiots this person would still be obliged to stick to the Torah and to the Truth it represents,as given by Hashem Himself. I see everyday how people, including myself, give way too much credit for people and forget that Hashem is the one that created it all and that we fullfill the Torah for no other reason to serve and honor Him.

Could write much more here,but that is long enough. Opposing views are welcome. If u want to discuss via email, I am also open for it: reuven@rwolak.com

jake, March 23, 2014 2:50 PM

You're reading far too much into the article

The author never suggested that this is the reason to become observant. You're absolutely correct that Truth must be the primary foundation for choosing one's belief. [In fact that seems to be a core teaching of Aish] Nevertheless it's refreshing to see now and then Judaism put into action, especially when so much of the media focuses on the negative and the scandalous when it comes to frum people.

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