Wednesday, 13 March 2013
I visited New York this week and spent Shabbat as a guest of my wife's cousins Richard and Gloria Kestenbaum. Richard is President of Lincoln Square, probably the leading Modern Orthodox shul in Manhattan, NY.
At each meal and in the mingling at shul, everyone was abuzz about an article by David Brooks which
had been published in the NY Times. Richard had even printed up multiple copies, which he
handed out to those who hadn't read it yet.
This article describes the journalist's visit to "Pomegranate" a kosher store, catering to the
modern orthodox community. Brooks reports how impressed he was with the cultural
and religious gravitas of simple purchases made at the store. Buying food items with
hechsherim. "Gluten free ritual foods" and a product for cleaning dishes without 'squeezing' on
Shabbat were highlighted.
The article also discusses the relatively young age people marry (71% by the age of 29 – which is
only 20% in the wider US population), and larger families. The demographics are clear, that this
population is getting stronger, relative to the wider community.
The article is definitely admiring of the Modern Orthodox people, values and cutlure:
"The modern Orthodox are rooted in that deeper sense of collective purpose. They are like the grocery store Pomegranate, superficially a comfortable part of mainstream American culture, but built upon a moral code that is deeply countercultural."
I was somewhat puzzled why this incidental reporting, almost blog style, had generated so much
excitement. It looked to me like a space-filler on a quiet news day.
People explained to me that David Brooks is a big name journalist and the NY Times is probably the
most influential newspaper in the USA. This endorsement of Modern Orthodox life-style (which
could have been written very differently, eg about the flashy consumerism, religious fundamentalism,
Amish life-style, etc) was a very public validation for the MO community.
Jews in general have a chip on their shoulder; Modern Orthodox Americans have a chip on both shoulders. To their left is the secular gentile world & the numerically superior Reform, to their right is the "authentic" Judaism practiced by the Ultra-Orthodox.
It can make them feel very lonely.
Everyone needs some validation - and a kind and admiring word from an outsider, particularly an influential non-Jewish journalist, can go a long way in boosting MO-Pride.
Posted by David Morris at 21:46