Growing Up with God

Our Judaic community of faith sustains us

When most people think of Orthodox Judaism, they often think of Hasidim in long, black coats; stern, judgmental men stroking dark beards; and the taste and smells of the shtetl.

I grew up in a suburban Reform Jewish congregation (until I was bar mitzvah’d and ran for the hills, and I don’t mean the Jerusalem hills). My wife is from a small village in mainland China. So why would we raise our family to observe Jewish law?

It isn’t for the gefilte fish. It’s for the values.

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is insane.

Back in the 1970s, when I came of age, we thought the world was bold and daring. The ’70s were Mayberry compared to today. People actually dated back then.

Tattoos? Only on guys with a lot of ear hair who’d been in the Navy.

Kids have a better chance to be kids, and to grow up to be healthy adults, in the world of Modern Orthodoxy than in secular America.

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Do it yourself porno? No Internet, no iPhones, so, no.

I tripped into Jewish observance on a visit to Jerusalem while I was in college. My wife liked what she saw in traditional Judaism, and converted not once but twice – first Conservative and then Orthodox.

So as they say in Yiddish, Nu? Or if your Google translate isn’t working, What’s the deal?

The deal is that kids have a better chance to be kids, and to grow up to be healthy adults, in the world of what’s called Modern Orthodoxy than they do in secular America.

We have regular family meals. Every Friday night and Saturday lunch, we have family meals, sometimes with other families.  There are no electronics at the table, no game going on in the background, no iPhones under the table.

Our sons left for camp today. Their counselors are seminary students, young men who walk their talk about values and seriousness of purpose.

We’re actually making eye contact. We aren’t rushing off because there’s nowhere to go. We have role models.

Our sons just left for camp. Their counselors are seminary students, young men who walk their talk about values and seriousness of purpose.

There’s (almost) no premarital sex in the Modern Orthodox world. There’s almost no premarital dating — until it’s agreed that the young person is ready to get married.

We have a shared culture involving kids, teens, and adults, based on religious study and practice.

Related: I Got My Faith from Mom

In the secular world, you don’t have shared culture. Instead, you have market segmentation.

Marketing, as it has been for decades, is about convincing kids that they are radically smarter than their parents, and therefore should make their own decisions about, well, everything. How to spend, how to deal with the opposite sex, how to live.

We have male and female bonding. The secular world has Caitlyn Jenner.

I’m all for equal rights, equality of marriage, whatever you desire. The thing is, I’m straight, and so, apparently, are our children.

While it’s essential to live in a world of tolerance for other choices, I’m old-fashioned enough to want to live in a community that also honors my choices. If my kids want something else, that’s up to them.

Men sit with men in our synagogue; women sit with women. We recognize that men need time to be with men, and not in a locker room, towel-snapping sort of way. Call it male bonding with dignity.

Related: My Grandfather’s Lasting Dish

The women get to spend time with each other.

Next reason: Teens in Orthodox Judaism don’t get tattoos. Neither do adults.

I’m not pretending that all is healthy, well, and delightful in the Orthodox world. People are people and I could spill a lot of ink about the flaws in the system, but I won’t. I will say that as demanding as Orthodoxy may be, as imperfect the schools and other institutions are, it’s still a better deal for this family.

If you’d like to spend a Shabbat meal with us and see for yourself, let me know.

Do I believe that the Torah is God-given? The head of my yeshiva used to say, “I’m 85 percent intellectually convinced, and my momentum carries me the rest of the way.”

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