By: Chezky Frieden | Opinions  | 

The Molds That Bind Us

Albert Einstein. The Rambam. Golda Meir. These three people all had one thing in common: they were all incredibly successful Jews who changed the course of the world forever. But what is so fascinating about these three, and many other “successful” Jews, is that, while they have all had such a positive influence on the future of the Jewish people and the world as a whole, they were all so…different.

This is why when I was reading the February 19 issue of The Commentator, the article titled “Extremism: Thoughts From a Religious Zionist in YU” stood out to me. In his article, the author identified a problem pervasive throughout Yeshiva University. He mentioned a specific instance, meant to represent many more, where a friend of his cynically looked down on him for choosing to attend a Yom HaShoah event instead of Night Seder. He talks about how it distressed him, as he felt that Yom HaShoah is a very important day. However, over time, he began giving into the peer pressure of his friends and stopped attending events that he felt he should. The author suggested that this rampant behavior of putting others down for “not being frum enough” is due to people lacking self-identity and using extremism as a “coping mechanism.” While I agree with his belief that many students act poorly as a result of their lack of self-identity, I saw a much larger problem underlying his story.

Both in and out of YU, communities create a specific mold which defines success, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that mold has, to a degree, failed. This is fairly easy to see when looking at the sects of Judaism to the right and left of “Modern-Orthodoxy.” In the Yeshivish community, success is seen as sitting and learning all day. In the Conservative and Reform movements, it’s about interacting with the world in a moral way and supporting Israel. However, when looking at the “Modern-Orthodox” community, the community that is present here at YU, it is much more complicated. I believe that this helps create the rift and negative feelings between friends addressed by the author.

I put “Modern-Orthodoxy” in quotes because, within “Modern-Orthodoxy,” there are so many different, smaller communities that each have their own molds of success, but yet still identify as “Modern-Orthodox.” All these different types of people end up going to YU and expect everyone else to have the same ideals as they do. But they don’t. There are the communities which, like the author mentioned, believe that you should joke about the tziyonim and spend all your time learning. There are the communities which are more “modern,” which generally believe in more interaction with the world and are more pro-Israel. And there are communities that fall in between.

I went to a high school that was like that. It fell in-between, but it still had a clear mold of success. There was a specific kind of person that they wanted graduating from the school. They should, of course, be a mensch, be incredibly politically active, be involved with multiple extra-curriculars, go to a Hesder Yeshiva, specifically Gush, and then go to either the army, YU Honors, or both. Now, I believe that it’s crucial for me to state that I loved my high school. I got along with the administration, made lifelong friends, and grew tremendously. In fact, I even filled out their mold, almost to a tee. I got good grades, went to all the political rallies, was captain of multiple teams, and, you guessed it, even went to a Hesder Yeshiva (not Gush, which I was spoken to about by the administration) and then YU Honors. So, you may be asking yourself, “why are you writing this article? You succeeded in your mold, so why do you care?” I care because I realize that even though I happen to satisfy what my community wanted of me, I recognize that so many others don’t. I have friends who have felt like failures for so long, despite the fact that they are some of the kindest and most brilliant business minds I know, because they don’t want to sit and learn all day. I also have many friends who went to Yeshiva in Israel and loved sitting and learning. They wanted to come back a second year but weren’t allowed to by their parents because they didn’t want their kids “flipping out.” Those parents didn’t want their kids pursuing something which they loved and connected to because it stepped outside of what they and their community thinks it means to be successful.  

Here at Yeshiva University, we are the future of “Modern-Orthodoxy.” We are the future teachers and parents, the educators and examples. It’s about time we recognize that the specific templates our communities try to fit us in are significantly hindering our growth. Albert Einstein, the Rambam, and Golda Meir were all clear successes but yet they were all so different. They didn’t all fit the same mold. So why can’t we see that? Why can’t we teach our future children and students that, while it’s of course necessary to follow Halacha and maintain certain fundamental principles, it’s okay to be different? That if you are great at caring for others, but aren’t great at focusing, maybe you should work at HASC in the summer instead of Morasha Kollel. If you love learning and don’t want to be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman, it’s more than okay to learn in kollel. Why don’t we teach them to use their skill-sets and focus on what they enjoy and are good at so that they can be the best that they can be, free from judgment? Perhaps if we open our minds to how we should raise the next generation we may even come to respect ourselves more, and not feel so upset that we skipped Night Seder to listen to a speech about Yom Hashoah. Instead, we should feel proud that we went to hear that speech and also feel proud of our friend who decided not to.