November 28, 2013

The Many Shades of Modern Orthodox

The scene in my 10th-floor East Campus apartment was hardly unusual. It was Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday every week. Some sported suits and dresses, the more casual wore button-downs and cardigans. Seventeen of us crowded round two tables, sitting on folding chairs, desk chairs, and couch arms. Most had just returned from the basement of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, where Orthodox prayer services attract up to 250 people each Friday night.

It was a potluck meal, a truly communal effort. There’s the junior responsible for the broccoli at every Shabbat meal he attends; a group of shy, kitchen-less first-years who added soda, cutlery, and a tablecloth to the mix; the sophomore girl who brings a deli salad every time; a guest from another college who provided the grape juice for kiddush (a Sabbath blessing), and challah, the braided bread that is traditional Shabbat fare. My suite members and I spent Friday afternoon cooking chicken.

Just below us, on the eighth floor, the same scene unfolded. And four doors down, another group of members of Yavneh, the Orthodox Jewish community on campus, were marking Shabbat with another festive meal, as we do every week. Because Shabbat is known as a “day of rest,” there are no cell phones present. There are also no writing utensils, wallets, or electronic appliances. Some carry a newspaper or a textbook to review for an upcoming exam, but observant Jews generally put away their computers or e-readers for the duration of those weekly 25 hours.
I invited a friend, who is not a member of the Jewish community, to our Shabbat dinner. 

After witnessing the scene in my apartment, and afterward migrating downstairs to another Orthodox suite after dinner, she returned wide-eyed. “There’s this whole world in EC,” she said, “that I never knew existed.”

 What is Modern Orthodox?

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