I have absolutely no intention of watching the new Netflix series “My Unorthodox Life.”
As an Orthodox rabbi myself, I’m fully aware of the shortcomings of my community. We can be insular. We can suffer from tunnel vision. We can be way too cliquish and, to our shame, some of us can be dismissive of individuals and communities outside our own. Worst of all, we are perpetually challenged trying to get along with each other.
In fact, there’s a name for what we are:
We’re human beings.
That means we’re imperfect, flawed, inconsistent and too often irrational. I’m embarrassed by the number of times I yelled at my children, snapped at my wife, and continue to lose patience with my 92-year-old mother (whom I visit almost every day).
But for the most part I’m proud. Proud of the selflessness of my community, the acts of intentional kindness, the generosity of spirit, the self-sacrifice and the pervasive culture of aspiration that seeks to increase wisdom and commits itself to relentless self-improvement.
No, we aren’t perfect. But we set as our life’s goal the continuous striving toward perfection, and we rejoice in the journey — a journey that will never end until we draw our final breath.
It’s fine to point out our flaws, so long as you represent them honestly and balance them against all our merits.
So when Julia Haart recounts all the evils of her upbringing, consider whether she may be telling only one side of the story, and that from a deeply biased perspective as well.
When she tells you that Orthodox girls aren’t allowed to run, please look up Beatie Deutsch, also known as Marathon Mother, who came within minutes of qualifying to represent Israel in this year’s Olympics.
When she tells you that Orthodox women aren’t allowed to study, please look up Tziporah Heller, whose breadth and depth of knowledge puts most rabbis and philosophers to shame.
When she tells you that women aren’t allowed to hold positions of authority, please look up the late Sheila Feinstein, who was a New York City public school principal while raising five children of her own and being married to one of the leading rabbinic authorities in America. Or look up my wife, who holds a master’s degree in special education, or my daughters — one a clinical doctor of audiology and the other working for an international internet marketing company.
When Julia Haart gushes over how liberating it is be able to wear all the latest fashions, please seek out any one of the myriad Orthodox women who celebrate their liberation from the fads of fashion and style, who revel in the sense of self-respect, self-worth and personal dignity they find by choosing to dress in modest attire.
And when Julia Haart tells you how the Orthodox reject everything the secular world has to offer, please talk to the editors who have published my articles in Fast Company, the Baltimore Sun, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch among others, please talk to the organizer of the conference that hosted my TEDx talk, and please talk to any of the 111 podcast hosts who have interviewed me; ask them about the relevance and pragmatism of my message.
It would be easy for me to be angry with Julia Haart. Instead, I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for the apparent dysfunction of her youth that left her so bitter she feels she has to smear an entire community for the sake of her own catharsis.
But I feel sorrier when I consider the many viewers who will accept her reports as accurate without bothering to give fair hearing to the other side. This is how we perpetuate a society hopelessly divided by ideology, character assassination and identity politics.
I also feel saddened when I consider that just yesterday, Orthodox Jews the world over fasted for 25 hours to mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, reflecting on the sin of senseless hatred that tore our people apart and scattered us to the ends of the earth to endure generations of oppression, enslavement, expulsion and holocaust.
Perhaps rather than dwelling on our grievances, Jews and non-Jews alike can look for the best in one another, summon up the best in ourselves, and renew our commitment to come together in peace and camaraderie for the betterment of all humankind.
I’m proud to call myself an Orthodox Jew. But more than proud, I’m grateful — grateful that in a world where so many are twisting in the winds of confusion and misdirection, I’ve discovered a lifestyle that provides the perfect balance between spiritual idealism and practical wisdom so I can live my life with purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and joyful peace of mind.
Please watch the video here: https://youtu.be/5UJV_WLU_KU
Rabbi Yonason Goldson works with leaders to create a culture of ethics that builds trust, sparks initiative, and drives productivity. His latest book is “Grappling with the Gray: An Ethical Handbook for Personal Success and Business Prosperity.” Learn more about his work on his website, yonasongoldson.com.