On high school reunions, halacha, nostalgia and everything in between.

Between running into my high school principle, the recent Flatbush fiasco and my friend attending her ten-year reunion couple nights ago, I’ve had high school on the brain in the last few weeks.

High school is something I have successfully managed to block from the forefront of my mind. Part of it was my own religious conflict, part of it was being a chemically-frustrated teenager and part of it, of course, was just high school. It’s been a while since I have even been associated with that part of my life.

Then a friend of mine wrote this post for Jewschool: Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics. It’s a response, along with the Facebook petitioning that’s been going on, to a recent Flatbush alumni reunion where a former student, who happens to be gay, was asked by the school board’s president, not to bring his guest, who happens to be his partner. The president’s argument?

“There are standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community. All of our graduates are welcome to attend our reunion but only those involved in recognized halachic relationships may register to attend as a couple…”

One of the strongest points made by the article’s writer regarding the reunion debate was this question in response to the above statement:

“Is gay male anal sex prohibited by the Torah? Sure, but so is a man having sex with his menstruating wife, and no one has ever gotten kicked out of a reunion for that.”

I have come to realize that all the religious labels I grew up with in my Flatbush years can no longer apply to anyone. This is where Flatbush is going wrong with the current reunion debate.

The fact is, I have gay friends who are better at observing Orthodox Judaism than I am, and I’d consider myself traditionally-observant. It kind of goes with the way that there are gay people I trust to be better parents or life partners than many straight people: being gay is usually not the point.

I think that living in Israel has given me a very different perspective on what it is to be a Torah-observing Jew. I look around and see Mizrachi teenagers waking up at 6 am for shacharit, going to shul donned in jeans next to their fathers and grandfathers. These kids won’t eat pork in their lifetime. They are going to marry Jews. They are excellent examples of tradition guided by halacha.

When I see Ethiopians and their brand of Torah observance, tradition and respect for the religion, I realize that my life has not been enriched to the fullest potential, despite the Western-brand of ‘classic’ Judaism I was raised to worship. There are elements missing; indeed, it is possible that there is a significant lacking in the kind of Judaism we were taught, even in the most formidable of American yeshivas.

So, I no longer can wholeheartedly identify with the brand of classic Orthodox Judaism I was taught at my alma mater. I’ve become very comfortable with that in the last three years. I am, however, grateful for what Flatbush has done well, which is promoting the philosophy of deeper education in halacha so that I can make educational decisions and have a strong Torah awareness. These two elements together – the Israeli brand of traditional observance mixed with the study Jewish history and practice – are what keep my Jewish soul surviving.

Oddly enough, all this debate and action has made me a little homesick for high school; or at least, nostalgic for what attending the Yeshivah of Flatbush was supposed to be: a haven for modern Orthodox tradition fused with secular knowledge and deep, practical and open thinking.

We were taught philosophy along with practice; with the study of social issues came social action. I think I did get plenty of doses of that. We all did; after all, who better to stage a revolt against closed reunions than former Flatbush students, taught to stand up and act when faced with a troubling policy?


  1. dernayerdor Avatar

    Hi! I stumbled onto your blog from Jewschool. I write a lot about Jewish culture and cultural transmission, sometimes for Jewschool. I was really intrigued by your post, especially as I am not that familiar with the YoF type milieu. When you say: “I realize that my life has not been enriched to the fullest potential, despite the Western-brand of ‘classic’ Judaism I was raised to worship. There are elements missing; indeed, it is possible that there is a significant lacking in the kind of Judaism we were taught, even in the most formidable of American yeshivas.”

    What exactly do you mean? What do you think is missing?Do you think it’s an integral culture like the one you see being in possession of the mizrachi and falasha kids? Or is it something else, some other kind of disconnect? And what do you think about continuity efforts that just focus on getting people to be more observant?

    Sorry to be so nosy- I think about these questions a lot and I’ve been wondering about it from the perspective of someone from a MO background.


  2. therapydoc Avatar

    Forget philosophy. The last time I had this conversation around a shabbas dinner table, I explained heterosexism and asked the rabbi who sat across from me, “If you were told as a little boy that you had to kiss, hug, love, and marry a boy, could you?”

    People still think that this is a choice. See, it’s a good thing that the young man was turned away. Anything to force the issue, to force the dialogue, is a good thing. A gam zu.

  3. […] word: שנאת חינם Here’s a backup to my last post in case it wasn’t enough to get my point […]

  4. eliesheva Avatar

    rokhl –

    It’s not nosy at all, I think it’s important for us to chat about these things… It’s one of the best ways to learn…

    First I want to give a level of credit to YofF for teaching both Ashkenazi and Sephardi brands of (Orthodox) halacha; in that way they were reflecting the demographics of the students and I think it was important for them to do so.

    That said, I think in general there are broad assumptions made by communities like the type I grew up in – a modern orthodox New York community – that leave a major lacking once you step outside the community and begin to learn about other sectors of Judaism.

    At the very least, it is important for us to be aware of what’s out there and how it compares to our own brand of Judaism before we encounter it in the big bad world on our own. Sure, many Jews won’t leave their communities their whole lives, but as such a small population in the world demographic – and surely, one that needs all the bodies it can count – Jews have to start being a lot better about communicating between sectors and playing well together, at least for the sake of the greater whole.

    Why shouldn’t that start in our modern orthodox yeshiva education? Isn’t a big factor in modernity today globalization? What about globalization of a religion? What about branching out and learning about the Falash Mura issue instead of not talking about it? And Bnei Menashe? Forget conversion – we rarely talked about it. Very hush hush.

    I know that a big reason we were so guarded was because if you can keep a gate around the sheep, they won’t stray… But is that working the way it is? I happen to think that Diaspora charedis are much better at being good Jews and good people than Israeli charedis… Interesting, isn’t it?

    And this is all coming from someone who grew up in a baal tshuva home, so understand that I experienced a lot of different things than many of my co-students who were raised in ‘real’ modern orthodox homes. Nonetheless, here I am, outside the shtetl, still surprised at things I should have learned in school (mine was uber-zionist, no less!) about my fellow Jews from Arab, African origins.

    I don’t think I’ve addressed everything you were asking, might have even gone off on tangents… so just repeat if you like… These little comment windows make it hard to focus!

  5. eliesheva Avatar

    therapydoc – definitely agreed. I had actually meant to use the word ‘policy’ in the last line and then I lost the post and had to write over. Changed it back.

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