In early March, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column titled “The Orthodox Surge.” In it, he detailed his visit to Brooklyn’s fancy kosher supermarket Pomegranate. He waxed rhapsodic over everything from “dairy-free cheese puffs” to “a long aisle bursting with little bags of chips and pretzels, suitable for putting into school lunch boxes.”
One could easily wonder if Brooks had ever set foot in any supermarket before. He soon segued into waxing rhapsodic over Orthodox Jews — who are apparently the only people he can conceive of having a need or desire to shop at a kosher supermarket.
This is where I, a kosher-keeping, Sabbath-synagogue-going, sukkah-building Conservative Jew, started getting a little angry.
“For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation,” Brooks writes. “They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order. The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.”
I have heard of these laws. In fact, I observe them. I was educated by my Conservative Jewish parents, and at my Conservative synagogue. I went to Jewish summer camps and summer study programs in Israel. The Jewish calendar governs my life, from Rosh Hashanah all the way through the year.
I am not Orthodox.
I realize that I am a minority, but I exist. And my Jewish observance is just as legitimate as Orthodoxy. It also infuses my everyday reality no less than theirs. My Jewish observance, though, is one in which values of egalitarianism exist. It is one in which I am seen as an equal, countable member of the congregation. It is one in which I can read Torah to a mixed audience and can teach my daughters how to read Torah. It is one in which my voice is not only allowed to be heard, but also actually matters, beyond the perimeters of my own home.
Pieces like Brooks’s column, however, make it seem as though one cannot have a meaningful, multifaceted Jewish life outside Orthodoxy.