I am responding to the Nov. 7 letter “No middle ground.”
There are definitely those within the Orthodox community who do leave the fold; however, the writer is completely inaccurate in stating that the reason these individuals left Orthodoxy is because they are taught that Orthodoxy is the only authentic form of Judaism.
As a member of the Sephardic community of Teaneck and having grown up in the Sephardic community of Englewood, I have seen firsthand how congregants who are traditional and not observant by Orthodox standards are welcomed in the community. In fact, in many Sephardic communities the congregants are made up of observant and non-observant members and they co-exist. Based on my personal observation of various Ashkenazi Orthodox shuls, they too are welcoming and open their arms to all Jews. In Israel, most of the hiloni (secular) population attends Orthodox shuls because they feel comfortable with the services.
If non-Orthodox Jews are welcomed into Orthodox synagogues, why did the writer have such an unpleasant experience? It seems like there is plenty of middle ground available within the synagogue. However, once a person starts to adhere to non-Orthodox levels of kashrut as well as other part of observance, he or she encounters social obstacles within the Orthodox community. There will not be invites for Shabbat meals and sending children to play at that person’s house. To be part of the any community socially you need to play by the rules.
If you live in a Small Town X, where they do not work on Sundays and there are special foods that are not eaten, you must adhere to their rules to truly be a part of their community. Once you start working on Sunday and eating forbidden foods, the townspeople will not fully accept you as part of their community.
Thank God we live in country where we have freedom to move to wherever we want. I am glad that the writer found a community that he feels comfortable with, but it is too bad that he blames Orthodoxy’s rules for the cause of his search and not the positive aspects of his current community.
Those who leave Orthodoxy represent a very small yet vital percentage of the whole group. I wish they all could see the beauty and multitude of positive aspects of living an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle before they search for alternatives. Good parenting and great teachers are the factors that will help our youth keep the faith.