How do Orthodox Jews look at their co-religionists? What are they thinking when they see someone who is Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanistic or what have you? The truth is they’re not really thinking anything about them. That’s obviously a broad generalization, but so too is the claim by some people that frum people look down upon those in less traditionally observant sects and see them as not really Jewish. Most Orthodox Jews are just too preoccupied with their personal and professional lives to be sizing up the spiritual legitimacy of every person they meet.
Exceptions can be found, of course, including nasty individuals who cover up for their own inadequacies and insecurities by putting down others. Such people are to be pitied. They aren’t happy with themselves and would find someone to criticize no matter which group they are affiliated with.
Then there are the members of the Orthodox community who give of their time to chesed organizations. These people see every Jew as someone whom they would readily assist in their time of need. If you have ever been the recipient of a friendly visit or freshly cooked meal from a representative of Bikur Cholim, for instance, you can attest that they didn’t check your tzitzit, as the expression goes, before entering your hospital room. So too, the first responders of Hatzolah, the Orthodox-run EMT organization, ask for neither health card nor synagogue membership before saving the life or limb of the person who summoned them, be it Jew or gentile.
Also to be mentioned are the constantly growing number of frum people involved in Jewish outreach. They view every Jew as a holy neshamah (soul) and want to share the beauty of Torah with anyone who is interested. This group includes the teachers of the Ahavat Yisrael Hebrew School. Under the talented leadership of Leslie Shapiro, this institution has transformed the supplementary Jewish school into a fun and meaningful experience for hundreds of young children every year. This is a far cry – and I speak from personal experience – from the dreaded Hebrew schools of the past.
For those a little older, NCSY, run by its outstanding CEO, Rabbi Glenn Black, exposes Jewish teenagers to their heritage through the tremendously popular Torah High and other programs across Canada. There are also outreach rabbis and others, representing several organizations, on university and college campuses across Ontario. They offer classes, Shabbat meals and a listening ear to Jewish students, many of whom are away from home and seeking a little yiddishkeit. Finally, there are the numerous outreach organizations that are impacting adults.
How do Orthodox Jews feel about their co-religionists? Well, the night after the horrific anti-Semitic massacre in Pittsburgh, I attended a Jewish music concert in Toronto. It opened with a Hasidic singer, complete with peyos and a shtreimel, extending his condolences to the families of the victims. He then led the audience in singing a tune with words found in the siddur: “Our brothers, the entire family of Israel,… may the Omnipresent One have mercy on them and remove them from anguish to relief… from darkness to light.” Amen.