Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Striving for Mediocrity

The unique position and difficulties Modern Orthodoxy faced in North America seem best illustrated to me by my personal experiences with three different summer camps I've worked in over the last few years.
The first was a Conservative camp.  In terms of physical facilities it is a real gem.  Excellent indoor and outdoor sports facilities, an extensive waterfront offering a great variety of activities, a great set of social programs, it has it all.  Until it comes to the Jewish side of things, of course.  There the weakness of the program - limited davening, limudei kodesh at very basic levels, and no real appreciation for deep Torah study or commitment to observance.  One example that really stuck with me was the Shabbos experience.  While the camp is official shomer Shabbos the practical rule is: shomer Shabbos in public, whatever you want in the privacy of your cabin.
The next was an Augdah camp.  In many ways, it was like the Star Trek mirror use to the first camp.  The physical facilities were quite limited.  No real facilities for arts & crafts, music and the like, a waterfront that had a couple of lifeguards and canoes but not much more and only basketball and baseball as sporting options.  On the other hand the level of observance was, as might be expected, quite high.  The emphasis on Torah study was always present and only got ramped up on Shabbos.  Everything revolved around that.
The final one was a Modern Orthodox camp.  Now, one might hope that being in the middle of the spectrum between the non-religious and ultra-Orthodox camps that it might strive for excellence in both areas.  Unfortunately the opposite was often the case.  The sports facilities were fine but not outstanding.  The waterfront was small and only had limited activities and the social programs were nowhere near the calibre the Conservative camp had to offer.  On the other hand the learning level was much closer to the Conservative camp than the Agudah one.  Although there was a building in the camp that functioned as a dedicated beis medrash it seems to sit empty most of the day unless a group was having a lesson there.  Most discouraging.
That's the real problem with being in the middle though.  Middle groups should strive for as much of the excellence that is found at the extremes as they can but sometimes it's just easier to avoid trying for either.  If Modern Orthodoxy is going to make its impact, this attitude must be jettisoned.  Only a movement commited to excellence in both the religious and secular parts of life can survive the onslaught from both sides.


OTD said...

I can't believe you're allowed into camps.

In any case, Agudah is closer to MO than UO.

Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Yet that "perfect middle" is occasionally available to our kids... if they happen to be girls.
For instance (based on the one summer we could afford there), I felt the girls' program at Camp Agudah offered just the right balance of learning and crazy teenager good-times fun.
Ditto with dd1's school: art, English AND serious learning. Assemblies, computers, bus trips chol hamoed; play every other year.
Now, how to cram all of that into a yeshiva setting? No idea, and nobody seems to think it's important. Ds1's school doesn't even *have* a gym (do they know nothing about boys???). And yet, as you say, once you start cramming in the niceties, the committment to Torah seems to inevitably decline.
As much as people believe frum culture is male-biased, girls often enjoy a far better time of it, and a far more well-rounded life in general.

Nishma said...

I believe that much of the problem is found in the very language that we use to articulate it. It should not be perceived that MO is somewhere in the middle between Agudah and Conservative -- ie that is simply 'quantitatively' distinct from entities to the right and left -- but it must be recognized as 'qualitatively' distinctive -- ie. representing a totally distinctive presentation of the ratzon Hashem which its proponents believe to be the highest form of meeting this goal. True, we will still use comparisons to mark distinctions but in the end, MO cannot be that it is somewhere between A and B, but it must presents its own unique defining characteristic.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Izgad said...

“Star Trek mirror use to the first camp.”


I went to Camp Torah Vodaath as a kid. It had very limited facilities, no gym and lots of mosquitoes, but what a good camp.