What seems to be frustrating for the non-religious is that after these meetings there is a tremendous sense of disbelief. According to Reformative philosophy, Orthodoxy is a doomed, archaic practice destined to shrivel under the harsh light of enlightenment and modernity. Our continued persistence, growth in numbers and strength and rising influence in Israel and golus confound the "great thinkers" and atheoskeptics who, in their closed-minded way, cannot conceive of a reality different from what they think it it.
Hence this mild rant from The Times of Israel:
The New York Celebrate Israel Parade was easy to spot. With Israeli flags blowing in the wind and an excess of Jewfros, I couldn’t have missed it. As I got closer to the meeting spot, I found myself surrounded by kippa-wearing guys and girls with knee-length denim skirts. The crowd appeared to be very Modern Orthodox. And I was in the section for university groups — not Jewish day schools.To be fair, the author is more annoyed with her own community than with us. Ms. Dolsten even admits that - gasp! - Orthodoxy should be examined for the reasons for its success. The thing is, those reasons aren't a secret but rather quite out in the open. However, like the old saying about none being so blind as those who will not see, those reasons are so unpalatable for the Reformatives that they cannot acknowledge them.
The Forward reported that about half of the marchers came from Jewish day schools, and the overwhelming majority of these from Orthodox day schools. I would dare to venture that many of the synagogues and youth groups that were marching were also Orthodox-affiliated. The younger generation is the future, and between 5th Avenue and Madison, the future looked very Orthodox. There were a couple gay pride flags, but other than that, the crowd seemed less diverse than usual.
Years ago the secular Jewish community in North America sponsored a major demographic survey and determined that amongst the non-religious assimilation was rapidly taking a dreadful toll. "Jewish continuity" became the watchword of the day and these organizations held meetings and conferences to determine how to encourage that continuity. Orthodox community leaders and major rabbonim were, of course, not invited. In the end lots of ideas including the Birthright boondoggle emerged from those meetings. And in the end none of them made much of a difference when it came to overall intermarriage rates and sense of identification with the Jewish people.
What's the difference for Orthodoxy? Well firstly we accept that we are a people different from all the other peoples on the face of the Earth. We have special rules about pretty much everything and it is those special rules, the mitzvos, that ensure our continuity. It is the learning of Torah, the observance of Shabbos, the avoidance of those tasty snacks at the food truck near work that define us as Jewish. For us tikun olam is about fixing potholes, not ecology. A bar mitzvah is about the assumption of an adult legal status, not a sweet-13 party. Survival relies on difference, not assimilation and while the Reformatives have done everything they can to turn their version of Judaism into bland secular liberalism with an impotent all-approving godhead, we embrace our distinctiveness and feel no need to dumb it down.
Secondly, we note our connection to history, specifically our national history. We are not just another ethnic group like the Italians, Irish and Somalis. We are a nation with a proud 3500 year old history. We stood at Mt Sinai and received the Torah from God, the first and only time such a Divine revelation ever occured. It is that connection with the Divine that stands at the centre of our identity, not a love of bagels and lox. And because we see ourselves as a nation we see a connection between one Jew and another that is stronger than a connection to the Gentile standing beside us. When there is a pogrom in France it concerns us. When a Jewish soldier is killed in Israel it concerns us. We worry about the future of the Jewish people and fighting assimilation. They worry about gay marriage.
Ms. Dolsten is a good writer with a lot of passion for Reformative Judaism but on her side of the fence she is the exception. For us commitment is the rule. Commitment to a religion that runs its guidelines like Baskin Robbins runs its flavour of the month is difficult to achieve.
Why is Reformativism falling behind Orthodoxy? Why do we survive when all the enlightened folks think we shouldn't?
Bottom line: we care, they don't. And that's the difference they're missing.