As I write this message on a Motzaei Shabbos in early October, we just finished reading parashas Lech Lecha, where God tells Avraham to leave his birthplace, his family and all that is familiar to him and embark upon a journey. While the text does not explicitly state why God chose Avraham to father the Jewish nation, the midrash fills in the gaps. Avraham, the midrash informs us, is an iconoclast. Following his inner sense of Truth, he rejects the values and idolatry of Ur Kasdim, a cultural hub of the ancient world, and reaches out to his Creator.
When the Torah refers to Avraham as “haIvri” (literally, the Hebrew), it is in fact referring to Avraham’s spiritual fortitude. “The entire world was on one side of the river [m’ever echad] and he was on the other side [m’ever hasheini].” This inner strength caused him to merit to be the father of the Jewish people.
Indeed, we, the children of Avraham, are also called upon to be “on the other side.” To be a Jew is to be an iconoclast. Unless we reside in the beit midrash, we are constantly assaulted by ideas and ideals that are antithetical to Torah. While we remain committed to engaging in the general culture, this engagement inevitably entails struggle—in minor, and sometimes major, ways.
This struggle is beautifully illustrated in Robert J. Avrech’s article, “Confessions of a Shomer Shabbos Hollywood Screenwriter,” in this issue. An award-winning screenwriter and producer who has been working in uber-secular Hollywood for over twenty-five years, Avrech is remarkably unaffected by Hollywood “where leftist thinking dominates.” Unimpressed with Hollywood’s superficiality and fanatical devotion to liberalism, Avrech has managed to carve out a successful career in the movie industry while remaining a devout Jew.
All of us—at unexpected moments—may be called upon to affirm our allegiance to Torah values. This is what it means to be a believing Jew, to be a descendant of Avraham.
While our challenges may be less overt than Avrech’s, they are challenges nonetheless. Some forty years ago, I began my career in media working for local radio stations as a news writer. Subsequently, I was hired by a major national radio broadcast network as a news editor. I couldn’t believe my good fortune—I was perhaps the only Orthodox news editor in the industry at the time. Additionally, I had gotten married a year earlier and my wife was expecting.
I started the job during the winter months. The first Friday, I left early. The following Monday, the vice president of news called me into his office. “Jerry,” he said, “ask your rabbi for a dispensation to work late on Friday and all day Saturday.”
“Nick,” I said, shocked by his request. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. I won’t be able to do that.” Not long after that, I was fired.
I am not telling you this story to pat myself on the back—any Torah Jew would have reacted the same way. I mention it to illustrate the point that all of us—at unexpected moments—may be called upon to affirm our allegiance to Torah values. This is what it means to be a believing Jew, to be a descendant of Avraham.
On a lighter note, I hope you noticed the interesting illustration on our cover, which was inspired by Saul Steinberg’s famous 1976 New Yorker cover. The cover pokes fun at how the typical Orthodox New Yorker views the world, with Brooklyn and other heavily Orthodox neighborhoods depicted as the center.
Living outside of major metropolitan areas in the States used to mean one had to sacrifice to live a frum life. This is no longer the case. Our cover story takes you to communities across the country where Torah is unexpectedly thriving: Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Oak Park, Michigan and Overland Park, Kansas, may soon be as prominent on the Orthodox map as Teaneck and the Five Towns. Sure, dozens of Orthodox communities exist across the country, but in this issue, we chose to look at communities that have exhibited significant growth in the past decade or so. One of the important questions our cover story raises: why do some Orthodox communities thrive while others never seem to take off? While we may not have the answer to this perplexing question, the article certainly provides food for thought.
With Chanukah around the corner, food blogger Carol Green Ungar does a wonderful job providing background (and a recipe) for the latke, the potato pancake that is a traditional Chanukah treat. Additionally, David Olivestone, the former senior communications officer of the OU, provides a fascinating account of two magnificent menorot that were rescued from the Warsaw Ghetto, thanks to the generosity of a Gentile woman.
Other highlights of this issue include a special section on teaching tefillah, an interview with the chief rabbi of South Africa, articles on books, halachah, food and more. Once again, I encourage you to visit us online at www.ou.org/jewish_action, where, in addition to posting the most current issue, we post timely and relevant articles from the extensive Jewish Action archive. I also urge you to check out the online interviews with some of our authors. Interviewer Steve Savitsky speaks with Robert J. Avrech and South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, among others (links are provided at the end of the articles).
Happy reading and best wishes for a wonderful Chanukah!