Eeees and I recently attended a Bar Mitzvah. In fact, it was the Bar Mitzvah of the son of the couple with whom we had our snootiness problem about two years ago. Over the last two years, we have become friendly with the family, had them over to our house for meals, invited them to our son's Bar Mitzvah and now attended the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest son.
This Bar Mitzvah was not like the Bar Mitzvah that we had for our son. We had separate seating, they had mixed seating. All of our music was Jewish, theirs had quite a few modern tunes. Ours had a mechitza for dancing, theirs didn't. At theirs, the DJ gave away a giant blowup Simpson's couch to the best dancers (thank God our kids didn't come away with that - they were orange! :) ). We didn't have a DJ or prizes. But that's fine... no one has to do things our way, or their way.
During the festivities, Eeees and I talked about how our Bar Mitzvah was different from this and concluded that this type of affair was not one that we would have. If we had Walter's Bar Mitzvah to do over again, we would probably do it the same way again. Aside from the separate seating (which we did for other reasons), we preferred the way we did it to the way this Bar Mitzvah went. That's not to say that this Bar Mitzvah wasn't good... we had a great time, and loved being present to help celebrate our friend's simcha. It's just not the way we would do it... but that's fine - as I said above, two people don't have to celebrate the same simcha the same way.
One of the things that we talked about at the affair was how we seem to be somewhere in-between several different mehalchim (paths). We're not Yeshivish, yet I wouldn't say that we're really Modern Orthodox either. This past Shabbos we ate with a family who could be described as Yeshivish, maybe even Chareidi-like... and we were comfortable and had a great time. At the same time, we are also comfortable with our friends who just had the Bar Mitzvah, and they are clearly Modern-Orthodox and have a good time with them as well. We daven in a shul that could be described as Yeshivish, but yet has many people who are not in the Yeshivish mold. I don't wear a hat, nor do I cover my head with my tallis, and yet I am the regular ba'al kriah there and sometime ba'al tefillah as well. We hang around with people who are to the "right" of us and the "left" of us. So, where do we fit? What's our "label?" With which community to we belong? That was the question that Eeees asked me yesterday.
I responded to her that you don't have to buy the whole package from any one group. You can take some elements that you like from the Yeshivish mehalech, and some elements from the Modern Orthodox mehalech and some elements from other mehalchim and synthesize them into your own mehalech. There is no one, I told her (apart from some Chareidim) that say that you have to take the entire package of any one group and live by it. Feel free to borrow from here or from there. Sure, you may not end up fitting neatly into one of the "labels" but who cares? People don't (or shouldn't) live their lives to fit into a label -- they should live their lives according to the values, ideals and mores that they hold dear and wish to live by. And that's actually how we've been living our lives for the last sixteen years, taking a bit from here and a bit from there to form our own whole. Maybe we should start a new mehalech called "Wolfish?"
It's very interesting living in-between the different communities. We have a television in our house (and yes, it's in the living room -- not hidden away in our bedroom or in a closet). We go out to movies. I'm a firm believer in higher education (read: college) and critical thinking. I'm a firm believer in encouraging children to ask questions, not stifling them. If you're a regular reader of my blog, then you know my position on many matters regarding Judaism today. I'm very open about who I am and what I believe.
And yet, Eeees covers her hair -- not because of societal pressure, but because she believes that it's the right thing to do. I learn every day, not because I think it's an interesting intellectual pursuit or because I think that the learning police are going to catch me if I don't -- I do it because I think it's the right thing to do. I don't have secular music at a seudas mitzvah not because I don't like secular music, but because I think that, for me, it doesn't have a place at a seudas mitzvah. I monitor which television shows my kids watch, what movies they see and what internet sites they visit, because I think it's the right thing to do. (As an aside, George won a Simpsons blow up doll by the Bar Mitzvah. The DJ asked him who he likes better, Bart or Homer. Eeees and I were laughing because we knew that he had no idea who either of them were -- we don't let our twelve year old watch The Simpsons.) We have some definite ideas about what is considered tznius and how a young girl should act. We have rules on how we feel that our sons, as B'nei Torah should act, both in the Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam L'Chaveiro categories. We have standards of kashrus that the kids know that they can't eat in certain places, even if they are labeled as kosher.
So, we're neither here nor there. But you know what? I'm happy that way.
(Side note: While I was composing this post, Walter called me to inform me of two extracurricular clubs he is joining at school. One will work through mishnayos Seder Nizikin and finish by the end of the school year. The other is a Latin club. It seems that he too wants to take from multiple mehalchim as well.)