I didn’t know what to expect from the Orthodox. I found a friend.
The following post is by photographer and interviewer Gregory Andrus, first featured on the Facebook page for his ongoing "Portraits of the Jersey Shore" project Tuesday.
My family and I went to the local bowling lanes on this rainy Tuesday. The place was filled to overflowing with people from the Orthodox community, as they had off in celebration of their Passover. I didn’t mind, it just meant that we had to wait longer to get a lane.
Now, elephant in the room, it is no secret that this community has been reviled wide and far by many people who live in proximity to the Orthodox community. So I was interested in seeing what my experience would be.
As my family waited in line for shoes, a father with little kids who were ahead of us saw we were waiting behind them and insisted we go ahead of them when it was their turn. Then this man pictured here, Joel, helped clear out the extra bowling balls so we would have room to put ours down. We settled into the lane next to theirs. He and I became fast friends, and after a while, our families began to cheer each other on when someone had a good score. We enjoyed each other so much. Everywhere throughout the bowling lanes, kids, moms, dads would all smile at me as I walked by and smiled at them.
I talked to Joel and asked him about the reputation the Orthodox community seems to have been given.
“People make assumptions about our entire community based on word of mouth. Sure there are some bad apples, but there are bad apples with any community — Mexican, Chinese, Christian. ... I wish people of all different cultures would show each other respect," he told me. "People want us to blend in with their version of what culture should be, but I think Mexicans should be able to keep their culture, and the same for the Chinese, or Christians and yes, us too.
"I wish people would stop being prejudiced just because they don’t understand someone else’s culture, and take the time to get to know each other without trying to change each other. We need to respect each other and live in peace with one another. We are all here on earth living together, and we are all loved by God.”
The following are a small sample of the responses to Gregory's original post:
Lisa Karrer Thomas: As I pack up my family from south jersey and head to visit Amish living for spring break. My family includes my 6 adopted children of different races!! I do my best to teach them to love people. We all bleed the same when we are cut. Our hearts all hurt the same when our feelings are hurt.
Mary Confredo-Iaquilino: It’s all about mutual respect and treating people the way you want to be treated. What a wonderful world we would live in if this could be the mindset of everyone.
Pamela Dembowski: I grew up in Brick in the '60s and '70s. Our family had Jewish friends. I never remember any discord or problems. I never heard bad things about the Jewish community. It saddens me to know that rather than progressing in understanding, the community I grew up in went backwards.
Eric Snyder: What a beautifully written piece, containing very beautiful ideas. These thoughts and feelings are the essence of Judaism. Those who try to polarize Jews from within our ranks do an injustice to all Jews. Each of us practices Judaism as he or she is most comfortable. I believe that as long as G-d sees us trying to find our way to him, how we do it is of so little importance, even to him. Especially on Pesach, Jews come together to celebrate a communal miracle. Let us stop judging each other and pray for a time when each person loves the next only for the kind of person they are.
Portraits of the Jersey Shore is, in Andrus's words, "a journey, both personal and inclusive, that seeks to understand the individuals who make up the fabric of our society." Find it at portraitsofthejerseyshore.com as well as on Facebook.
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