Even before I became truly religious, as a child I always wanted to be "Orthodox" (you might say that I grew up 'Conservadox'). There was a specialness to it. In an Orthodox lifestyle, time became holy, and there was a purpose to living with transcended the physical. In short, Orthodoxy just 'felt right' to me--it felt like the Truth.
Apparently I am not the only one who felt and still feels like this. Many young, secular Jews are finding life's meaning in an Orthodox lifestyle. An article in The Globe and Mail tells the tale:
Becoming Orthodox means more than just giving up bacon. From bans against driving and using electrical or electronic devices on the Sabbath, to dietary laws so strict that very few grocers, restaurants or butchers can meet their requirements, to a daily routine permeated by prayer and ritual observance, adopting Orthodoxy is more than an embrace of faith, it is a dramatic change in lifestyle.
Ezra Krybus made that change. He grew up in a secular Jewish home in Toronto where only the most important holidays were observed, and then only loosely, as a matter of tradition rather than faith. But near the end of his film degree at York University an Orthodox rabbi moved into his neighbourhood and began inviting him to the synagogue, and to Orthodox homes for the Sabbath meal.
“One thing that really struck me was the amount of passion these people had,” Mr. Krybus said. “And they were doing all kinds of things that I didn’t know what they were doing, or why they were doing them. But they had such a passion that had such a truth behind it.”
Being Orthodox is not easy, however. Sometimes I wonder what exactly it is that pulls people to attempt to observe 613 mitzvot* from living a life where nobody is forcing them to observe anything at all, and I am totally amazed when I hear of non-Jews converting to Orthodox Judaism (I have several friends who are converts), when all they had to do was observe the 7 Noahide laws.
I think it's the structure that a religious lifestyle adds to one's life. It is the fostering of a tightly knit community--the antithesis of total individualism, of ego-centricism, ultimately of hedonism and anarchy. Truly Orthodox people who follow the Torah--I am using this term in its wider sense to mean all the Holy Books, including those not included in the Five Books of Moses, such as the Shulchan Aruch, Pirkei Avot, etc.--in addition to learning and praying three times daily practice in their daily lives respect for others, honoring their wives, giving tzedakah* and generally doing acts of chesed--loving kindness. Orthodoxy is the answer for those who feel lost in this world, who wonder why they ultimately exist.
Then again, Orthodoxy isn't for the faint-hearted. Many leave, mainly from the Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism. This group is very insular and restrictive of any connection with a secular life. In my view, Ultra-Orthodoxy is the opposite of what we Jews were placed on this Earth for--to bring goodness to civilization, to change it for the better, to right its wrongs. One can be a religious Jew and still study in University, attain higher degrees, and work in the secular world while living an Orthodox lifestyle.
That is the way we can effect change: by demonstrating through the way we live but within the larger community what it is like to be ethical and moral, to value other people and respect them for who they are (while not relinquishing our way of life and values, and as long as they do not attempt to influence us negatively).
There may be flaws in Rabbinic interpretation of how to live an Orthodox lifestyle, but even imperfect, its fullnes and richness far surpasses a secular one. This is one Orthodox woman's opinion.
*Mitzvot: Commandments, or 'good deeds.'
*tzedakah: literally, "righteousness," but often loosely translated as "charity."
*Shavua tov: traditional greeting at the end of Shabbat, from Saturday night on, meaning "[have a] good week."