Sunday, September 19, 2010

Troubling. And Sad.

Consider the case of Esther Petrack. A recent Maimonides graduate, she decided to try out for America's Next Top Model. Troubling enough. But, as a recent piece in Tablet Magazine explains, during the interview, when she explained about the fact that she's Shomer Shabbat,
Ty Ty asked her about her Orthodox Jewish practice. “Do you honor the Sabbath?”
“Yes I do,” Esther responded, proceeding to explain the rules regarding the usage of electricity, computers, cell phones, and cars on Friday night and Saturday. Tyra sternly informed her that ANTM contestants work all the time, seven days a week. (I never realized that modeling was so urgent!) Would Esther, Tyra wanted to know, be able to adhere to the ANTM work schedule? Her Jewish identity was all of a sudden squarely on the spot, not unlike that of her Biblical namesake.
She replied after a momentary hesitation: “Yes, I would do it.
First of all, what is it about Maimonides? This is the second high-profile Maimo grad who's publicly rejected a frum lifestyle. One could argue that Maimonides is simply known as a good school with great academics, so it attracts a wide variety of students whose frumkeit level doesn't conform with the ideals of the school.
Or. I've been to Maimonides. Academics are a huge part of the culture - perhaps a reflection of Boston's college orientation. Is there something about a Maimo education that might inculcate skills, but leaves out some "yirat Shamayim?"
I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I don't want to indict the entirety of Modern Orthodoxy for the actions of one eighteen-year-old kid. Plenty of non-M.O. kids leave the fold.
But not many do it on international television.
And this one calls herself Orthodox.
It certainly doesn't look good.

Update: My mother, and a number of others, make a good point. She took strong exception to my comments, which makes sense, as she's a graduate of Maimonides. Class of 1882. Truth be told, though, she has a point. Maimonides has produced, and continues to produce many, many representatives who not only represent Orthodoxy proudly, but are what we would consider to be the finest representatives of frumkeit and Modern Orthodoxy - and the other flavors of Orthodoxy across the religious spectrum. You can't fairly judge a school by one or even several of its graduates.