As a youngster I read a famous book called Black Like Me, I have since reread it and found it to be one hell of a book. For all you uncultured ones who would rather sit for hours in front of a TV or video games rather then read, it is a book about a white man who decides to experiment with race in the 1960’s. He has a dark look already, so he tans himself and sets out for the south as a lighter skinned black man. He documents the way people treat him and then he goes back to the same places as a white man and documents how he is treated and compares. It is a profound book to say the least.
So I have started to write my own book, Black Hat Like Me. The book will document my experiences as a modern orthodox Jew and compare them with what its like to be a black hat wearing Jew. Similar to Black Like Me, Black Hat Like Me will only be possible because I have had enough experience in both the modern orthodox and yeshiva communities to be a chameleon and get along in both, without being suspected as an infiltrator.
Unlike the YU to the right crowd, I have enough knowledge to know that there are more to talking yeshivish then using words like davka and mamish, I also know how to thumb dip, clop bimas, mumble yale veyavo loudly to remind everyone to say it, follow along during laining to correct the baal koreh and where to find those weekday sneakers that look like shabbos shoes from afar.
On the other hand I can switch over to modern orthodoxy easily by talking about my experiences in camp Moshava, growing up on the upper west side, attending coed day school and through various friends stories- NCSY conventions. I am also familiar with such staples of the modern orthodox movement as JOFA(Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) Rabbi Saul Berman, Avi Weiss and Hillary Clinton. Not only do I have all of this knowledge I also have the skill to switch easily and confidently from a black velvet yarmulke and black hat to the khaki, blue shirt and kipa sruga look and can pull it off much better then any yeshiva guy off the derech could.
I have preliminary sketches for the book and plan on moving to Monsey, NY to complete the first half of the project which includes immersing myself in a city that some people refer to as “Ir Hakodesh” yeshivish people frequently refer to Lakewood, Monsey and Borough Park as holy cities, while places like Teanack, Lawrence and Riverdale will be forever remembered as “oh those places are modern”, and those will be the next part of the project.
One of the issues I have with the whole concept of Black Hat Like Me is that, while the yeshiva black hat community has stayed the same over the past 10 years or so, the modern orthodox community has drastically changed. It used to be that modern meant the women didn’t dress tznius and refused to cover their hair, the children went to coed schools, and the family ate milchigs out on ski vacations. Switch ten years forward and thanks to increased flip outage during the year spent in Israel after high school, something called modern orthodox machmir has emerged out of the ruble of broken households unnerved that their children spent the year in Israel actual learning and not experiencing life as they know it.
The dynamic has changed so much that there are actual frum people that call themselves modern. Folks that follow torah and halacha, yet refuse to don the symbol of frumkeit, the black hat- and instead roam around in regular street clothes and actually know something about the secular world. Another issue is that with the invention of internet, many yeshiva people have since become more modern, creating lines that are blurred between the black hat and modern communities. This is why it is so important that I become part of “real” black hat and modern communities- and I cannot settle on quasi- communities like Passaic and Far Rockaway- where the people are seemingly modern or yeshivish- but are really hybrids of the two.
I suppose the project may turn out differently then I suspect, but I think the results will be somewhat like this. I will become a yeshivish person and live in a yeshiva and then a modern community. Then I will do the same thing as a modern orthodox person. I will compare treatment in terms of many things. Most importantly I am shidduch dating, but since I am an “older single” according to the yeshiva world, they may have reduced my net worth to that of a 22 year old modern guy- who knows how it really works. I will compare potential shidduchim and their quality in different realms.
Another thing will be peoples overall friendliness towards me, I understand completely that since it is the NY metro area I can expect people to be downright cold and unwilling to open up their hearts to the new guy who looks like everyone else, or sticks out like a sore thumb. Have you ever seen a black hatter at OZ or the Jewish Center, it is unheard of. Just like being the only kipa sruga, khaki, blue shirt guy at some random Lakewood basement shul.
I think it will be a great book and I am looking forward to the coming months as I will be documenting my findings on this here blog.