Thu, 17 August 2017
When Ellen Willis’s brother Michael decided to leave behind his secular American life and study in an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, she knew that something was amiss. How could her intelligent, reasonable brother have decided to devote himself Jewish Orthodoxy? Yet, after flying to Israel in order to witness Michael’s new lifestyle for herself, Ellen realized that Judaism’s questions about the secular word—about her world—pointed to more truths than she wanted to admit.
Ultimately, Ellen returned to her secular life in America, while her brother went on to become a Haredi rabbi. But she documented her brother’s journey and her time with him in Jerusalem in an incredible essay entitled “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Published in Rolling Stone in 1977, the piece is an extraordinarily thoughtful and honest study of the contradictions and tensions of the human condition, presented through the lens of a secular woman exploring the world of Orthodox Judaism for the first time.
In this podcast, Jonathan Silver is joined by rabbi, editor, and blogger Gil Student to explore this essay as well as Rabbi Student’s own journey into the Orthodox world. They discuss the parallel journeys of Michael and Ellen and the factors that pulled one back toward the religion of his ancestors and pushed the other away from it. Returning to stories of his own life throughout the conversation, Rabbi Student gives us a greater appreciation of the challenges and rewards of adopting an Orthodox lifestyle in our secular progressive age.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.