Novelty vs. Renewal

How do we accommodate the human desire for newness within our traditional religious framework? The concept would seem to present as a contradiction, especially in a modern world that constantly seeks that which is new and exciting, the latest trend or gadget or idea, while as Orthodox Jews we are forever and steadfastly committed to tradition.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, z”l, in his derashah for Parashat HaChodesh 5725, underscores the importance of distinguishing between novelty and renewal. Whereas the first relates to “seeking thrills,” the latter connects one to the “thrill of seeking.” The former might be represented by my participation in NCSY’s Over the Edge rappelling event, but the latter truly represents so much of what we do here at the OU.

The Sefat Emet explains that in halachah, if one hasn’t seen someone in thirty days, he blesses the moment by reciting the berachah of Shehecheyanu. With the reopening of our national headquarters at 11 Broadway this past April—on Rosh Chodesh Iyar!—after over a year’s hiatus, we truly blessed the moment with thoughts of renewal, and by encountering many colleagues in person for the first time, both literally and figuratively.

According to halachah, whatever we have done (or not done) for thirty days becomes customary. “Hachodesh hazeh lachem” is a mitzvah to experience renewal, to redeem ourselves from patterns and make a conscious effort to do something differently. We are given the opportunity each month to renew ourselves. We thus must challenge ourselves to reach new heights and enthusiasm, growth and development in our Yiddishkeit.

We are committed as an organization to engaging, strengthening, leading and inspiring the greater Orthodox Jewish community—not through novelty, but through renewal, and at this time we have many thoughts of renewal on the mind:

–  The OU’s Impact Accelerator is supporting six Jewish nonprofit innovative startups in its Third Cohort, addressing a range of issues impacting the Jewish community.

–  We launched our new All Parsha app.

–  Groups of students, alumni and young professionals at our NYU and Princeton OU-JLIC campuses have assisted over 500 people in registering for vaccine appointments.

–  The OU Women’s Initiative launched InfluenceHER, a girls’ high school program in partnership with schools across North America. This program will introduce juniors and seniors to Orthodox women role models and highlight women of impact and influence.

–  Yachad released the Koren Yachad Siddur, described as the “first siddur for the special needs community,” marking a great step forward in making prayer accessible to all.

–  We’ve introduced the Mental Health Awareness Initiative—both within the OU for our employees/OU Family, as well as for the community during the month of May.

In Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (New York, 2021), Adam Grant writes:

It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. Rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions—it’s a tool for leading a more fulfilling life.

We daven each day “Ohr chadash al Tzion ta’ir—May You shine a new light on Zion.” What are we davening for? A release of light in the future? Actually, this light has already been created—it is in each one of us, it is untapped potential that hasn’t yet been used, new coming from within the old. Only when we break out of old habits will be able to reach that renewal in our Torah, tefillah and relationships.

At the OU, we share this approach. We are in constant pursuit of how we reach and impact others—renewal within religion.

–  How might we recruit, grow and develop our professionals through their employment life cycle at the OU?

–  How can we best distribute the mamon hekdesh with which we have been entrusted to prioritize the activities across all OU departments in support of our constituencies?

–  How should we enable our employees to have a warm, welcoming, well-equipped and safe office space to engage in our important work and that also reflects our holy efforts?

–  How do we apply best and next practices to equip and support our OU colleagues’ growing technological needs? And so much more!

We are committed as an organization to engaging, strengthening, leading and inspiring the greater Orthodox Jewish community—not through novelty but through renewal. We don’t need to simply pursue gimmicks, gadgets or the latest novelties. We look within, tap into the unused potential, and use innovation and renewal to guide our efforts: “Hashiveinu Hashem elecha v’nashuvah—Return us to You, Hashem, and we will return.”

Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph is executive vice president/chief operating officer at the OU.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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