Forward Thinking

Maya Angelou's Lesson for the Orthodox

By Eliyahu Fink

  • Print
  • Share Share

‘People will forget what you said.

People will forget what you did.

But people will never forget how you made them feel.’ – Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

(Haaretz) — To me, this beautiful quote from the now late, great Maya Angelou, encapsulates so much of the tension in Orthodox Judaism today. Generally, people in my community are either baffled by any dissatisfaction with Orthodox Judaism or they are convinced they have an intellectual response that can fix the problem.

There is a tendency to believe that if we say the right thing or if we do the right thing everyone will be content. Or that even if individuals are unhappy or uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter - if we did the right thing and they are still disgruntled – it’s their problem. It’s a philosophy that assumes that there are objective responses to subjective circumstances and that we can preselect the experience of community members by providing a particular group of words or ideas.

But that isn’t true. Two people can have the same experience but feel completely different. There is no objective version of Orthodox Judaism. Despite our best intentions and our greatest efforts, the correct answers or even our sincerity don’t really determine the fate of everyone’s commitment to Orthodox Judaism. The thing that makes or breaks Orthodox Jewish continuity, in my opinion, is “how we made them feel.”

This is what Maya Angelou taught us in the quote above. Our memories are selective and some things stick for longer and dig deeper than others. Words and actions can make an impression on us, but they are not the thing that make the strongest impression on us.

The way we feel matters most. If some of us do not feel safe, comfortable, and joyful within the context of Orthodox Judaism, those feelings matter more than any intellectual or ritual attachment we have to our traditions. It’s that simple.

The most important thing we can do for the future of Orthodox Judaism is not to be able untangle the Gordian knots of Talmudic reasoning or be incredibly diligent about halachic observance. Let’s assume that’s being done already. But that’s simply – as the poem says – what we say and what we do. Certainly, that’s extremely important: saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing is harmful.

But the thing that matters more is the way the things we say or do make others feel. If their feelings are negative and fearful, then that is what they will remember. Our words and actions will drown in the sea of negative emotions. The most important thing we can do is make sure that when people remember “how we made them feel” they are remembering the positive feeling they had.

Therefore, our concern should be to create positive Jewish experiences and also acknowledge and relieve the pain of negative experiences. How we feel matters even if everything was done “right.” Being right does not determine how another person will feel. We need to be conscious of those feelings irrespective of saying or doing what is right.

Conversely, we can manufacture good experiences and emphasize the importance of positive feelings towards our Jewish experience. That is the thing that people remember. Let’s make sure our community remembers that Orthodox Judaism should feel good and let’s make an effort to cultivate those positive experiences so that our community remembers the feelings.

And they will remember what Maya Angelou teaches us what lasts the longest – how we made them feel.

For more stories, go to Haaretz.com or to subscribe to Haaretz, click here and use the following promotional code for Forward readers: FWD13.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: orthdoxy, maya angelou

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.