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Young people don’t exactly dominate the modern Orthodox community in Houston, but a number of people under 35 attend services and live in the same handful of apartment buildings close to the synagogue, or shul.
These Jews exist in a diaspora that’s not just geographical, but cultural: Their religious commitments put them fundamentally at odds with the values and habits of their generational peers.
A modern Orthodox synagogue lies on the other side of the interstate to the northeast.
If you met its young congregants on the street, they might seem like any other Houstonians—they wear American-style clothes, lots of women leave their hair uncovered, and many have jobs in medicine or oil and gas.
This difference is somewhat embedded within the term baal teshuva itself, which suggests that traditional observance is the only way of being with God.
But these young, American baalei teshuva are offering their own spin on the concept.
HOUSTON—On a typical Friday night in Houston, many young people are out drinking at bars or curled up watching Netflix, grateful to be done with the obligations of the workweek.
Although the members of this community would likely consider themselves observant, they’re also negotiating how that observance best fits into a distinctly American, secular world.There aren’t a lot of grassroots, independent groups, especially not for prayer, said Elise Passy, who until recently was the coordinator of an organization called Big Tent Judaism.This is part of “the conservative, with a small ‘c,’ nature of Houston,” she said; people tend to gravitate toward the institutions they’re used to. The group meets in various people’s houses on Friday nights for Kabbalat Shabbat, the songs and prayers that formally welcome in the Sabbath.This means no texting, no music, no use of electronics, no driving, no meeting last-minute deadlines, no carrying objects outside of a few hundred square yards.It is a choice to embrace ritual over leisure, a sacrifice of freedom in behavior, diet, and dress for an ancient set of rules.