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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.On a Friday night in March, the Furman-Klapholz family hosted about a dozen adults and a few joyful children in their tiny apartment.
Many of these young people were likely raised Orthodox and have chosen to keep the traditions of their upbringing.
But a small portion are baalei teshuva, a Jewish concept drawn from the Hebrew word for “return”: it denotes those who have become Orthodox as a way of “returning” to God.
Like the rest of their generation, they are largely nonconformists—just traditionally minded, rule-bound nonconformists.
It takes particular chutzpah to choose Orthodoxy in the context of what one might call the “deep diaspora”—places like Houston, Texas, which has a long-standing and vibrant Jewish community but also sits squarely in the Bible Belt.
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.
No one used English, and everyone followed along from a different book; Klapholz called it “varsity-level davening,” a Yiddish word for praying.
No one used English, and everyone followed along from a different book.
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.