Monday, September 20, 2010

A religious model?

On American television, there is hardly a reality show out there which has not featured a religious Jew. The Apprentice, at one stage, had two Shabbat observant contestants at the same time (who had to miss an assignment during the High Holy Days); recently, there was a frum doctor from Florida on Big Brother, who kept Shabbat in the house.

And now we have Esther Petrack, 18, on the new season of America's Next Top Model. A graduate of Maimonides high school in Boston, her religious identity is already being thrown into confusion by participating in the programme:

After letting Esther say a bit about herself—namely, that she was born in Jerusalem— [Tyra Banks] asked her about her Orthodox Jewish practice. “Do you honor the Sabbath?”

“Yes I do,” Esther responded, proceeding to explain the rules regarding the usage of electricity, computers, cell phones, and cars on Friday night and Saturday. Tyra sternly informed her that ANTM contestants work all the time, seven days a week. (I never realized that modeling was so urgent!) Would Esther, Tyra wanted to know, be able to adhere to the ANTM work schedule? Her Jewish identity was all of a sudden squarely on the spot, not unlike that of her Biblical namesake....

She replied after a momentary hesitation: “Yes, I would do it”... [NOTE - a few sources have claimed that in the uncut version, Esther actually first said that "I will do everything in my power to keep the Sabbath - MS.]

Even if Esther’s reversal in front of the panel seemed fast—one moment she honors the Sabbath, the next she honors ANTM’s schedule—we got to see her thoughtful side a few moments later. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m figuring things out,” she said directly to the camera. “I’m going to try to do as much as I can religious-wise, but I did kinda draw my line in the sand when I auditioned for this.”

Of course, comment across the blogosphere seems divided between those lamenting the fact that Esther seems to have ditched religion (to whatever extent) for a shot at fame, and those celebrating her for ditching religion in order to fulfil the American dream. Personally, I am sorry when any Jew stops practising (and if you are going to stop, modelling seems a particularly shallow reason to do so). But I do think that Esther should be taken at her word. She is young, she is not yet solid in her religious identity, and I don't see much difference between her and so many 18-year-olds who behave religiously 'inappropriately' in so many different ways on their gap year in Israel or when they get to university, and later return to lead fully religious lives - except she is conducting her experiments on national television. Just like them, she should be allowed to make her own mistakes and come to her own conclusions without being driven away by the disapproving masses.

Meanwhile, a whole horde of young Orthodox men will be watching - and waiting....

(Via Sarah Bronson)

No comments: