Being Jewish has its moments. Not “those” moments! Other moments when you feel a bit more inspired than you usually are.
Last night I listened to a passionate shiur about the Shmonei Esrei delivered by a Rabbi to his frum community here in Seattle. He spoke eloquently and with so much wisdom about something we say every single day. He spoke like he’d just found out about it. Like he was 3 years old and had just discovered a brand new toy. It was pretty unbelievable to see.
Also over the last few days I was watching the @Lubavitch Twitter feed and visiting chabad.org to find out about the goings on at the Annual Emissaries Conference for Jewish Women. The stories and the statistics I read were remarkable. One of those statistics that really stood out was that there are 787 Chabad families serving as Emissaries in Israel alone. That was soon followed by another statistic which also piqued my interest. There are 30 Chabad houses in Tel Aviv alone… it made me think of the Chabad basher on MyShtetl… a lot, but enough of that for now.
In the course of the last week I also bought Yaakov Shwekey’s latest album after seeing the video of his hit single off it called Cry No More. You can’t be Jewish if you can watch that and not feel emotionally stirred by the footage and it’s ending with the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem. It’s a really cool album too. I’ve been listening to it on my commute to and from work kind of like a teenage girl listens to the latest pop song from a heartthrob and tries to learn the words… yes it is that good and you can buy it and download it from www.mostlymusic.com for $11.99. No I don’t get revenue for the pitch either. I used to buy music from the site when I lived in South Africa so no excuses pirates!
And so last night as I was listening something obvious came and hit me like a sledgehammer. “It’s Hashem stupid” is what my thought pattern boiled down to. Do I really care what the Chabad basher thinks? Do I really care that someone commits a crime and is Jewish? Do I really care what Jewish organizations think about Israel? Do I care about others’ verbal gymnastics and politically correct euphemisms? No, I don’t! All of it is just a ridiculous distraction. In fact we’re so good at tearing each other down and fighting with one another that we’re so much worse than the Republican Presidential candidates who attack each other and arm their opposition. We’re Jews. How we behave affects how others think about us and Hashem. We’re chosen and so if we don’t behave accordingly, whether we accept the burden or not, we’re a reflection of our L-rd.
Everything we do is about serving him, not ourselves. It serving him that is the blessing we experience. It’s not the reward we’re after. Someone infinite asked us to be there and do things for him but so many forget that simple pursuit as they pursue all sorts of far less relevant things.
I don’t mean we should become bleeding heart liberals who would defend others at our expense. I don’t mean we should be so closeted and blinkered by our super frum existence we fail to connect with the World either. I’m not even writing about keeping all the mitzvot or even pretending to do so.
My Rabbi in South Africa used to sign his messages, “with increasing acts of kindness we will hasten the coming of Moshiach.” That is so different to the messages we see from Iran about their belief that sowing death and destruction will hasten the coming of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi. We see Moshiach coming if we’re kind to all people. We see the sparks within them. It’s so simple and somehow so impossible for most of us to simply do. The very reason I associate with Chabad is because they’re always around whether you’re a perfect Jew or not. Even now, after I’ve been away from South Africa for nearly 6 months my Rabbi in Fourways is still trying to ensure we’re connected to the Jewish community and still offers his assistance.
Then I see some hypocrites persistently writing running commentary on MyShtetl and I think I don’t want to be on the site anymore. I’ve commented now and then but my blogs have become less and less frequent. I’m sure some are glad about that, and that’s okay. I just don’t need people to read what I write if it means nothing to them. It’s not for them.
Kindness rubs off. It’s kind of like that movie about pay it forward. I was at an event recently and a Moslem man approached me. He told me he was looking for the kosher food, and because he could see I had some he wanted to know if I could tell him where to find it. I was a bit dumbfounded because I could see the halaal food pretty close by. After greeting him and finding out his name I couldn’t contain my curiosity and asked him why he was looking for it. He told me his family keeps kosher. It was kind of surreal. After all I knew the guy. I knew he was Moslem and that he speaks Arabic perfectly. It seemed a contradiction. While Islamic doctrine really worries me when I read what it says about Jewish people I usually don’t pass judgment on the people standing in front of me and this was no exception. So we chatted. It turns out he is from Morocco. His Dad is Moslem and comes from a wealthy family lineage of Moslems. His Mom is Moslem too, but her Mom is Jewish and Arab. He grew up visiting his grandmother, who while natively Arabic speaking kept kosher, lit candles, the whole deal. She was Jewish and his family knew it and it didn’t bother them. His family keeps kosher because that’s what she did and what his Mom did and so, consequently, it’s what he does. It’s a bit strange talking to a devout Moslem knowing he is Jewish. In Islam the father determines the tribe and the religion, so he’s pretty much Moslem too! I can’t say I’ve even been able to say he is Jewish to him, but it’s amazing he found a Jew to connect with and that he was trusting enough and happy to share that secret about his family with me. It’s been like that a lot lately as I meet people in Seattle and discover that the one thing I have in common with them is that they’re Jewish! They’re often so assimilated I couldn’t even guess they are. It’s weird and it highlights just how important it is to have a presence available for them, just as resources were available to me when I needed them.
Assimilation is a difficult thing, and I’m not expert at dealing with it. Yes I’m baalat teshuva but that doesn’t mean I can relate to anything but my own experiences. I just extend my friendship and so at the moment a Palestinian and the Moslem guy always pop by and chat to me when they’re around. They know I’m Orthodox and strong in my beliefs about Eretz Israel but it doesn’t stop them. It’s pretty awesome to be around people like that!
Finding Judaism and dealing with the emotions that I felt, including a level of anger that my heritage almost got stolen from me which slowly developed into understanding of those that assimilated, is not a simple thing. It’s not something you just dump on people when they’re not ready. It provokes resistance and that is neither fair nor useful. I’d rather just be kind.
So it’s been a short time, and in that short time, barely a year after I managed to rejoin my nation I inadvertently posted a public blog on this site. Shortly afterwards I got clobbered with messages about making aliyah. I got called one of the twelve spies, then one of the two good spies, then had my affiliation to those “sinful”, “despicable” (insert bad adjective at random here) Chabad people questioned and continually reminded, slammed, complimented… rinse and repeat. Yes, it’s a cycle of abuse. What else could you expect from an abuser?
Before I got back to Judaism I was one of those like fully spiritual connected people, feeling lost but able to quote lots of esoteric stuff and sure I believed in G-d, like obviously you know who couldn’t believe in a grand architect of the universe… I don’t remember some dude clobbering me then. If you really want to be abused and judged you actually need to be Jewish. It seems it takes a Jew to bash a Jew properly. Then you’re game for anyone the moment you share the slightest opinion. If you’re religious then you’re an ignorant moron who follows some old man made text literally. If you’re Orthodox you’re a target because those people you obviously think you’re much better than will start telling you that most of the mitzvot you keep are Rabbinic… because Progressive Judaism is so… Karaite? If you’re Progressive you’re not Conservative enough. If you’re Conservative you’re not Orthodox enough. If you’re born to a Jewish mother and go to shul on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah you’re half-baked. If you keep Mehadrin then you’re a snob who doesn’t think kosher is good enough, but then keeping Glatt != Mehadrin Commision except if you can’t buy Mehadrin Commission and have to eat meat rather than a balanced course of green stuff. A cholov Yisroel in the hand is always better than two chalav stams in the bulrushes. OU > IQ but = BD, except if it's milchik. Maybe you go to Friday night services for the hak or to find a partner… it never stops.
There is no such thing as “good enough” if you’re a Jew. If you somehow pass muster you’ll always have someone assume you’re a … convert… even if you’re not! You’ll always be good enough in your Community but be too avoda zara’ish about the Lubavitcher Rebbe to belong to another. You’ll get some lecture from someone someday saying clever phrases like “pikuach nefesh” is the reason you should stay for a braai with your work colleagues on a Friday evening, rather than rushing off home in time to be ready for Shabbos… and then there is the two state solution… and then… well... we can always set about criticizing those Reform people while you have a chocolate milkshake with your takeout cheeseburger right after services on Friday night.
I’m sure we get caught up in this stupidity. I certainly have at times! How about keeping what you keep and leaving others to keep what they keep. Respect works both ways, it’s not based on just what you think, but you’re also entitled to be what you are without people assuming you’re a snob or selfish! I eat Glatt meat. I suffer silently missing out on some fabulous looking chocolates because I keep cholov Yisroel, but I’m also happy. That is my choice. It’s not your issue to question and it’s not a statement about you! Likewise, I live in America with my two children. It is my business, not yours to question. Nor is that a statement about aliyah. Likewise if I slip up it’s not because I’m leaving Judaism or hate G-d or providing you evidence about how stoopid Orthodoxy really is. I’m human, I’m a rasha and I’m not perfect. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I don’t see most Jews around me pretending to be perfect either. In my experience those that appear to be are normally just superficial pretenders feigning piety and feel some moral superiority over others… wait… stop nodding along… did you just fall for the intentional judgmental statement again? Couldn’t even finish my diatribe before falling into the pattern once again could you? *cheeky grin* I read in the commentary of the Gutnick Chumash quite a long time ago that we should not judge those that conspicuously and pretentiously keep mitzvot. We should rather just be glad they are no matter what their motive. After all, they may not have the most noble of intentions, but they certainly aren’t keeping mitzvot with malicious intent either!
We have lots of Jews to find. It’s more important. Stop harassing each other about seriously stupid stuff and realize if we all made aliyah tomorrow we’d be leaving millions behind. Sure aliyah is important, but I always have in mind that a mere four years ago if all the Jews had left South Africa I could never have returned to my nation. One day I might be blessed enough to make aliyah, but right now I can make a difference simply by having someone not usually connected to their Jewish roots simply come over for dinner on Shabbos. I’m not going to worship the idea of making aliyah, and when I do it’s not going to involve some fanfare. It will just happen, and it will happen exactly when it is supposed to!
There are individuals and organizations that serve our communities.
There are individuals and organizations that divide our communities too. Just leave them. You don’t need to change them or sustain them. Just vote with your feet and pay no attention to them. It’s simpler and it makes the resources you are willing to share available to so many other worthy causes.
It all seems pretty obvious, but just like common sense is not common, what is obvious seems to elude us.