Mar 21, 2010

Who Are We? part 2

By now many of you may have read the NY Times article about the Polish Catholic skinhead who discovered he's Jewish and who has transformed himself from an anti-Semite to an Orthodox Jew.  Incredibly, the maternal grandparents of both he and his wife, also a former skinhead, were Jewish.

 He struggles daily with his new identity and with discarding his previous ideas. 

In a Mishpacha magazine interview with Rabbi Hershel Schachter of YU, he referred to the opposite situation, i.e. cases in which yeshiva bachurim discover that they are not Jewish.  This could be due to improper conversion somwhere along the line and/or adoption.

It boggles my mind just thinking of either scenario.  Finding out that your identity, that which defines you, is wrong, mistaken, like my "Partner in Torah" who realized she was in fact, not Jewish, because although she had a Jewish father, her mother's conversion was not according to halacha.  She could have opted to follow the Seven Noahide Laws but she unhesitatingly pursued conversion.

I heard someone describe a classrooom discussion in which frum students were asked what would they do if they learned that they were not Jewish.  It's really not a reasonable question because you can't truly imagine what it would be like to be something you are not.  You can't really imagine what it would be like to be a bird, rose or a rock because you are a human being and cannot think in those terms.  Likewise, if you have a Jewish neshama, you cannot possibly imagine what it would be like not to have that neshama.  You can only think about what it entails to be Jewish as far as the mitzvos we are obligated to do and what it might be like to be absolved of them.  And in fact, many students in that discussion loved the idea of not being bound to the dictates of halacha.  And that gets back to my theme of "who are we."  Is our Torah "lifestyle" an add-on or an expression of our neshama and its connection with Hashem?

Whether we are conscious of it or not, Torah and mitzvos are the essence of our lives as Jews.  When we see Jews who are not religious and doing as they please, the correct way of viewing their freedom is as avodas perech.  The Egyptians had men doing women's work and women doing men's work and this was called avodas perech, extremely difficult labor.  It is obvious that women doing physical labor in construction is extremely hard but why was it so hard for the men to do the women's lighter work? The answer given is that when you do something you're not suited for, that is avodas perech.  So too, even if not doing mitzvos looks easier, it is avodas perech because it goes against the natural inclination of a Jew. 

At this time year when we celebrate cheirus - true freedom, let's think about who we are and what makes us truly free.

Mar 11, 2010

Jewish Music Videos - Who are we?

I spent some time watching Jewish music videos of Jewish choirs.  I may like the song and think the video is well-done but at the same time, I find them disturbing.  This isn't something new.  It was true 15 years ago when I watched a video of a popular choir and found their moves and manner of singing goyish.

Much has been said about contemporary Jewish music and what makes it Jewish aside from the choice of words and I'm not getting into that in this post. I'm focusing on the children who perform and listen to this music.

After watching these music videos the other day, I analyzed what it is that bothers me about them.  For one thing, I wonder whether these children have any appreciation for genuine Chassidishe music like that of  Modzitz and Skulen.  Would they listen to Avrohom Fried's Yom Tov Ehrlich recordings for their enjoyment? I suspect not.

For another thing, as I watch the kids in the videos I think about the numerous articles I've read about chinuch and kids going off the derech because it seems to me (and I know this is a generalization) that Yiddishkeit is an add-on in their lives. 

What do I mean by that? I wrote about this in the post called "Yiddishkeit - Doing It All the Way", Feb. 14.  It seems to me that for very many frum people, Yiddishkeit is an add-on to their "regular" lives.  Sometimes I see a frum person who resembles a non-Jew with a kippa or if it's a woman, she looks like her non-Jewish counterpart with longer sleeves.  Yiddishkeit doesn't seem to be something that goes "through-and-through." 

- more in my next post about identity and who are we really

Mar 10, 2010

Being Informed

How much "news" must we know?

The two extremes are: 1) keeping up with all the news on a daily basis, news in the Jewish world and news in the world at large, via print material, radio, and/or online news sites  2) no reading or listening, remaining oblivious to what's going on unless personally told by someone.

I've tried to do what I thought was "middle of the road," follow the news on a regular but not obssessive basis, scanning the headlines on Jewish news sites and clicking to read further on particular items of interest.  However, over the past many weeks I have taken a break from most of it because I was becoming increasingly perturbed by the onslaught of negativity.  In Jewish news there were the sad news items (child falls from porch), the scandalous news items (yet another frum person arrested or caught doing something wrong), the what's-wrong-with-us news items detailing how frum society is on the brink of disaster for a myriad of reasons.  In general news there were plenty of downbeat items.

What is it costing us when we allow ourselves to be exposed to daily negativity? I think it's robbing us of our simchas ha'chaim - joie de vivre.  Considering that our frum publications have been informing us of the problem of depression in our midst, perhaps one step to take to increase our positivity and bitachon is to avoid voluntarily reading an excess of negative material. 

Even better, how about letting publishers of magazines and news sites know that we want to read upbeat, inspirational news items? There are plenty of wonderful things happening all around us.  Instead of yet another article telling us about formerly frum kids and their deterioration, how about an article about frum kids and their accomplishments in learning, derech eretz, and chesed? Instead of hearing about the tragedy of marriages breaking up or not happening in the first place, how about articles about people happily married for decades? As for chesed and wonderful initiatives on the part of groups and individuals, there is endless material!

Yidden zennen gut! Let's hear about it!

Mar 9, 2010

I'm a Regular Jew, how about you?

Some belated post-Purim musings:

A typical Purim costume is someone, child or adult, dressed as a Chassid.  With long pei'os, a beard, black coat and a Chassidic hat, preferably a shtreimel, the person is instantly transformed and readily identifiable as "one of those."

I found it amusing to hear about a genuine Chassid walking down the street on Purim with his children who were dressed as yeshivishe people with down hat and pei'os behind their ears.  Why amused? Because it seemed to "even the score" for a change.  For all those people who view Chassidic garb as a costume, whether on Purim or other days of the year.  For all those who refer to themselves as "regular" and Chassidim as another brand of Judaism, the implication being of a lower status to the "regular," "authentic" frum folk.  Guess what? Chassidim view themselves as "regular" and other frum Jews as "other!"

Mar 3, 2010

Marketing to Frum Customers

I was mailed a schedule of cooking classes offered by a frum establishment.  Here are some lines taken from their descriptions of the classes.  The bold is mine.

1) "Impress everyone with your creativity ... "[Is that a goal I ought to have?]

2) "Learn to decorate cupcakes in all the newest styles for your next simcha." [I must be really out of it.  I didn't know that there were styles in cupcakes.]

3) "If cookies are what you crave, you will want to join ... "[Sounds rather "grub" to me.  Doesn't seem to belong in the same Judaism as Dovid Ha'Melech's "Achas sho'alti .." - One thing I ask of Hashem ... to sit in the house of Hashem all the days of my life]

They also offered mishloach manos packages for sale and said:

4) "Leave it up to us and you'll look great!" [hmmm, I'd like the recipients of my shalach manos to enjoy it but no, my goal wasn't to look great.]

Then there was this:

5) "This Pesach you won't have to miss out on your favorite dessert ..." [Are there people who suffer for eight days because of a certain chometzdik dessert they miss?]

And in reference to the classes for children:

6) "Sundays will never have to be boring again." [Does the concept of boredom exist in Torah? Probably right next to wherever the Torah talks about fun :)]