web analytics
March 1, 2015 / 10 Adar , 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

92nd Street Why

I find it very sad that an organization founded to help Jews retain their identity, should be so insensitive, so unaware Jewishly.
92nd_St_Y site of ugly behavior at what was supposed to be a discussion about the meaning of "pro-Israel"

In my youth, everyone had heard of the YMCA, the Young Men’s Christian Association. It was founded in 1844 “to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy body, mind and spirit”. And it spread around the world. If you have spent any time in Jerusalem you could not avoid the YMCA building and tower. Once it was the tallest construction in West Jerusalem. Now it is dwarfed by apartment blocks, hotels, and office towers.

To a young Jewish boy fresh from the UK, the YMCA Jerusalem in the 1950s reeked of alien smells, sights, customs, and ideology. It was the Arnold of Rugby public school system transferred to the Middle East, a legacy of the British Mandate and colonialism. The indoor swimming pool was the only one in Jerusalem in the fifties until the late, unlamented Presidents Hotel added a minute plunge pool. The YMCA pool in Jerusalem was not only segregated, but you had to swim in the nude.

The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded to bring robust Christianity, directly and indirectly, to a world of young pagans. In my youth almost wherever you travelled you were bound to find cheap YMCA hostels and, to be fair, not too many evangelists. It was an institution, and it provided a great service for working- and middle-class men and women (although women had the Young Women’s Christian Association) away from home, and it also provided social and cultural facilities. It is all now much reduced. There is still a large YMCA almost opposite where I live in New York City that is often patronized by Israeli youth groups coming to the city looking for convenient, cheap accommodations.

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association was established some ten years after the YMCA, in Baltimore, primarily to offer young immigrants an alternative to a Christian sporting and social atmosphere; it was a very secular organization and made no serious attempt to provide any Jewish content. Eventually the organization was largely absorbed by the Jewish Community Centers, but a few remained independent, and the most famous today is the 92nd Street Y in New York. It offers a very wide range of services. It has a first-rate cultural program with lectures and concerts, and nowadays it even has a rabbi on its staff. It is, in spirit and execution, primarily an organization for Jews more than a Jewish organization. In this article I hope to make that point.

There is a reserved young lady in my community, still in high school, who tries her best to adhere to tradition. She is outstandingly good with children and helps in the weekly children’s services. She was accepted by the Y to join its team of paid helpers for its summer day camp. The program includes weekends, which occasionally involves travelling on Shabbat. She did not want to break Shabbat. But whether rightly or wrongly, she feared for her job, and so she kept quiet. You might argue that if she cared enough about it, she should have refused and accepted her fate. But she was not strong enough. Perhaps she reasoned that if a non-Jew drove she could live with it. But when she got to the campsite, she was directed to start clearing it up, which obviously involved a lot of hard work.

I find it very sad that an organization founded to help Jews retain their identity, regardless of how inclusive or non-denominational, should be so insensitive, so unaware Jewishly. One can understand a non-Jewish organization not even considering the possibility that someone might want to keep Shabbat. But one founded by Jews and for Jews? We hear a lot nowadays in the Jewish world about religious coercion and fanatics imposing their standards on others. How about the reverse? Perhaps the organization will say that a junior official went beyond his brief, or that it was an unfortunate error of judgment, or as I have said that it was her fault for not speaking out. They might not be wrong, but still I find it sad.

I am reminded of my late father’s comments after his first visit to the USA in 1955. He was struck by the professionalism of the communal organizations in contrast to the amateur way things were done in the UK. But he was shocked at how Jewishly ignorant they were and how little they were aware of the sensibilities of traditional Jews and the requirements of orthodoxy. Communal leaders taking him around felt under no obligation to provide kosher food whether for visitors, meetings, or functions. The truth was that in those days Israeli diplomats and politicians notoriously disregarded any Jewish religious sensibilities. It was not until after the Six Day War that the pendulum began to swing the other way. In Europe too, many Jewish organizations paid no heed at all to dietary or other religious requirements. Often they were more sensitive to other religions than their own. But over time things have improved dramatically. It is one of the achievements of the growing Orthodox and Charedi presence that most Jewish organizations now realize that a non-Orthodox Jew can eat kosher but an observant Jew cannot eat non-kosher.

I do not object to Jewish organizations that serve the whole community opening their facilities on Shabbatot and festivals. But I do expect them to be proactive in not requiring Jewish employees to work them, and they should make their requirements clear from the start. In our world we bend over backwards to avoid offending other religions and cultures, yet we seem all too careless about our own. Obviously there are people within the 92nd Street Y who still need to be sensitive to practicing Judaism.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

3 Responses to “92nd Street Why”

  1. I go to this website, when I want to know the truth about the Middle East news.

  2. Myriam Obadia says:

    Oh, quit moaning and just defund it. Without Jewish money, they'll have to close shop and will have plenty of time reflecting on how little money they'll be receiving from the antisemites they've been supporting.

  3. The definition of 'melacha' is controversial But no self respecting Jew would require someone to do heavy work, i.e. clearing on the Sabbath. I would urge the 'house rabbi' to get involved; if you don't respect y ourself, no one else will. Abraham Walfish

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife at Ben Gurion Airport as they depart for the US on March 1, 2015, ahead of Netanyahu's speech on Tuesday, before a joint session of Congress.
Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress – Blocked from U.S. Prime Time, Perfect for Israel
Latest Indepth Stories
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prays at the Western Wall ahead of his speech next week at the US Congress.

Ultimately, Esther, Netanyahu, and we, the Jewish people, must and will rely on the true King, God, for our salvation from this genocidal threat.

Netanyahu carried his message to Americans through the media after meeting with President Obama and castigating Iran at the UN. (September 30, 2013)

Netanyahu addresses a clear, present & lethal threat to the US/Israel/WORLD; NOT political bickering

israel-day-parade-bds

Buried in the tax-returns of the JCF is millions of dollars funneled to NIF in the last few years.

Netanyahu in a previous address to Congress-

Bibi’s speech to Congress will bring respect and honor to the Jewish Nation from the US & the world

Obama & Putin have handwriting/signature clues indicating differences between public & private life

It’s time for a new Jewish policy regarding Ramallah, NOT just because of the yarmulke incident

“GETT’s” being screened for Israeli Rabbinical Court judges at their annual convention.

If Jackson were alive he’d denounce Democratic party’s silence towards virulent anti-Semitism

Victim of Palestinian Arab terrorism, a victor in NY federal court, after years of being ignored by Justice Dept.

March 2013: Arabs hurled stones hitting the Biton’s car; Adele’s mother swerved the car-into a truck

The real issue is that in many respects the president has sought to recalibrate American values and our system of government.

Former Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, provided one of the clearest and most compelling analyses we’ve seen of the importance of the prime minister’s speech.

A central concept in any discussion about happiness is achieving clarity. “Ain simcha ela k’hataras hasefeikos” – there is no joy as that experienced with the removal of doubt.

More Articles from Jeremy Rosen
putin napoleon

Obama’s incompetence, the way his naive worldview and credulity have made a fool of him, are equally frightening

Rashid Khalidi

The Ramaz School was wrong to refuse to allow Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian apologist, to speak to its senior students.

Imagine you take your family somewhere where there is no such thing as a day off.

Pascal’s famous wager was that it makes sense to bet on God.

The Talmud (Eiruvin 96a) mentions that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, wore Tefilin and no one objected.

We’ve known that you can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements.

The religious world needs to fight back constructively.

There is a dichotomy between personal, private prayer and public communal prayer.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/92nd-street-why/2013/07/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: