web analytics
May 30, 2015 / 12 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Celebrating The Death Of The Blue-Hat Jew


Mordecai Bienstock’s Dec. 24 front-page essay – “Death of the Blue-Hat Jew?” – was an interesting, important, and for the most part accurate assessment of what is happening today in Jewish America.

The author injected into his wonderfully well-written piece a warm feeling of nostalgia, invoking a time when we were able to enjoy family meals on Thanksgiving Day without any guilt. He was also quite articulate in describing the evolutionary process that gave birth to religious Zionism and rise to ultra-Orthodox – or what we today call haredi – Judaism.

What he failed to mention, however, was how the “Blue-Hat Jew” became that way in the first place and how he arrived at that not-too-frum-and-not-too-frei niche on the spectrum of Jewish religiosity.

When we fully understand the circumstances or events that created the so-called Blue-Hat Jew, I believe we will better understand why we now have this schism in Orthodox life, which Mr. Bienstock understandably laments.

At the turn of the century, more specifically between 1880 and the start of World War I in 1914, about 2 million Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe, mostly from Russia and Russian-controlled portions of Poland. My mother, a”h, was part of that wave of immigrants. The majority of those Jews settled in New York City.

Jewish leaders at the time urged assimilation and integration into the wider culture, and Jews quickly became part of American life. My mother and most of her co-religionists and co-immigrants spoke with very pronounced Yiddish accents, which was considered an embarrassment by younger Jews who strove desperately to shed that old-time tradition and become real “Yankees.”

It was not only the Yiddish accents that caused discomfort to many Jews; the European mannerisms also plagued and even humiliated young Jewish Americans as they strove more and more to distance themselves from their immigrant parents. Nor was it only the children who felt this way; it was the dream of most immigrant parents to make sure their children not only had a better life than they had, but that they were accepted as equals by other Americans.

After World War II, Jewish families joined the trek to suburbia as they became wealthier and more mobile. The Jewish community expanded to other major cities, particularly around Los Angeles and Miami. Young Jews attended public high schools and secular colleges, met attractive and marriageable non-Jews, and in time intermarriage rates soared to nearly 50 percent.

I believe that even before the advent of wide-scale assimilation and intermarriage, Hashem had seen how His people were being decimated and sent a yeshuah in the form of the Young Israel movement. I believe the creation of Young Israel was a major factor in stemming the tide of assimilation, affording the children of religious immigrants the opportunity to mingle with truly American Jews, which was of paramount importance to them, while at the same time keeping them from abandoning, or even severing, their Jewish heritage.

Even so, when I attended Torah Vodaath in the early fifties, the Young Israel on Bedford Avenue was off limits to yeshiva students. To be caught attending Young Israel services was to risk severe penalties, even expulsion.

Though that punishment may be viewed as somewhat severe or an overreaction, the logic behind it was understandable. The philosophies and goals of the yeshiva and those of Young Israel were totally at odds with each other.

The reason d’être of the Young Israel movement was to attract young people who no longer wanted to be viewed as “shtetl Yidden” with long beards and peyos and all the other trappings of religious Jews. They wanted the clean-cut, modern American lifestyle, with English spoken correctly and without accents, with hats and jackets not being a requirement, with secular studies encouraged and admired, and with the freedom to socialize with their similarly situated peers.

I believe these are the people Mr. Bienstock was referring to when he used the term “Blue-Hat Jews.”

But that was a long time ago. Today, Baruch Hashem, we have thousands upon thousands of good, solid American boys learning in yeshivas. We have thousands of the more “modern” Jews who are in business or professions while at the same time scrupulously attending daily Daf Yomi lectures. The Young Israel movement itself, no longer merely a vehicle for stemming the tide of assimilation, is a shining example of how Jewish life has evolved.

In other words, sad though Mr. Bienstock makes it sound, the Blue-Hat Jew has simply gone the way of the electric typewriter and the pushcart. And I think that’s a good thing. Today our infrastructures are different. Yiddishkeit in America is no longer a foundering entity unsure of its status or its future. There are strong niches for everyone. Outreach and kiruv groups abound. Today there are groups and organizations for every stripe or form of religiosity.

So I believe we can actually celebrate the disappearance of the Blue-Hat Jew – because he has finally come home.

Irwin Benjamin teaches Talmud to Bucharian high school students at MTJ on the Lower East Side. His articles have appeared in various Jewish publications. He can be can be contacted at irwin.benjamin@rcn.com.

About the Author:


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.

No Responses to “Celebrating The Death Of The Blue-Hat Jew”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
What's happened to NYC's Celebrate Israel Parade?
Israel Rejects as ‘False’ UJA Federation’s Claims about Israel Parade ‘Inclusion’
Latest Indepth Stories
Keeping-Jerusalem

For a peace treaty with the PA, half the Israeli public would agree to divide the Jerusalem

As for the president’s new, softer tone vis-à-vis Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel, this is most likely being driven by the results of the recent Israeli election.

What especially appeals to us is his grand – some critics would say extravagant –view of what the borders of Israel should look like.

There was something else of great importance in play – something we would have liked to see him take into account before deciding to stand with the boycotters.

The establishment of Hebrew University was a cause much beloved to Einstein who in 1923, during what would be his only trip to Eretz Yisrael, delivered the university’s inaugural lecture on Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) and, discussing the theory of relativity, spoke the first few sentences of his address in Hebrew.

The Golden Square wanted Germany to destroy the British and Jewish presence in their country. The Third Reich craved what was beneath the ground – oil.

Ida Nudel’s account of how the Soviets persecuted and punished her was far worse than imagined.

Swim4Sadna is an annual event benefiting Sadna, an integrative special-ed community in Gush Etzion

Prof. Wistrich, was THE foremost historian of anti-Semitism; committed spokesman & advocate of Jewry

Jewish Voices for Peace’s 2015 Haggadah is a blatant anti-Israel screed crying, “L’chayim to BDS!”

On his shloshim, I want to discuss a term I’ve heard countless times about Rav Aharon: Gedol HaDor

After obsequious claims of devotion to Israel, Obama took to criticizing Israel on peace process

Mr. Obama, Israeli voters have democratically chosen to apply Israeli sovereignty over Judea&Samaria

Netanyahu so disdains Shaked’s appointment he completely ignored her after the swearing-in ceremony

More Articles from Irwin H. Benjamin

Mordecai Bienstock’s Dec. 24 front-page essay – “Death of the Blue-Hat Jew?” – was an interesting, important, and for the most part accurate assessment of what is happening today in Jewish America.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/celebrating-the-death-of-the-blue-hat-jew/2011/01/05/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: