The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Every year at around this time, my husband and I have the same spirited debate: Public Displays of Judaism (PDJs) – good or bad?
Simchas Torah sparks the first round of discussion. In our community, as in many others, the festivities on Yom Tov eve extend outside the synagogue. A portion of the street is closed to traffic, and dancing and singing echo in the chilly air. Then comes Chanukah. As the rest of the world is abuzz in Christmas lights, giant menorahs are lit with great fanfare in public squares all across the city. A few months later, it’s Purim, with kids (and some adults, too) parading through the streets in costume.
Whatever your instinctive position on PDJs, the issue is well worth reflecting upon, as it raises important questions about the proper posture of Torah observance in galus and the sources of anti-Semitism.
Let’s take Simchas Torah. As an initial matter, closing the street does inconvenience motorists (i.e., non-Jews and non-observant Jews), but it’s usually just one block and not a peak traffic hour, so the imposition is minimal.
Of greater concern is that any time people gather in a large group with license to celebrate, there is the risk of some individuals taking things too far. Over the years, I am sure we have all seen Simchas Torah festivities lead to uncouth, sacrilegious, downright offensive behavior. It is bad enough when this takes place inside the shul. But outside in the street? Beyond the pale. One year, my husband and I were visiting family in another community. When the dancing moved outside, one man, apparently well past the point of inebriation, keeled over and vomited into the street. I was appalled – especially because of the police officers standing a few feet away. If I was so turned off, what could they have been thinking?
Assume for a moment, however, that the outdoor festivities are not unduly boisterous, and that there is no intoxication or inappropriate behavior such as mixed dancing or lewdness. Such a decorous scene might not be the norm, but it is not implausible – it’s more or less what takes place in my neighborhood in lower Manhattan.
If, like my husband, you find dancing outside with the Torah objectionable even under these assumed conditions, then it is not the particulars of the setup that raise a problem but the idea of bringing even the sincerest expressions of Jewish observance into the public sphere.
We are in exile. Although we are (most of us) tax-paying, productive, fully integrated citizens, we do not own the place, so to speak. Outside of Israel, we are not masters of our domain – “am chofshi b’artzenu.” For this reason, my husband argues, it behooves us to keep a low profile. The rationale is not simply to avoid stirring up anti-Semitism (more on that in a moment). It’s more basic than that – a matter of good manners almost. Don’t make a spectacle. Don’t invite commentary. Don’t give fodder to the cultural voyeurs, the wisecrackers looking for a good punch line. Let’s maintain our privacy and thereby elevate the spiritual quality of our Jewish rituals.
Then there is the concern about anti-Semitism. With PDJs, there’s always a risk of chillul Hashem. Someone inevitably will do something that could be perceived in a negative light. This not only tars Hashem’s name but the image of Jews everywhere, as anti-Semites paint with a broad brush. To further generate resentment, add noise pollution, traffic disruption, and diversion of police resources to the list of grievances an onlooker might have.
Setting out the anti-PDJ argument, I have almost persuaded myself. And yet I do not believe we should forswear PDJs altogether.
A public gathering in the name of Torah creates a level of achdus, a sense of shared identity and purpose, and a groundswell of Jewish pride rare in our everyday lives. Private venues are inherently self-limiting, at least in terms of crowd capacity. More important, however, they do not have the open call, “Mi LaHashem Ailei!” dimension of a public staging. What an incredible sight it is to see a cross-section of Jews coming together in service of God. From their first Uncle Moishy tape, our children hear the message: You are Hashem’s foot soldiers; you march to a different beat. Be proud of who you are! Celebrate your Yiddishkeit! PDJs make this lesson come alive.
We are fortunate to live in a society of relative tolerance, where most of us can walk down the street with the markers of our faith plain to see without fear of attack, verbal or otherwise. In other countries, even today, Jews are not so lucky. Why should we pretend to be living under duress, as if the Grand Inquisitor is breathing down our necks? Why should we yield the public ground to every other -ism, to all the other slices of the American pie?
I should note that in defending PDJs here, I do not mean to include public displays of personal piety – shuckeling on the subway or an airplane (except El Al, perhaps), swaggering down the street in a tallis. The latter make me uncomfortable, probably because they seem to serve no purpose other than to call attention to oneself.
If conducted in the right spirit and with proper decorum, PDJs have the potential to be a great kiddush Hashem. Jews of all stripes, even the unaffiliated, might find themselves inspired. Non-Jews who are positively inclined toward us might find themselves inspired also; at the very least, they will respect our right to convene publicly within the boundaries of the law. Those who are already hostile to us will continue to be so. Move the hachnasas sefer Torah indoors, cancel the Chol Hamoed carnival, and they will find something else to scorn, another reason to hate us.
Yes, we must conduct ourselves honorably – not to win over anti-Semites (a futile endeavor), but to bring glory to Hashem’s name and light into the world.
What about the risk of chillul Hashem by individuals behaving badly? For one thing, shuls and yeshivas should limit the flow of alcohol in their hallowed halls (which inevitably spills over into the street). This is important whether you like the idea of PDJs or not. Second, although even the most respected rabbi cannot control the conduct of an entire congregation, he can preemptively and repeatedly drive home a message of restraint, sanctity, and respect for one’s neighbors. Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own behavior as well as our children’s. Beyond that, I have no perfect answer.
May all Jews soon be reunited in Israel – where we can and should feel free to express our faith in complete openness, throng the plazas, let our voices ring from the hilltops, and not even think twice about PDJs.
Ziona Greenwald is a full-time mother in Manhattan. She has worked as an editor and a court attorney.
About the Author:
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Netanyahu so disdains Shaked’s appointment he completely ignored her after the swearing-in ceremony
Ronen Shamir’s just the latest tenured Leftist convicted of sexual misconduct with his own student
NY Times precious front page ink is only reserved for portrayals of Israel as the aggressor.
American Jews who go gaga for Obama are first and foremost “Liberals of the Mosaic Persuasion”
“Illinois is the first state to take concrete, legally binding action against the BDS campaign”
Many books have supported the preferability- not to be confused with desirability- of the status quo
Consider the Pope’s desperation, reading daily reports of the slaughter of Christians by Muslims
The contrast between a Dem pretending to love Israel & a Dem who truly loves Israel is CRYSTAL CLEAR
Pentecost, derived from the Greek word for 50, is celebrated 50 days after Easter.
U.S and European demands for the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank is world hypocrisy.
We take a whole person approach, giving our people assistance with whatever they need.
During my spiritual journey I discovered G-d spoke to man only once, to the Jewish people at Sinai
20 years after the great Ethiopian aliyah, we must treat them like everyone else; no better or worse
Connecting Bamidbar&Shavuot is simple-A world without Torah is midbar; with Torah a blessed paradise
Numbers permeate our culture,not advanced mathematics but snapshot stats that provoke snap judgments
Even a foxhole Yid has to admit that antisemitism is on the upswing.
Geller, a mother of five who made aliyah from Monsey last year, offers a glimpse – with lots of photos – into her busy family life.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then children’s eyes are the window to the Almighty Himself.
It is ten o’clock in the morning. I am at a local park with my daughter. A number of children are climbing and sliding, imbibing the fresh air. In their orbit are a smaller number of women, some milling around on foot, others sitting on the benches conversing and minding strollers. Trailing my own child, I play a silent game: Who is a Mommy? Which, if any, of these women (who range from lovingly attentive to disturbingly disengaged) are the children’s mothers, and which are babysitters?
We asked several experienced mechanchim for their insights on how to shepherd children from their first “Modeh Ani” to the understanding that Hashem alone holds the key to every aspect of their existence. Here are the key principles they shared.
When the disproportion of terrorist acts committed by Muslims – and the resulting hordes cheering the carnage on the Arab street – lead clear-minded observers to conclude that jihadism is the dominant strain in the Islamic world, we are accused of painting with an unfairly broad brush, discounting the silent (and invisible) majority of Muslims who oppose violence and crave peace.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/taking-judaism-public/2010/10/27/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: