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Posts Tagged ‘galut’

The Israel Defense Forces is a Mitzvah from the Torah!!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

When the Spies returned from Eretz Yisrael with their evil report of the Holy Land, they put ashes on their heads, sat on the ground, and began to wail out in a loud voice so that all of the congregation could hear:

“Gevalt! There are giants in the Land, and we’ll have to enlist in the army to fight them! Gevalt! Gevalt! Gevalt!”

Influenced by their dramatic cries and their flamboyant display of righteousness, the rest of the Jews joined them on the ground until a great roar was heard all over the wilderness, “GEVALT! GEVALT! GEVALT! WE’LL HAVE TO ENLIST IN THE ARMY!”

This scene came to my mind as I read this morning’s top headline in The Jewish Press: “Sack and Ashes Rally Against Haredi Draft,” with an accompanying photo of the protestors who “repeated chapters of Tehillim, verse by verse, and sat down on the ground in mourning just as Jews do on the day of Tisha B’Av.”

Funny, Tisha B’Av was the day when the Spies returned with their devastating report which brought about the death of that whole generation in the wilderness until a new, de-galuted generation of Jews born into freedom arose to conquer the Land.

The Spies were diehard adherents of galut. They wanted to remain with the Torah of galut, and sit all day learning the Torah of galut in their four cubits of the Beit Midrash of the wilderness, protected by the Clouds of Glory, eating the manna and bottled gefilte fish without have to exert themselves in any mundane matters like defending the nation and cultivating crops for food.

But the Holy One Blessed Be He wanted something else entirely for His Holy People. It was time to give up the miniaturized Torah of galut and begin to observe the complete Torah of Eretz Yisrael!! No one loves Torah more than Hashem, but nonetheless, He wanted the Spies, and all of their yeshiva students, to take up their journey, and their rifles and swords, and go up to conquer the Promised Land!! Hashem wanted them to till the fields of the Holy Land, plant seeds, and harvest their own food! He wanted them to establish a holy Torah society, not in the wilderness of galut, in a geodesic dome, protected by the Clouds of Glory, but in the hills and valleys of the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, the unique place on the globe which Hashem Himself created for the Jewish people and Torah.

Only Yehoshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefune had the courage and faith to stand up and shout out: “NO! THE LAND IS A GOOD LAND. DON’T BE AFRAID!! JUST AS HASHEM HAS BEEN WITH US UNTIL NOW, HE WILL LEAD US TO CONQUER OUR ENEMIES!”

But the “adah” of devout and righteous Jews yelled out “GEVALT!! WE’LL HAVE TO ENLIST IN THE ARMY!!”

The Jewish Press reports that the newspaper ads calling yeshiva students to this morning’s protest in Mea Shaarim stated: “We are prepared with the utmost devotion to fight for the integrity of our holy Torah and not sacrifice any one from Israel to the military Molech.”

My dear friends, let it be as clear as the noon sun in a cloudless blue sky, without that military Molech know as the Israel Defense Forces, all of those devout holy Jews in Mea Shaarim wouldn’t survive more than ten minutes before Ishmaelite murderers stormed into their yeshivot and slit their throats from ear to ear until their blood reddened all of their pages of Gemara, just as the Arab savages did to the devout holy Jews in Hebron and the Old City during the pogrom of 1929 when there was no Israel Defense Forces to protect them.

Take a look at the photos of the pogroms yourself. True, they are black and white, but you can picture the rivers of bright crimson blood spilled all over the pages of Talmud as the devout holy Jews were butchered in the study halls of Torah that they so cherished.

Every morning after their davening, the devout holy Jews of Mea Shaarim should rush out to the streets of the city, find themselves one of those soldiers of Molech, fall down on their knees and kiss the soldier’s boots for risking his life 24 hours a day to protect the devout holy Jews of Mea Shaarim from the bloodthirsty Arabs who are just waiting for the chance to flood the streets of Mea Shaarim with glatt kosher blood.

Why Help Build America When We Can Help Build the Land of the Jews?

Friday, May 11th, 2012

In his current article in The Jewish Press, “A New Song,” Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt advocates finding “a new rallying call, a new idea with which to inspire the troops and turn values into action.”

“Each generation speaks its own language and needs its own message,” he writes.

So far, so good. However, I would like to offer a different rallying call than the one he ultimately chooses.

“Hewed by Hashem into the core of our soul is the need to effect change in the world we inhabit,” he continues.

This too is very true. In my opinion, however, the question is, where should we, in this generation, focus our efforts? In strengthening Jewish life among the gentiles in a foreign land – as he proposes – or in striving to build a Torah society in the Land of Israel, as advocated by the Torah and the Prophets of Israel? What is the message that we should teach our children? That their future is in America, being productive American Jews, or in Eretz Yisrael being productive Jews in the Holy Land?

Rabbi Rosenblatt wrestles with this question in the course of his thought-provoking article, writing, “I feel a primal need for perspective, to understand who I am, who we are, and where our community is headed.”

In my mind, the meaning of “our community” should not only be America’s Orthodox/Haredi community, but the community of all of American Jewry, for, as our Sages teach, every Jew is responsible for his fellow. It is no secret that American Jewry is being decimated by assimilation. The longer the Jewish community remains in America the more the assimilation will grow. So I ask – what’s the point in working to strengthen something that is destined to dwindle out and end? The exile is a curse which is not supposed to continue forever. Now that Hashem, in His great kindness, has re-opened the gates to the Land of Israel and has given us our own Jewish State, isn’t it time to come home? True, for adults who are already established in their ways, moving to a new country is a difficult challenge, but our children have the wherewithal to fulfill the great mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, a mitzvah which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah 80).

Encouraging Jewish youth to be accountants, or businessmen, or scientists in America, is well and good, but it can’t be compared with playing a part in the Redemption of Israel and becoming of a building of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael. In my humble opinion, this is the new call we need to rally and inspire our troops!

Yes, in recent generations, the Orthodox Jews of America have done wonders in guarding and strengthening the observance of Torah. As Rabbi Rosenblatt notes, his parents’ generation built Flatbush, and his generation built Lakewood. Certainly, these are praiseworthy achievements. But that was before the establishment of the State of Israel and shortly after its birth, when we didn’t have a choice. But in the face of the subsequent modernization and miraculous development of Medinat Yisrael, instead of adding on to Flatbush and Lakewood, or sending out battalions of Haredi “laypeople” to win a spot in the American marketplace, as the author of the article advices, why not put our efforts into re-locating these holy and talented young people to Eretz Yisrael?

This is especially true when the author writes: “As a result of our weak secular education and greater insularity, our generation is struggling to make ends meet. Parnassah options are often limited. If not employed in klei kodesh, most of us work for or start small businesses, frequently competing with each other to service the needs of our community. We are often recipients of governmental aid, a possibility our parents’ generation wouldn’t have considered.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt writes a great deal about Kiddush Hashem, but being dependent on handouts from the gentiles is the very opposite. In fact, as the Prophet Ezekiel teaches, the presence of Jews in the Diaspora is one big problematic disgrace:

“And when they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned My Holy Name, in that men said of them: These are the people of the Lord, and they are gone out of His land” (Ezekiel, 36:20).

This prophecy informs us that the unnatural situation of Jews living outside the Land of Israel is a desecration of God. Why? Because in the eyes of the gentiles, our presence in the Diaspora proclaims that God lacks the power to keep us in His Land. That was back then in Ezekiel’s days. Now, in our time, when God has returned the Land of Israel to the Jews, the situation is even worse, for it seems, in the eyes of the gentiles, that in clinging to our Diaspora communities, we prefer foreign lands to His.

Above And Beyond The Court System

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

After my recent article about the difficult trials divorcing couples face within the court system (Family Issues 1-13-2012), especially when there are children involved, I received a heartfelt e-mail from a grandfather in tremendous pain over the demise of his son’s marriage and the subsequent custody battle over his beloved grandchild. He was concerned that his son would be portrayed to the court as incapable of caring for his young child due to recent debilitating health issues his son has unfortunately suffered. The grandfather felt conflicted over the fact that a beit din would not hear the custody concerns but instead a judge would hear the matter during a family court hearing. As an observant Jew he felt that going to a secular or civil court was not an acceptable option for his family. His daughter-in-law, who was seeking the divorce, felt differently and requested that the beit din only take responsibility for securing the get, the Jewish divorce decree, and subsequently appealed to the secular court system to deal with matters of custody, visitation and child support.

Unfortunately divorce is on the rise in the Jewish world. Sadly, each new day brings additional broken families. In fact, the average couple divorcing is no longer a shocking occurrence. I recall that when my marriage fell apart over sixteen years ago, due to what would now be considered “typical” circumstances, it bordered on scandalous in my small community. At that time I could count on one hand the number of divorcees I had ever come in contact with. Sadly, today that is not the case.

Shalom bayit, a peaceful and joyous home with a happy harmonious family is the dream of every new couple starting out. Sometimes that dream gets sidelined to such a degree that there is simply no other option except to divorce. There are even circumstances where a divorce is warranted according to halacha. When a relationship has broken down it can become toxic to the point that the individuals transgress the Torah laws that govern how one should treat his fellow Jew. Hashem’s precious Torah is all good, and allows for the possibility of the dissolution of a marriage – it even provides the necessary guidelines for divorce. There are appropriate steps that must be taken, laws that govern the proper way to give and to receive a get in order to retain the dignity, sanctity and holiness of the process and the respect for the parties involved.

Living in galut, as we all do these days, where we are governed by laws other than just halacha, there is often no choice but to utilize the family court system, in addition to beit din, to some degree in matters of divorce. Enforcing child support, parental rights and parenting time are but a few of the standard functions of the court system. In Israel the system is a bit different as the beit din is considered part and parcel of the legal apparatus and therefore the decision of a recognized beit din can be (but is not always) enforceable by law. In most places the results of beit din arbitrations are considered a form of mediation between the parties and are accepted in civil court; but judgments in child-custody cases are not necessarily binding until they are filed with the civil court system. Each court system, the beit din as well as the family court, is honest about their directive; they each claim to be to be looking out for the best interest of the child/children, yet their interpretations of what “the best interest” is may differ. The rabbinical court will often put greater emphasis on the spiritual well being of the child while the civil courts may see the religious upbringing as secondary to other concerns.

Entering into a civil court situation to decide on the “best interest of your child” is a scary reality that so many parents face today; you are to a certain degree handing over your right to make decisions for your family. Allowing others – people who may or may not understand your personal ideals, priorities and standard of religious beliefs – to make certain decisions that can radically change the course of your life. Taking that chance is essentially a roll of the dice; you never know the outcome until it is too late.

Parents who once shared hopes and dreams for their children now become the prosecution and the defense in family court. Each side fights for control in an attempt to protect what they feel are their “rights.” As difficult as it is for divorcing couples to agree on certain issues, if the opponents take a step back and honestly weigh their options, it would be hard for me to accept that they would choose to surrender control to a third party, and allow strangers to take the reins when deciding on the daily lives of our precious children. Understandably there will be conflict and compromises – and most certainly sacrifices – that would inevitably have to be made on both sides in order to provide the children with the continuity they deserve in order to grow up in a stable home environment, but isn’t it worth it?

How Can Orthodox Jews Deny The Miracle Of Israel?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

For me, Israel is personal.

I was born as Israel’s War of Independence raged, just weeks after the state’s miraculous birth. As I lay in the hospital room with my mother, the windows shattered with the relentless attacks of those who sought, once again, to destroy us – this time not on their bloodstained soil but on our own sacred land. Once again, by God’s hand, we prevailed. The few against the many. The weak against the so-called strong.

My parents arrived in Palestine on the very last boat to sail from Romania. They were broken, demeaned and degraded but they were determined to find renewal in the holy land. For my family, galut and geulah are not chapters in a history book. They are real life experiences.

For us, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut were not mere dates on the calendar but days filled with piercing memories that called for reflection, remembrance, and, ultimately, celebration.

For many years, my family was not alone in fervently claiming these dates, these searing modern commemorations, as our own. Growing up in Forest Hills, New York, I remember the crowds of Jews – all Jews, of every age and background – that came together in synagogues and sanctuaries to remember, to pray, and to promise.

I remember the power those long-ago days held for those of us who gathered to commemorate and to celebrate them. But now? Many progressive Jewish communities continue to celebrate Israel, but in the majority of today’s major Orthodox communities it’s rare to find recognition – let alone active celebration – of these most sacred days.

How do we explain this Orthodox response, or lack of it, to the state of Israel? Can any of us deny the miracle Israel represents? For the first time in two thousand years the ingathering of exiles is realized as Jews have returned home to the land promised by God. The city of Jerusalem is rebuilt. The desert once again blooms.

All this on the heels of the greatest churban in Jewish history, the Holocaust.

Miracle of miracles! The gates of Auschwitz closed and the gates of Haifa opened. If ever there was a confirmation of the Divine Covenant, of the eternal relationship between a people, a Torah, God, and a land; if ever there was a fulfillment of prophecies that in spite of a bitter galut and the terror of persecution there would be ultimate geulah and return to the land and its God; if ever there was a period of Messianic possibility and challenge – it is now.

More Jews are engaged in serious, regular, and creative Torah learning in Israel than at any time in the last five centuries. “From Zion the Torah will come forth and the word of God from Jerusalem.” And so it does. The world’s Torah is nourished from its source in Jerusalem. A distinguished chassidic leader recently told me that most Jews are not aware that “the government of the state of Israel is the world’s most generous donor in support of Torah study.”

The silence of the Soviet Jews ended. The influence of Jews in America and Europe is palpable. All this, and more, only because Israel exists.

Yet the majority of Orthodox Jews in America act as though nothing of note happened on May 14, 1948. They refuse to acknowledge God’s outstretched arm or recognize our generation’s restored glory. What arrogance causes them to summarily reject the opportunity to celebrate and rejoice on new Yomim Tovim? How do they show such disregard for those who love, support and sacrifice for Israel? What thinking is behind the rejection of the Hebrew language and the distancing of all that speaks of Tziyonim?

There are Orthodox schools of thought and practice that educate their children – toddlers even! – to think and live as kanaaim.

The fact that modern Israel may not as yet be the fulfillment of all Messianic dreams and aspirations does not, cannot and must not mean its rejection, denial, or disdain.

“Israel,” Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz poignantly wrote, “is focal to our people. It is not an afterthought. It is not something to be tolerated for the sake of unity or because it is home and protector to so many of our brothers and sisters. It is a step, small or large is irrelevant, toward redemption. Its triumphs and celebrations are our triumphs and celebrations. There may be differences in the manner of celebration, but we affirm, with strength and conviction and without apology, that it is our simcha and that we want to, and need to, be a part of it. We are proud of its symbols, be they flag or anthem, for they have become sanctified…”

My grandfather, the Romanian gaon Rav Bezalel Ze’ev Shafran, was asked, “Why is it that in the Nusach S’fard Keter Kedushah we ask, V’hu yigaleinu sh’einit?” Why do we ask that God redeem us for the second time? The second redemption has already occurred! Are we not eagerly anticipating the third and ultimate redemption?

Chad Gadya – Pesach & the Order of Things

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

As the Seder night ebbs away – long after the Four Questions have been asked and answered, after the festive meal has been eaten and the post-feast drowsiness descends, after the evening’s mitzvot have been observed and the fourth cup of wine emptied – we raise our voices in a curious, delightful, seemingly whimsical song at the end of the Haggadah.

The song is Chad Gadya, a lively tune that is one of the most popular of the many Pesach songs as well as one of the strangest.

On the surface, Chad Gadya appears to be nothing so much as a simple folk tune. Perhaps even a nursery rhyme suitable for the youngest among us, the very child who sang the Four Questions early in the Seder.

Like so many nursery rhymes – an egg perched upon a wall? A fork running away with a spoon? A cow jumping over the moon? Two young children tumbling down the hill? – it is filled with odd images and paradoxes.

What are we to make of these curious images? Likewise, what are we to make of a song that seems, on its surface, to be about the purchase of a goat? While it is possible to enjoy the song just in the singing, the paradoxes and troubling images draw us deeper as we search for meaning and significance.

Why have the rabbis placed this strange song in the Haggadah?

Certainly it keeps the children awake so that the end of the Seder is as filled with delight as its beginning. But more than that, the song is part of a sublime and meaningful religious/halachic experience.

A skeptical reader will no doubt ask: A religious experience? About goats? What does Chad Gadya – a song worthy of Dr. Seuss, a song that goes on and on about goats, cats, dogs, sticks and butchers – have to do with the leil shimurim, the night of geulah and redemp­tion?

Is this any way to conclude Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim?

* * * * *

Among many other things, our ancient rabbis were brilliant educators. God had commanded that we teach our children. The question then became, How best to teach? How best to fulfill this commandment?

The answer: To engage and to reward. And to keep the focus on the student – the child. For Pesach is a holiday of children. And it is right that it is so. Our Egyptian servitude was made more painful for its cruelty to our children.

“And he said, When you deliver the Hebrew women look at the birthstool; if it is a boy, kill him.” With these words, Pharaoh sought to cut off our future by denying us a generation of children. He demanded that “every son that is born… be cast into the river.”

Why did Pharaoh cause such suffering for the Jewish people? For no other reason than we grew. We became numerous. We gave birth to children, in accordance with God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Pharaoh felt threatened by our numbers. “The children of Israel proliferated, swarmed, multiplied, and grew more and more.”

How great was Pharaoh’s hatred of the Jews and our children? How threatened did he feel? So threatened that the Midrash teaches us that when the Israelites fell short in fulfilling the prescribed quota of mortar and bricks, the children were used in their stead to fill in the foundation of the store cities built in their servitude. Another Midrash describes Pharaoh bathing in the blood of young children.

When redemption was finally at hand, children were once again at the forefront of this historical and religious drama. When Moses first confronted Pharaoh with the request to be free to go into the desert to worship, he proclaimed, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters.” In making this proclamation, he was giving voice to the ultimate purpose of our redemption, found in the central command of Pesach, “You will tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt…”

Judaism is a faith rooted in the past but which is always forward looking. Tradition loses meaning unless it is passed forward to the next generation. We do not look for individual redemption so much as communal salvation.

For that to happen, our children must thrive. They must go forward with a solid foundation in the godly lessons of our history. The Exodus from Egypt is rife with the significant role our children played in its historical narrative.

Perhaps Chad Gadya, in its guise of a nursery rhyme, is no different from the afikoman, one more in a series of games and songs and techniques to stimulate and motivate the interest and curiosity of the youngest among us on the Seder night.

Yaakov’s Three Lives

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

This week’s parshah begins, “Vayechi Yaakov b’Eretz Mitzrayim – And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt [17 years] vayeehi yemei Yaakov –and the sum total of his years [were 147]” (Bereishit 47:28).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, notes that Yaakov Avinu’s years can be divided into three periods.

First, he resided in Eretz Cana’an, the Holy Land, for 77 years, secluded in “the tents of study,” sheltered from the entanglements of material life.

Then in the second stage of his life Yaakov lived in Charan for 20 years, where Lavan employed him as a shepherd. During those two decades Yaakov married, built a family and amassed much material wealth.

After living another number of years in Cana’an, Yaakov “descended” to Mitzrayim, where he spend the last 17 years of his life.

Yaakov’s quality of life in each of the three stages differed drastically one from the other. The first 77 years in Eretz Yisrael were tranquil and blessed, when nothing alien intruded upon his life of Torah study, tefillah (prayer) and avodas Hashem (service of G-d).

Going fully to the opposite extreme, Yaakov’s sojourn in Charan, in the house of Lavan, was fraught with challenge and struggle. Yaakov had to be on guard every moment to recognize and counteract the deceit and duplicity of Lavan. In order to marry and support his growing family, Yaakov, worked to exhaustion as (in his own words), “heat consumed me by day, and frost at night; and sleep was banished from my eyes” (Bereishit, 31:40). Upon Yaakov’s return from Charan, the malach (angel) told him, “You have struggled with G-d and with men, and have prevailed (Bereishit 32:29).

Yaakov, however, held his own throughout these hardships, and eventually he triumphed. Then came the 17 years that he lived in Mitzrayim, where he experienced for the first time in his life, true galut, being under the yoke of an alien environment. Here Yaakov was compelled to pay homage to Pharaoh, the arch-idol. Then after Yaakov passed on, his body was in the possession of the Egyptian embalmers, certainly idol-worshipper, for 40 days.

After a lifetime in which he either lived within his own self-imposed sacred seclusion or struggled against adversity, Yaakov’s final years were a time of spiritual bondage in a society which the Torah calls “the depravity of the earth.”

In that light, how can Chazal (our Rabbis) comment that the Torah regards these 17 years as the best of Yaakov’s life? This is because Yaakov knew how to utilize his galut in Mitzrayim to impel the strivings of his soul and work towards its aim. Is it not amazing that Yaakov’s descendants were forged into a nation, Bnei Yisrael, under the tyranny and decadent rule of the Pharaohs?

As with all that is written in Torah, we look for the message to apply to our own lives today. As Ramban (Nachmanides) writes in his classic commentary on Sefer Bereishit (The Book of Genesis), “Ma’aseh Avot Siman LeBanim – The action of the forefathers is a sign of what will happen with the children.”

We, too, experience in the course of our lifetimes the three stages of being, which Yaakov knew: sovereignty, struggle, and subjugation.

We hold onto a vision of a transcendent self – a pure and inviolate soul, at the core of our being. Although this essence is not always accessible to us, there are “moments of truth” in our lives in which this spiritual internal truth asserts itself over any outside influence. For most of us these illuminating moments are few and far between. More commonly, we exist in a state of struggle between the passions of our divided hearts. Our old habits and behavior patterns are often deeply engrained and not easy to conquer.

This tension indicates that we have not fully mastered our existence, but it is also a sign that we are alive. This is life at its fullest and most productive. We are resisting the forces that seek to pry us away from our internal truth; we engage them and battle them. This is why we were put on earth – to fight the blinding neon lights – and open our eyes to pure natural daylight.

However, we also know times of powerlessness, when we face circumstances that are beyond our control and ability to resist. Those are moments when it seems that our lives have stopped in its tracks, and we feel locked into a fortress of despair. Keep in mind, “Everything that happened to the Patriarchs…is decreed to happen to their descendants.” Our lives will not follow our forefathers’ in exact sequence and occurrence. Yet the three lives of Yaakov are “signposts” that guide, inspire and enable our own.

Shabbat Shalom!

Journey Of An Academic Pariah

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

In the good old days, Forest Hills, New York – where I grew up between 1939 and 1951 – was a shtetl for assimilated American Jews. Like my parents, all our neighbors were American-born offspring of Eastern European immigrants. A generation removed from their identity conflicts, we children knew that Forest Hills, liberated from Judaism, was our promised land.

My father and mother rejected the Romanian Orthodoxy and Bund Socialism of their immigrant parents for the security of American Judaism. My Jewish boyhood was spent on the secular side of the shared living-room wall that separated our apartment from our neighbors, Cantor Gorsky and his wife. Through that wall, every Friday evening, I heard him recite Kiddush and the Birkat Hamazon.

On weekday afternoons he taught neighborhood boys the haftarah for their bar mitzvah. Long before it was my turn to join them, I had memorized the blessings that floated into our apartment. To make sure, I was required to attend after-school Hebrew school at the nearby Forest Hills Jewish Center. It provided some of the more vivid miseries of my childhood. My bar mitzvah was mandatory, but there was a tacit understanding with my father that it would mark my exit from Judaism. And so it did.

Yet some Jewish culture and history penetrated. My older relatives spoke Yiddish when they did not want children to understand. (But we became reasonably adept translators.) At the end of World War II Life magazine photographs brought the Holocaust, which had never been mentioned, into our home – though it was not a matter for discussion.

 

I also discovered that Hank Greenberg, the baseball star so beloved by American Jews for his perfect fusion of identities – hitting home runs on Rosh Hashanah and going to shul on Yom Kippur – was our cousin. His sister’s family hosted interminable Passover Seders, which invariably drove my cousins and me from the table after the Fourth Question.

I knew about Israel, born just after my twelfth birthday, because letters to my father began arriving from his Romanian relatives who had survived the war to make aliyah. I was intrigued by the foreign postage stamps and secretly proud of his generosity to our previously unknown cousins. But Israel never was a topic of family conversation.

My high-school years (at Horace Mann in Riverdale) were shared with other non-Jewish Jewish boys whose parents, like mine, wanted their sons to be free of Jewish encumbrances. I first encountered Christian America in Oberlin, Ohio, my college hometown. Before Sunday lunch, my classmates spontaneously sang the Doxology, praising “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Then we were served ham or pork chops. Christmas trees sparkled in every dormitory living room.

* * * * * Eventually armed with my doctorate, I arrived at Brandeis in 1965 to teach American history. Brandeis aspired to become the Jewish – but not too Jewish – Harvard. It proudly displayed its Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chapels, but I never saw anyone enter or leave this ecumenical enclave at the campus edge. Yet it canceled classes on Shemini Atzeret, a holiday totally unknown to me.

After five years of late-1960s campus turbulence I relinquished Jewish zaniness for the Christian decorum of Wellesley College, dedicated since 1875 to the education of young women. Like its ivy-covered Big Brothers and most other Seven Sister colleges, Wellesley had entrenched admission quotas designed to perpetuate an Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.

Genteel anti-Semitism was the pervasive Wellesley norm. By the time I arrived, Jewish students were no longer segregated within their dormitories. But just a few years earlier an Orthodox student who requested postponement of exams scheduled on the High Holy Days was incarcerated in the infirmary for the duration, without access to books or friends, and served treif food she could not eat – to ensure that she would not cheat. In the Religion Department, the unofficial custodian of Christian culture at the college, no Jew had ever received tenure nor was a Jew permitted to teach the required New Testament course.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/journey-of-an-academic-pariah/2011/11/17/

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