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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘living’

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20′s/30′s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

Opinion: Jordan Should Welcome Palestinian Refugees

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Speaking at the Two States for Two Peoples on Two Sides of the Jordan Conference, Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian-Palestinian pro-democracy activist, proclaimed, “When we talk about the situation, we must go back to the Ottoman occupation.” He explained that the Faisal-Wiesel Agreement of 1919 designated 77 percent of historic Palestine  to the Arabs, and that the remainder  was to become a Jewish state. He explained that by depriving Palestinians of their basic citizenship rights in Jordan, the current Hashemite Kingdom is denying the nation’s very raison d’être, which is to be a state that respects the democratic rights of all its citizens, including the country’s Palestinian majority.

“There was an agreement with the Hashemite to make Jordan the homeland of the Arabs. The Hashemites didn’t keep the promise,” Zahran proclaimed. “After 46 years, we are refugees.” Zahran said that most of the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria have Jordanian passports, yet are prevented from exercising citizenship rights in Jordan. He noted that it is very difficult for Palestinians living in Jordan to do basic things, such as register the births of their children and get a driver’s license, explaining, “Hamas members have more rights in Israel than I have in my country.”

Zahran stated that if Jordan respects the human rights of its Palestinian citizens and offers Palestinians living across the world Jordanian citizenship, the Palestinian refugee crisis could be solved and a two-state solution that doesn’t jeopardize Israeli security could come into fruition. Israel could hold onto all of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as well as Jerusalem, while stateless Palestinians across the globe could make their home in Jordan. He views the Arab Spring as a catalyst for genuine peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Zahran stated that the Palestinian community in Jordan isn’t extreme and should they succeed in their revolution, they want to focus their emphasis not on building a strong army to destroy Israel, but on eradicating poverty. “We realize that we tried to destroy Israel twice and failed both times,” he said.

Zahran doesn’t believe the prospects for peace will be good if Israel continues to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, which will “only bring about more violence.”  Zahran asserted that the Palestinian Authority is unstable and that once the elderly PA leader Mahmoud Abbas steps down he will have no replacement. Zahran expressed that Israel should be looking for alternative solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and claimed that Jordan’s Hashemite dynasty is rapidly declining, with the Jordanian king himself predicting his own fall from power within the year. Without the Hashemite dynasty as a “buffer zone” between Israel and the pro-Iranian axis, Israel will clearly need a plan b.

Zahran stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is not popular in Jordan but has excellent media access and financial support. Zahran emphasized that it will be very difficult for the popular secular community in Jordan to win democratic elections without support from “all of those who care about peace in the Middle East.” If secular factions are succesful, Zahran envisions a Jordanian state for all its citizens that will solve the Palestinian refugee crisis and seek peace with Israel.

Currently, Zahran is more concerned that without the West’s support for secular freedom and democracy, Jordan will become “Hamas-stine” rather than Palestine. Furthermore, Zahran added that he could not help but admire the freedom and technological advancement in Israel, stating that someday he hoped his country would become like Israel.

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Tibetan Monks Chant Prayers for Peace in Jerusalem

Monday, August 26th, 2013

The sounds of Tibetan monks chanting, an Iranian playing the santoor, western African style music, Rastafarian and reggae beats, as well as some Israeli rock, among other musical genres could recently be heard pulsating from Jerusalem’s Tower of David in the Old City.

The international and local rhythms made up the beats of the second annual Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, whose musical venues were located in different parts of the city, including the YMCA, Tzidkiyahu’s Cave, and Hebrew University.

Group's leader, Kachen Lobzang Tuskhor in the Tower of David. Photo Credit: Tzuri Cohen-Arazi, Tazpit News Agency.

Group’s leader, Kachen Lobzang Tuskhor in the Tower of David.
Photo Credit: Tzuri Cohen-Arazi, Tazpit News Agency.

The three day festival (August 20-23) attracted at least 1,000 visitors each night to the Tower of David, according to festival director Eilat Lieber. “It was very important for me to bring this unique festival to the Tower of David,” Lieber told Tazpit News Agency.

“This has been an important opportunity to hear not only great music but to experience the respect that exists between different religions and cultures across this city and in the world,” Lieber said.

“This kind of mutual respect is not entirely obvious as division and conflict are often the only themes portrayed in media coverage of Jerusalem,” added Tower of David spokeswoman Caroline Shapiro.

One of the musical performers, Alan Kushan, an Iranian living in the U.S., had positive remarks about the capital of Israel.

“Jerusalem is a wonderful city to perform in,” the Iranian santoor player, Alan Kushan told Tazpit. “It’s not only an honor to play in the city of King David and his son King Solomon. I think it’s a duty that I should come and play music. As an artist, my message to fellow Iranian musicians is not to be afraid of visiting this city.”

The exiled order of Tibetan Buddhists, known as the Tashi Lhunpo Monks, could also be seen walking around the ancient stones of the Tower of David, dressed in their traditional maroon robes. The monks, exiled from Tibet and now living in South India, chanted Tibetan prayers, accompanied by cymbals, gongs, bells and ceremonial dancing during their night performance.

It was the Tibetan monks’ first visit to Jerusalem, having spent the year touring across Europe and raising funds to continue their way of life at the South Indian monastery. “The monks cannot study in Tibet in freedom because the Chinese regime forbids them from doing so,” explained Jane Rasch, a spokeswoman for the group. “There is much understanding and sympathy between Israelis and these second-generation exiled monks living in India.”

At the Tower of David, the monks also created their signature mandala of peace (Yamantaka Mandela) made of colorful, crushed marble from southern India, as Israeli onlookers watched in fascination.

Kachen Lobzang Tuskhor, the leader of the visiting group of monks, told Tazpit that Jerusalem was a special city, but more crowded than he had anticipated. Lobzang, who speaks Tibetan, Hindi, and a little English, explained with a laugh that he learned two words in Hebrew during his visit: shalom and sababa.

Will Observant Judaism of the Future Look Like Satmar?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

A friend of mine (by way of the internet – I never met him personally) once told me never to predict the future based on linear projections. That was a very wise observation.

One of the things that many people seem to believe is that the exponential rate of growth of the Charedi community is so vastly greater than the growth of any other segment – that ultimately the future will be theirs. Meaning that the rest of Orthodoxy will either be absorbed by them, or will become so small in comparison that it will become either irrelevant, or extinct altogether.

I am one of those people. The Charedim have won. By their growth and sheer determination they are the wave of the future. But I have a modified version of that prediction. Moderate Charedim will populate the the new mainstream majority. It will also contain those I have called RWMO (right wing Modern Orthodox). And evolve into a sociological demographic I call the New Centrists. Rabbi Berel Wein was first made note of this phenomenon. And it is already in progress.

In brief  what is happening is that both communities have adopted modalities of the other. So that even if our Hashkafos are somewhat different, our lifestyles are not. Moderate Charedim and RWMO are both generally are well educated in Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Both generally have solid careers where many are professionals.

We are both Koveiah Itim (establish fixed times for Torah study); Daven in the same Shuls; send our children to similar – and occasionally the same schools; are very often good friends, trust each other’s Kashrus; and our families  interact socially each other. It is not that uncommon to find a Chavrusa  beween a moderate Charedi and a RWMO learning together at night in a community Kollel. Our differing Hashkafos are not a divisive issue socially. The extremes on both the right and left may continue to exist, but in my view will at best be marginalized.

Nothing new here.  I have mentioned all this before. Many times. But what I have not mentioned in this context is another demographic that is perhaps the fastest growing demographic of all. One that has absolutely nothing to do with the above phenomenon.  The exponential growth of Satmar and like minded Chasidim. Does that mean that I believe that Satmar is the wave of the future… that eventually they will overtake the rest of Orthodoxy by their sheer population size?  Based on linear projections, one might say that will indeed happen. But I don’t think so, despite their continuing and phenomenally rapid growth.

Currently Satmar Chasidim live in their own world and prefer to keep it that way. The same is true of other Chasidic sects like Skvere.  They will not ‘assimilate’ into any new grouping.  Their values are not the same as the New Centrists at all. They live in a world apart from the rest of observant Jewry.

They are not well educated in Limudei Chol. And although they do work, they generally do not work as professionals. They do not attend colleges and universities. They work at jobs that often do not pay a living wage. Certainly not for a family of 12 or 13 is which is a very common family size. So a great many of them live in poverty…. isolated from the rest of the world.

While it is true that there are some very wealthy Satmar type Chasidim in trades like the diamond industry, construction, and other businesses (like the wildly successful B&H) – they are the exception and not the rule.  Most Satmar Chasidim barely eke out a living and more often than not have to be aided by free loan societies.

There is an article in the Forward by a Frimet Goldberger. She was raised in the world of Satmar. Ms. Goldberger describes  Satmar Chasidim as not only living isolated lives, but as living very religiously demanding lives. More than any other religious demographic. Lives that are stricter now than at any time in the history of Satmar. They have taken upon themselves Chumros that that did not even exist during the life of their founding Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum. And he was pretty Machmir  requiring the rejection of the outside world in its totality.

His purpose was to insulate his Chasidim form the slightest taint of non Jewish culture.  His method was to not only live in a tightly knit neighborhood  - but to be as different from the rest of the world as possible. That would make it virtually impossible to see any commonlaity and thereby assimilate.  That – combined with their extreme Tznius measures makes them culturally incompatible with -  not only the secular world, but even   the moderate Charedi world. Not to mention the Modern Orthodox world.

Here is how Ms. Goldbeger describes it:

(The Satmar Rebbe) had railed against married women growing their hair underneath the turbans and wigs. After his death, most Hasidic women finally adhered to this rule – many out of fear of the severe ramifications of defiance. It is now the acceptable practice in Satmar to expel children from school if their mothers do not shave their heads. The Satmar Rebbe also decried the thin stockings and uncovered sheitels worn in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Now, most Satmar women wear thick, seamed stockings.

The latest Chumra is the blurring out faces of little girls in their photos. Which did not exist when the Satmar Rebbe was alive. She calls such radicalization alarming and not to be ignored.

In my view, all of these factors are the reason that we should not project a victory for the Satmar way of life. This lifestyle is not the wave of the future. Despite their rapid exponential growth. Insuring the isolation that has kept this demographic together and intact, is no longer possible. The internet has just about assured that. Especially now that one can access it in the palm of one hand.  Bans of technological advances like I-phones no matter how harsh the consequences simply are probably honored more in the breach than in adherence.

I am not saying that young people will drop out in significant numbers. Although going OTD  is a growing problem for them like it is for every other religious demographic. But I do think that they will gradually see what the rest of the even Frum world has to offer and many will seek it out. The poverty and strictures particular to this community will accelerate that process. They will see that it is possible to be religious and not be as isolated as they have been in the past. Modernity will catch up to them. Their increasing poverty that their current lifestyle practically guarantees them will motivate many of them to try another way.

They will see a growing new Centrism and realize that there other legitimate ways to practice Judaism. I am not saying that they will all eventually become new Centrists. Although not likley – it is not out of the realm of possibility once they start seeking to better their lives materially. More likely is a scenario to create their own version of a centrist society – rebelling against that part of their culture that keeps them poor – by seeking a better education and pulling back a bit on their radically different appearances… like the insistence that all their married women must save their heads.

I can’t predict the future. But what I think I can predict is that this demographic is not the wave of the future as they are currently constructed.

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