Posts Tagged ‘Community’

It’s All about Culture: Our Orthodox Differences

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A frum man and his four kids walk into a restaurant in Central New Jersey.

How do I know they’re not from around here?

First, the man walks into the store, ascertains with one quick glance that there are frum people in the store and immediately feels at ease, knowing that he is, in fact, in a kosher restaurant.

Next, he asks the lady behind the counter, “Do I have to pay the meter?” “No,” she says, “not after 6 pm.”

The family proceeds to make a lot of noise, discussing the merits of ordering this or that dish. It seems like the whole restaurant is in an uproar.

Upon finalizing their orders, the man asks the lady which way is East. He and his two teenage sons immediately begin davening mincha in the middle of the restaurant, with no concern that there are individuals seated or walking in front of them. No, they aren’t from around here.

Then they continue to stand around and wander in the restaurant while waiting for their orders, despite the fact that everyone else is sitting and relaxed, and there are plenty of seats. They are making us all nervous.

One of the daughters is around 12 and is wearing a “biz” skirt and button down shirt. Yeah. Not our town. The other daughter is about 8 and already feels the need to wear huge black sunglasses as a stylish headband. Yeah, that’s not our town either. The father and the two boys are dressed EXACTLY the same as each other – white shirts, black pants, and black velvet kippahs.

Within 5 minutes of their arrival, I know this family is not from around here. If you will allow me to guess, I would guess they’re from Flatbush.

It’s amazing how culture is so specific to location. We are all “frum,” but clearly very different. Anyone know why? Do we create our own culture? What other factors influence us? What aspects of culture do we all have in common?

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When Violent Criminals Are Orthodox

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We were all shocked by the horrific murder of an 8-year-old boy just a few weeks ago. Like everyone else, I’m sure you asked, “How could that man be Orthodox and kill another human being? Isn’t murder against the Torah?” Our best answers boil down to, “Yes, murder is against the Torah. Therefore, he must not be Orthodox.” So we put the word Orthodox into quotes when we describe the murderer, and it makes us all feel better.

However, there is something more here. This is not the first time we have seen violence from people who live an Orthodox or frum lifestyle. We were also shocked a few months ago when a young Skverer man threw a firebomb into the home of a neighbor who preferred to daven elsewhere, and not at the main synagogue in New Square. The victim was badly burned and narrowly escaped with his life. His family was also lucky. But we all asked, “Who DOES that? So they daven at a different shul—big deal. We would never try to burn down a man’s house—and certainly not with the people inside!”

But the violence doesn’t end. This past week, a disgruntled advice seeker in Israel came back to kill the rabbi who gave him advice. He showed up and just stabbed him to death. Why? He said the rabbi had failed to solve his marital problems. Let me tell you, if this guy had that kind of murderous rage in him, believe me, he had more problems than just marital problems.

Speaking of marriage, why was that rabbi and his wife holding that guy hostage in their Lakewood home, beating him and threatening him? Yes, the Torah suggests we should “beat” a man until he gives his wife a get, but who really does that? And well, last time I checked, assault was a crime in this country. And yes, that rabbi and his wife were arrested.

What is going on? It’s hard to say it, or even accept it, but it appears that we are seeing an upward trend in violent crime among those who live an Orthodox lifestyle.

Yes, there was always the isolated story here and there, but these stories just don’t sound that isolated any more. People are angrier, and they aren’t afraid to show it.

But, you may say, “Jews are the ‘People of the Book!’ We’re a gentle nation, we’re always the victims, and we wouldn’t hurt a fly!” Not so. We need to open our eyes to the violent among us. Leiby’s murder was a rude awakening. If we were naïve before, we are no longer naïve. We can no longer trust a person by virtue of the fact that they lead an Orthodox lifestyle.

So why this upward trend? What’s going on in the Orthodox world that wasn’t going on before?

My theory is that the pressure to “get married/stay married/have kids/marry them well,” has become way too strong in the Orthodox community. It has reached insanely high levels. It is a prescription that not everyone will, can, or should follow. For many individuals and families, the shidduch crisis, homosexuality, divorce, infertility, illness, and death are realities closer to life.

But the pressure stays on. Get married. Stay married. Have kids. Marry them well. And the mental health issues in the community keep growing. We’ve all heard about eating disorders in the Orthodox community, alcohol abuse in the Orthodox community, domestic violence in the Orthodox community, and kids “at risk” in the Orthodox community. This new trend of outright violence is only another piece of this bigger picture. It turns out that we are a complex group of people, and we unfortunately share many ills with the general society in which we live.

As our community’s mental health is frayed, so is our educational system. We put all our stock in Jewish Education, but it keeps failing us. There are the kids dealing drugs a block from the school, the ones texting on shabbos, and others always getting kicked out from one yeshiva or another. And we keep paying through the nose for it all, hoping, hope upon hope, that our kids make it out okay, and, well, marry well.

And though we can’t afford the lifestyle, we somehow scrounge around enough money to impress our neighbors. So now, we’re not just trying to keep up with the Joneses. We ARE the Joneses.

And to top it all off, we have the added pressure of learning Torah, supporting Torah, living a Torah-lifestyle, and making sure that people know we’re doing it. Because if we do it, but nobody knows, we don’t get credit for it.

Our lifestyles are way too twisted to make any sense.

If they don’t make sense to us, they certainly don’t make sense to our kids. We’ve put ourselves between a rock and a hard place and then we wonder why we can’t get out. We wonder why our community is failing, why our schools can’t improve with all the money we’re putting into them, and why our mental health is in a downward spiral.

We need to relax the pressure to get married/stay married/have kids/marry them well. We need to realign our values such that life is not a show of money and frumkeit. We need to show our kids authentic Jewish experiences that make sense to them. And we need to realize the message we send our kids when we’re confused ourselves.

We need to come together to address serious issues in the community’s mental health. The events organized by Chai Lifeline after Leiby’s passing were a great first start. But the issues run deep, are worldwide, and they require ongoing attention.

These terrible acts of violence are indicative of a community at a breaking point. We need to unite not just in shock and horror, but in proactive efforts to make Orthodoxy viable as a lifestyle in our generation and the next.

May the Torah be a comfort to us, may we seek peace among our neighbors, and may each of us sit under our date trees in tranquility.

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Is Ashkenazic Hebrew Obsolete?

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The yeshiva day school movement has long embraced the idea of teaching modern Hebrew. Most of these schools are pretty tzioni: they celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, they march in the Israeli day parade, their seniors take a trip to Israel, and their graduates spend a year in Israel. In such schools, teaching modern Hebrew has always made sense.

However, it appears that, in recent years, there is a growing interest in modern Hebrew among even more “right-wing” elements in our community. After all, this is the language spoken in “Eretz Yisroel,” and many graduates will go on to seminary or yeshiva in Yerushalayim.

Furthermore, as Yiddish seems to wane among Ashkenazic Jews, Hebrew is becoming a universal Jewish language.

In addition, we are seeing increasing numbers of modern Hebrew speakers in the U.S. It is not uncommon for Israelis of all stripes and hats to live in our communities and join us in our shuls. Hebrew-speaking Sephardim, Chasidim, baalei teshuva, Europeans, Russians, “chilonim,” and yeshivish people comfortably glide between Jewish communities in Israel and the U.S. In addition, some of our more tzioni friends have opted to speak Hebrew to their children in the home, either to teach the language, or in anticipation of making aliyah. Almost all Orthodox Jews have been to Israel at one point or another, many for extended stays.

As a result of all this, it is quite possible that Ashkenazic Hebrew, the way our European grandparents may have learned it, it going out of fashion. Yes, frummer schools may still teach it as “the davening accent” but, as anyone who ever went to Israel knows, that’s not exactly how we speak Hebrew these days.

Our local day school has a very long tradition, and has always taught an Ashkenazic accent in Hebrew. At some point in the later grades, students would figure out that there are different accents and that modern Hebrew is actually very different. In the last few years, however, the school (thankfully) realized their Hebrew language program was weak. Their students were just not as fluent as those in other schools. As a result, they instituted new programs, aimed at teaching Ivrit B’Ivrit, at least part of the time.

This is a good thing. However, there is something very funny about this new arrangement. Most of the week, they learn Hebrew with their main teacher, a product of yeshivish culture. Then, for certain periods during the week, they are visited by an Israeli teacher who does Hebrew activities with them and refuses to speak any English.

In their studies, they learn of “Chet,” and “Tet,” but when they get to the end of the alphabet, there is also apparently something called “Suf.” Of course, if there is a “Suf,” then really, it should be “Ches” and “Tes.” …A little bit of a contradiction here? To confuse the matter even more, they learn about Kamatz, and how it is pronounced differently from Patach. Oh, and the Israeli teacher says “Chet” differently from “Chof” and “Ayin” differently from “Aleph.”

Are we confusing the kids? At first I thought so. But now I think not. They’ll learn soon enough how Hebrew is actually spoken these days. And does it matter to anyone how they daven when they grow up? Not where I live. So let the schools confuse them. For better or for worse, it won’t be long before those funny accents from “the old country” become obsolete. Will I mourn the loss of a tradition? Some might, but I probably won’t. I myself learned Ivrit B’Ivrit.

Do you agree that modern Hebrew is taking over? Will you mourn the loss of Ashkenazic Hebrew?  

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