Bein Adam Lchavero

Bein Adam Lchavairo is a blog dealing with interpersonal relations within the Jewish community and the interactions of the Jewish and Gentile worlds. We're new. Be gentle.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Catholic Slifkin?

Many of you, I am sure, are familiar with the controversy regarding the works of Rabbi Slifkin (waves to DovBear). I personally have only read one of his books (The Camel, the Hare, and the Hyrax) and found it fascinating.

Others, however, are not so enthused and have been calling for his head on a platter for about a year now.

Well, it seems as though our Catholic Cousins are on the cusp of a similar machloket:

Creationism is Paganism, says Vatican official.

He also comes out against Papal infallibility.

One wonders what the reaction of the Catholic Community will be, and how it will compare to our own reaction to Rabbi Slifkin's thoughts on the age and nature of the universe.

A good Shabbos to all. See you next week with more goodness.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

For Better or Not Worse

My foot was burned in an electical outlet explosion last week and that's the good news.

This past Shabbos, I was eating one of the meals at a friend's house, and he commented on my "upbeat" attitude, even as I was limping home. That got me to thinking about the uniquely Jewish attitude of Gam zu l'tovah (This, too, is for the good).

Whenever something happens, there are two ways to get to the same result, and the path taken reveals a bit of a person's outlook on life. In a car accident, for example, a person could say "It's a good thing I was wearing my seat belt.", or one could say, "It could have been worse - I could have not been wearing a seatbelt.". Both statements acknowledge that wearing the seatbelt was of great use in this case, but one is looking at the "bright side" and one focuses upon the "dark side".

The Talmud (Brochos 60b) tells the story of Rabbi Akiva, who was accustomed to say "Everything HaShem (G-D) does is for the good". Rabbi Akiva was once travelling with a rooster, a donkey, and a candle. When night fell, he tried to find lodging in a nearby city, but was turned away and forced to sleep in the fields outside of town. Rabbi Akiva simply said "Everything HaShem does is for the good". Over the course of the night, a cat ate his rooster, a lion ate his donkey, and a wind blew out his candle. Each time, he merely said "Everything HaShem does is for the good". The next morning, he woke up to find that a band of brigands had raided the city during the night, robbing everyone and killing many. Because he was in the field, with no light and no animal to give him away, he went unnoticed.

I was lying in bed at 11:00pm, when the outlet at the foot of my bed exploded. My first reaction was to stomp my foot on the floor, in case it had caught fire. In doing so, my blanket was pulled off the bed. Boruch HaShem, the fire went out quickly and the only major damage was to my 1-to-3 adapter and my extension cord (and my foot), but when I later picked the blanket up off the floor, I found a hole and a rather large char mark from where it had started to burn. By pulling it off the bed when I jumped up, the fire couldn't catch, and went out. My foot was burned in an electical outlet explosion last week. Gam zu l'tovah.

On a certain Tuesday morning, slightly less than five years ago, a young man named Shlomo (person has been fictionalized) work up late, because his wife didn't set the alarm clock the night before. When he woke up, he was angry with his wife, irritated with his children, and frustrated with his car. He rushed out the door and joined the large number of people that missed their usual morning train and were going to be late to work. Today, he's alive to tell about it. Gam zu l'tovah.

Perhaps this is something worth keeping in mind the next time a cabbie cuts us off on the road, or the train comes late, or a computer crashes, or the chulent burns: of course things can be worse, but they're actually pretty good right now, even if we don't know how.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Funny, She Doesn't LOOK Jewish"

My wife works for a Jewish educational body. After what she just told me, I don't know how pleased I am with some of what it seems that they're teaching.

A former student came by to say hello. My wife was glad to see her and they spoke for a while. When she left, a student aid commented "Who was she?" The secretary looked at the student and said, "I know! I was wondering if she had the right place."

Why, do you ask?

She�s Black. Not a convert, either. Her parents and her parent's parents were just as Jewish as yours or mine. Yet the second these two saw her skin color they thought "Not Jewish! Outsider! Bad!"

This is hardly an atypical reaction to Black Jews, at least in my experience. I've actually known two who were essentially driven away from yidishkite by such attitudes. The first lived in a very frum community where she couldn't get past the staring. Despite living there for some time, everywhere she went, she was stared at.

The other one I haven't spoken to in years. She is a gioret and in her case, much of the problem manifested in terms of shidduchim

A story, by way of illustration:

I was going to a wedding with a young Rabbi and Rebitzen from my neighborhood. On the way the Rebitzen was asking my wife and I if we knew anyone for her younger brother. When we asked what kind of girl he was looking for she began describing, essentially, a tzadeket. When I asked her to narrow it down, she said �Like FM from your shul, but older of course.�

"What about J?" was my immediate response (J being the above mentioned gioret).


"Why not? Doesn�t she have that exact personality?"

"Yes, but it's not Shayich."

"How so? She's exactly what you're describing and you admit it!"

"It�s just not Shayich. okay? Let�s drop it."

I, being my usual charming self, did not. Finally she admitted that in "his circles" marrying a gioret would be an issue on it's own. so Kal V�Chomer marrying a Black woman....

I lost a lot of respect for the Rebitzen in question that day.

(The best part of this story was telling it over � sans names of course- to someone who began to loudly and vocally agree with the Rebitzen, unaware that a Black FFB was standing behind her. He might still not be speaking to her)

I simply don't get it. Aside from not getting the stigmatization of converts (a subject for another day), I don't understand how Jews can be racist against other Jews. I mean, here we have someone keeping Torah and Mitzvot just like us, but because of the color of my skin we pre-judge them. How is this in keeping with the Torah?

I'm reminded of a flap roughly three years ago when a diverse NY-area shul was in need of repairs. Another local shul, which does not meet during the summer, offered them use of their location while the repairs were underway. There was apparently one condition: None of the Black Congregants could attend� and the Rav allegedly initially went along with it. Eventually it was all sorted out, but the fact that it could even happen boggles my mind. We're not talking about the deep South in the 1950's. This is New York in the 21st century. I can understand the Rav of the shul giving into the pressure for a moment, but for the other shul to even ask such a thing? The Black Jews they wanted to exclude walk several miles every Shabbos to get to Shul. We need to be embracing people like that, not chasing them away.

(I want to stress that the issue above was resolved and that both Rabbanim involved publicly and privately asked for and received forgiveness from those they had wronged. I'm merely using it as an example and do not intent to re-open old wounds)

I don't want to sound like I'm frum-bashing either. I've seen secular Jews do it as well. Let's not even talk about how Black Jews are treated in Israel. I used to go to camp with one there. Great guy, wonderful family, but certain kids avoided him like he had some kind of disease. Insane.

And it's not just Black Jews. I had a Hispanic Jewish classmate who used to get called racial slurs all the time in Yeshiva. In fact, one time he even privately went over to a Rebbe to ask him to please stop using the term "spic" in class as it offended him (The Rabbi, to his credit, immediately realized how wrong he had been and apologized profusely). I'm sometimes amazed that he's still frum at all with the treatment he received.

What's wrong with us? Why are we so caught up in the externals? Why are we so quick to judge based on so little?

In case you were wondering about my wife's reaction, first she informed them that the girl's family had most likely been Jewish longer than theirs and then she paused, as she sat there in her fall and her long skirt, a far cry from her days in Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and said "Looks can be deceiving."

I love that woman.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I've been thinking about what I posted yesterday.

"Why Are You an Anti-Zionist?"
That question was asked to me by my best friend, many years ago. I can't remember the name of most of my teachers from High School, but this I remember. We were sitting in his living room on a Shabbat afternoon.

I was a bit taken aback.

How, I asked, was I an Anti-Zionist? I had gone to Israel almost every summer of my life, my oldest and dearest friend lived there, heck, I'd had friends there who were killed in terrorist attacks.

His reason was quite simple: I wore a velvet yarmulkah.

Really. That was it. If I were truly whole-hearted in my support of a Jewish State, I would go out and get a knit kippah.

Now, I love this guy like a brother (well, maybe better than a couple of them now that I think about it), but I told him then and I'd gladly tell him now that I thought that was the dumbest thing I had ever heard. What I cover my head with shouldn't matter. What should matter are the words out of my mouth and the feelings I held in my heart. If he was going to judge me by the way I was dressed, then the issue was with him, not me.

Let me give you a story by way of example.

One summer on an Erev Shabbat my father, brother, and I were in Giulah in Israel. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, it's a very, very ultra-Orthodox community. I was wearing a pair of jeans (possibly torn at the right knee) and a Spider-Man T-shirt. Why? Because I was an unthinking boob is why. Seriously though, becauseI wanted to be comfortable.

Anyway, all of the sudden a little Chasidishe boy runs up to us.

"Dokter! Dokter! Mein Zeidie is here from Amerika! He wants you should come see him!"

The "Zeidie" in question was the Kosoner Rebbe, Zt'l, who used to be the Rav of the shul we davened at in The Bronx. My father had a very strong connection with him and even after he moved to Boro Park, my father would attend services on Hoshanah Rabbah and one day of Chold Hamoed Pesach. One of his daughters lived in the area and he was visiting.

So there we went, off to see the Rav. I was feeling that shame that teenage boys feel when they've been caught at something they shouldn't be doing. Here I was, going to visit a Rav dressed like a street urchin. Why couldn't I have at least worn a button down shirt? What would he think of me? What would he think of my father now, seeing how his son dresses?

When we entered his daughter's house, we were greeted with smiles. After the Rav said hello to my father he turned to me and gave me this odd look, like he was analyzing me somehow. He opened his mouth to speak and I thought, here it comes. I'm going to get a rebuke...

"They still make Spider-Man comics?"

Flabbergasted is the only real word to describe how I felt. Well, that and relieved. I actually ended up getting in a very short discussion of Spider-Man comic books with the Kosoner Rebbe.

Which brings me back to my point. The Rav didn't look at me and think "this boy is a bum because he's wearing jeans," or "How dare he come see me dressed like this!" Or even if he did, which I can't imagine, he didn't say it to me. Instead he made me feel welcome in his home. That, my friends, is a Rav.

Today I am wearing a suede yarmulke. Tomorrow I might wear a velvet one. On Shabbat, if it is sunny, I will wear my black hat. Otherwise, I don't think I will. It depends. No matter what I wear though, the head it's on will still be mine. The thoughts in it will be the same and my level of observance will not have altered in the least. I will still, for ill or good, be me.

I still don't wear knit kippot, mind you. I just find them uncomfortable. I like my head coverings to have some heft. That's the only reason. There's no dark, sinister secret behind it.

This time.