Turn Right for the Siyum

Two expressions of a single idea:

1. Post-siyum a picture taken outside the Meadowlands (in New Jersey) Racetrack vs. Siyum showing ‘Racetrack’ and ‘Siyum HaShas’ directional traffic signs side-by-side was widely circulated and re-printed. The caption attached to this picture was ‘anu rotzim v’hem rotzim’, a quote from the siyum text itself meaning, basically, ‘They run to do what They feel is important (the Racetrack) and We run to do what We feel is important (Torah study).’

Something about this caption bothered me, but remained inchoate. I thought maybe it was the fact that the siyum’s venue in the various arenas, using the same facilities and infrastructure as are generally used for decidedly non-Jewish events, was much more of a statement than just the traffic sign; and that somehow using this caption diminished the overall distinction. Then I thought it was the fact that it was so gleefully sent around, raising my fear that We would use the siyum as a whip to denigrate Them. (See Marvin Schick’s April 4th post about how We sometimes talk about Them; I cannot agree more with his sentiments).

Finally we had our neighbors over for Layl Shabbos (Friday Night Dinner) and Mrs. Neighbor saw the picture, for the first time, and exclaimed, “That’s not the right caption! The right caption for that picture should be ‘malchus shel chesed’ (a government of kindness). Bingo. What a Country. My feelings exactly. Can anyone imagine that in Europe 60 years ago or more there would have been hundreds of uniformed police helping us, assisting us, directing traffic, to attend an event of this sort? G-d Bless America. Philo-semitic. It’s been good for the Jews. (No need to comment on the ways in which the freedoms offered in this country have also proven to be most challenging to Jews; that’s very true but not at all the point.)

Dr. Schick, if you’re reading this you may want to stop here.

2. Marvin Schick is afraid of the Christians in this country. On May 30th he wrote here on Cross-Currents “What about racism? …What is emerging is an increasingly expanding comfort zone between Orthodox Jews and right-wingers. Are we forgetful of history? Do we delude ourselves and forget that those on the right include far too many who have articulated anti-Semitic views? Are we forgetful of what Jews experienced for centuries at the hands of devout Christians?”

C’mon. The right is racist but the left is not? If you’re against affirmative action you’re a racist? Where is anti-semitism today, on the left or on the right? Visit Columbia or San Jose State or virtually any other campus; you can also try the EU. The more left the more anti-Semitic. Don’t get caught in a time-warp. It is true that liberal democrats in this country allowed people like Marvin and me to enter into academia and the law, but that doesn’t mean that the current views and policies of the left continue forever to be good for the Jews. Of course it also doesn’t mean that the views and policies of the right are always good for the Jews, but any objective read of where we are today leads to the conclusion that authentic Judaism is more closely aligned with today’s right than today’s left.

The philo-Semitism in this country is unprecedented since the Second Commonwealth, and makes the Golden Age of Spain seem merely like brass in comparison. Stop worrying about Christians and let’s take care of ourselves. Isn’t it interesting that (i) the Democrats’ outreach to Jews is comprised almost entirely of building up fear of Christians as a reason for Jews to stay with the Democrats (admittedly, they do occasionally offer up such gems as the eternal ‘jewish values ‘ of abortion on demand and gay rights, and often couched in terms of Judaism’s ‘pursuit of justice’ – ouch) ; and (ii) the two Jewish demographics most likely to have voted for Bush in ’04 were religious Jews and intermarried Jews, i.e., the two kinds of Jews who, for better and worse, do not fear the impact of Christians on their life goals. The US Congress supports Israel the way it does because of Christian Americans, not because of Jewish Americans. Let the Jewish community spend more energy building Jews and less denigrating Christians. Now that would be good for the Jews.

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10 comments to Turn Right for the Siyum

  • David Brand

    As to the first point, I think you and your neighbor both read a little too much into the caption. It was just a play on words–hem ratzim was just a funny reference to the racetrack. You know, the place where people bet on races? It was not a slap at the non-Jewish value system which was supposed to somehow elevate us. You’re darshening it way too severely. I think it was just a funny line, nothing more.

  • Yoni Doe

    The caption on the sign bothered me too. It was underservedly gaavadik and really innaccurate. If you’ve ever been to the casinos in Atlantic City and seen all the fruma yidden there you’d know exactly what I mean.

  • Different River

    Yasher Koach Gedalia! Perfectly said!

  • As the photographer that took this picture I have to agree with you. A better caption IS “malchus shel chesed.” (Especially since as I pointed out on my blog – in a more zoomed out shot both signs actually point the same way.) I also wrote about what else I felt gave the picture such a huge appeal. And I quote from my blog:

    ”This is America! You don’t see the words ‘SIYUM HASHAS’ lit up on the highway every day. It’s like spotting someone in the Daily News wearing a yarmulke. It makes you stop and point and say ‘hey, look!’ Of course nobody opens a Jerusalem Post and starts pointing out every yarmulke they spot. And I think there’s an important lesson in that. ‘SIYUM HASHAS’ is something unusual on Route 3 – West in New Jersey. But it wouldn’t be so strange to see it posted on the Begin-North highway in Israel. Because in one country we are guests and in the other we are Home.”

    Indeed while we live in a “malchus shel chesed” where we are WELCOME guests, we nevertheless are still guests, and not Home. We MUST not forget this.

  • DovBear

    The US Congress supports Israel the way it does because of Christian Americans, not because of Jewish Americans

    Yes, and Christian Americans support Israel because they pant for the Rapture, or the bloody demise of of Jews and other nonbelievers at Armageddon. Those aren’t “friends” I want, or trust.

    I agree this is a malchus shel chesed, but not because of the christians. It’s a malchus shel chesed only because the founding fathers were wise enough to check the influence of christianity, and other religons.

  • Zev

    Don’t have anything to say about the first part of your post, but as to the second segment: right on!

  • Yaakov Rosenblatt

    Good intentions notwithstanding, the effect of the photo was a message of “anu ratzim vehaim ratzim”, the tagline with which it was circulated. Someone hung it up on our shul bulletin board, too. It is so bothersome. If we are going to have a positive affect on the not-yet-frum Jewish world and gain the respect of the Gentile world, it will be because we respect people as people, Jews as Jews, and live positive, spiritual lives.

  • David Waghalter

    Isn’t the rapture issue only a problem if you *believe* in the rapture? In other words, once we get to that point in history, they will turn on us if that kind of thing goes down. But since it won’t, I don’t see the problem, and either way right now I certainly don’t see the problem.

    But that reasoning is a myth, or at least the extent of its influence is a myth.

    And freedom from religion does not influence Congress to support Israel. It’s the Christian constituents who do that.

  • Observant Observer

    Mr. Litke:

    What conclusion should we draw, or what action should we take, from your assertion that “any objective read of where we are today leads to the conclusion that authentic Judaism is more closely aligned with today’s right than today’s left.”?

    Leave Israel aside for the moment, not because it is not an important factor but precisely because it is for many the most important factor. Do you believe that it is important to vote for candidates who are anti-abortion, or opposed to gay rights? If so, how important a factor is it? In New York, should the Orthodox community support the Republican challenger to Mayor Bloomberg, especially since that challenge is predicated on the social issues where Bloomberg is in effect a liberal Democrat? In New York State, should Orthodox Jews support the Conservative party candidate, since he will surely be the only candidate “closely aligned” to “authentic Judaism.” If the social issues of the day are to be determinative, the answer must be yes. Somehow, I suspect that is not your answer.

    On Israel, President Bush has been very, very good, at least until he announced that there shouldn’t be new building in Maaleh Adumim. But supporting President Bush is not the same thing as supporting “the right.” The first President Bush was no friend of Israel, and it’s not an anwer to say that he also wasn’t very Conservative.

    Your post devotes more space to an explanation of the reasons we should not join the left than it does on reasons to join the right. We ought to support people or issues; I’m a bit hesitant when we are asked to support movements, because they tend to bring along lots of baggage. There are lots of right-wing issues that don’t make much sense for our community – gun control is a prominnet one that comes to mind. Another issue concerns public benefits programs – should we attempt to ascertain the impact of budget cuts or programmatic changes to our community? I don’t know, but I suspect that there is more angst and more of an impact in Orthodox homes when some programs are cut than when a parental notification prior to abortion bill is defeated.

    Since you rightly criticize the recent and current policies of the left, while recognizing that movements prior appeal, you ought to learn an important lesson from that experience. Jews supported the left, because of their candidates and because of the rabid anti-semitisim on the right. Then, we forgot the reasons for our support, and supported the left because that’s what good Jews did. Now, we support candidates on the right, often for good reason. But when we support the right because that’s what good Jews do, we are being as foolish as our predecessors who supported the left.

  • DovBear

    Isn’t the rapture issue only a problem if you believe in the rapture? In other words, once we get to that point in history, they will turn on us if that kind of thing goes down. But since it won’t, I don’t see the problem, and either way right now I certainly don’t see the problem.

    No. Because when the fantasies don’t come true, they will blame the Jews. That’s how it always goes, isn’t it?