Pictures From the Home Front

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Unless you are living under a rock, you realize by now that we are at war. It is not they who are at war – a much beloved they to be sure – but we. In the new asymmetrical warfare, all Jews are targets. Whatever your political leanings, whatever your take on how this came about, it is incontrovertible that in recent years tens of millions (if not hundreds) have been taught, urged, cajoled to believe that their religion demands the eradication of Jews, and that any partial success in meeting that goal will be instantly rewarded by the richness of Heaven.

Here are two unrelated images and vignettes from the home front, nine thousand miles from Gaza, but a front nonetheless in the latest hot-ammunition battle to destroy the Jewish people.

The Consulate

I always feel guilty in times of war for not being closer, for not being in uniform myself. Half to assuage those feelings of guilt, I try to involve myself in the war that is actually fought here – the important battle for public opinion and support. While I have a visceral distaste for all meetings, especially large ones, I felt that I had to respond to the email calling on all rabbis to come to an emergency gathering at the Consulate. I expected to find myself in a room full of non-Orthodox rabbis, together with a single handful of some of the more public-minded Orthodox pulpit rabbis.

It didn’t turn out that way. When Yaakov Dayan, the Consul General, walked into the room, he faced about fifty people. Of those, about 44 were visibly haredi. Beards, black suits, black hats. Yeshivish, Persians, Chabad. All varieties. (Well, almost all.) OK, the absence of the non-Orthodox could be explained. The Reform rabbis were in Palm Springs, at some sort of convention. I still don’t know where the Conservative ones were; perhaps they also had some sort of gathering out of the city. This is the time for such gatherings in Southern California.

At least I hope that there was a good reason. In recent years, it has become clearer that the diminished ardor of American non-Orthodox Jews for the Jewish State has tied the hands of even ardently pro-Israel rabbis, who don’t wish to ruffle the feathers of the JStreet and Americans for Peace Now types, who are cool to shows of enthusiastic support for a government they cannot believe in.

In times of war, even those in the Orthodox world who are cool to Israel’s government on theological grounds tend to rally around the cause, if not the flag. If my memory serves me correctly, even in previous wars it would have been unlikely to get a large mincha minyan together after an official consular briefing. Perhaps many in our community have begun to realize that the loyalists to the cause of a Jewish state have suffered greatly through attrition, and that we are going to have to take up much more of the slack. (My personal position is far less hesitant about full cooperation and active support of the government. We are no longer in a pitched battle with Secular Zionism for the hearts and minds of our young people. We should move on, and find a modus vivendi that allows us to use all our talents and resources – in addition to our all-important contribution of spiritual gifts like davening and learning – in the ongoing battle for our Land. More on that some other time.)

I initially felt bad for Yaaky, facing a very different audience than he expected, but he quickly sensed the power of the meeting. He was looking for an army of contributors to the PR war, and realized that it was within reach. Indeed, after listening to his pitch, the audience contributed practical suggestions. When R. Avrohom Union, the yoshev rosh of the RCC offered that one email from the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) puts material in the hands of scores of rabbis and through them to hundreds and hundreds of active congregants, Yaaky could sense that he was looking at a new mother lode of potential activists. We spoke about some of the smaller fronts where the effort so far was inadequate or uncoordinated – monitoring and responding to popular blogs, talk shows, and the smaller newspapers that are read by more Americans than the large ones. We talked about every rabbi finding one or two mispallelim who have the urge and the talent to write and speak up, and asking them to identify a few more like them. If every shul within the RCC orbit found four or five people, we would have a huge group. We spoke of getting a smaller group of people together for a meeting that would inventory the media that needed attention, so that people could be assigned in a systematic way that would leave all important places covered.

If we won’t do this work, it is not so clear to me than anyone else will. On the Palestinian side, it is abundantly clear that they have all bases covered.

Chairman Mao Aids the Effort
Not by choice, of course.

I sit sometimes on the RCC’s geirus beis din. Even outside of that role, my own brand of kiruv activity puts me in contact with some interesting people, including quite a few non-Jews who express an interest in converting. I do a pretty good job, I think, in the initial phase of trying to talk them out of it. I don’t treat it as some ceremonial service, but talk up a good case for becoming a righteous gentile.

On the way back from the Consulate, I wound up on the phone with a woman who has been a frequent Shabbos guest. She arrived from China only a very few years ago. Until about two years ago, she had never heard of G-d. She had spend decades providing herself with the skills, and positioning herself with the ability to get out of China and make it to the US.

Once here, she somehow met some Jewish women in Manhattan, who decided to teach her about Judaism. They urged her to visit a synagogue, and gave her the address of Temple Emmanuel, a high temple of classic Reform. Armed with the address, she set out by foot, and found herself in front of a religious-looking building which she entered, and where she was received warmly.

She had walked into the wrong building. In the Orthodox shul she entered, she was given some home hospitality, and quickly directed to a kiruv minyan. After months there, business took her to California where she was referred to me. Besides some Shabbos visits to my home, we had some long conversations. Driving back from the Consulate, my head filled with the precariousness of Jewish survival, I couldn’t resist resuming a past conversation, in what I proudly thought was an underhanded manner.

I asked her what she thought about the war, and she responded that it was hard to figure out why so many people would deny Israel the right to defend herself. Triumphantly, I launched into a monologue about the ubiquitous and inexplicable nature of hatred of Jews. I pointed out to her that what she was witnessing would make her an object of disgust to hundreds of millions of people, and more recently, a moving target to some shahid-wanabe. If there ever was a time in history not to become Jewish, now was that time.

In my mind, I was fulfilling the Gemara’s instruction to speak to the conversion candidate about the calamitous state of the Jewish people. She, however, was reading my mind. She figured on the reason I had asked; she asked if she could take a few minutes to give a long response to a question I had asked her months before. She obviously liked the life-style of the observant Jew. You can’t become Jewish out of convenience, I had argued. You have to be convinced that its principles and beliefs are true. How could she assure herself that she understood Judaism and believed in it, not just liked its furnishing life with meaning and purpose? Perhaps she told herself that she also believed, simply because it was now more convenient.

She now was ready to give her answer.

“When I was a child, the Great Cultural Revolution took over the country. My father had owned a small business before the Communist Revolution, but that ended with the introduction of communism. The Great Cultural Revolution had a voracious appetite for victims. My father was accused of being a capitalist, of acting illegally. The charges were completely false. Like so many others, he was stood on a stage in front of hundreds of people. He was accused. He was mocked. He was beaten. All they wanted was his admission, and a declaration of contrition.

“He wouldn’t do it. It would have been much easier, much more convenient. He said that it was against his principles to admit to something he did not do.

“So you see, I was taught to stand by principles, whether convenient or not. If Judaism is true – and I now know that it is – I will stand by it, even if the rest of the world wants to kill me for it.”

Maybe I’ll go easier on her in the future.

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12 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    Today there will be a huge rally in support of Israel’s fight against terror at 11AM in front of the Israeli consulate in Manhattan. I am imagining that a large crowd of orthodox Jews will be in attendance to show support. With the US administration changing hands within 10 days, a new President and Secretary of State must see that Jews support the Jewish State in security affairs. There are always those who find fault in rallies; minhag goyim, standing together with Jews of different religious affliation, waste of time, passivity is the Jewish way, etc. etc. Now when the southern residents of Israel are under attack (close to 3/4 million holy Jews) and dedicated messengers of gd guised as soldiers are putting their lives on the line, COMMUNITY SUPPORT at rallies/tefillah groups are essential. Getting the word out to friends, neighbors, newspapers, coworkers & to all facets of media, that Israel is justified in this battle is imperative.

    “(My personal position is far less hesitant about full cooperation and active support of the government. We are no longer in a pitched battle with Secular Zionism for the hearts and minds of our young people. We should move on, and find a modus vivendi that allows us to use all our talents and resources – in addition to our all-important contribution of spiritual gifts like davening and learning – in the ongoing battle for our Land. More on that some other time.)”
    R. Pesach Lerner voiced an opinion in an issue of Jewish Life (YI magazine) that once again the subject of Israel be reintroduced to the talmidim of yeshivos and bais yakovs. Many schools need advise and a curriculum to implement. We need your input R. Adlerstein to get this started….

  2. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    L Hershman wrote –

    I would like to volunteer some PR efforts in the capacity you mentioned – responding to popular blogs, smaller newspapers, etc. – please let the readership know how we can get in touch with someone coordinating this effort.

    I wish I could identify such a person or organization. I don’t know of anyone like that. At the meeting at the Consulate, I proposed – at least for LA – that each shul rov identify one congregant with leanings in this direction, and ask him/her to identify three or four people in the shul with writing skills and fire in their blood. Each shul would then forward the email addresses to one person, who would either find a way to map out strategy, or work in conjunction with a Consular figure. (LA’s consulate has a terrific deputy consul, Shahar Azani, in charge of media affairs.)

    In the meantime, the best I can do to direct lone writers looking to get involved is to follow the lead of CAMERA on their website.

  3. L. Hershman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstien –

    I would like to volunteer some PR efforts in the capacity you mentioned – responding to popular blogs, smaller newspapers, etc. – please let the readership know how we can get in touch with someone coordinating this effort. thank you.

  4. yy says:

    Since when is using pseudonyms on blogs a problem??

    Eytan Kobre’s heavy handed and sarcastic put down of R.Y. seems way out of place, from my rather neutral viewpoint. Either you see him as too agressive and critical and therefore censor him, or you ignore him, or you respond to his ISSUES.

    But to go to town for using that pseudonym and daring to post comments at other times that are similarly critical of the orthodox establishment??

    I find it easier to take with a grain of salt those who are consistent. Nu-nu, so he’s got a bone to pick. That’s part of the service of a blog!

    So what really is it about his words that got your goat, Eytan?

  5. la costa says:

    listening to the local palestine radio show, they were quite pleased that the media voices one is increasingly hearing of Jews is veering to the leftist-non-or-anti-zionist-angst leaning jews across the media spectrum.
    as if frum jews don’t have enough on their plate, imagine the aguda world having to be Israel’s major advocate…
    of course, we have to draw the line at counter-demonstrations on shabbat…..

  6. LOberstein says:

    Intermarriage is the underlying reason.If your rabbi tells you that Israel doesn’t consider your grandchild Jewish ,you would be cool, too.
    Israel is not seen as weak and sympathetic, but is portrayed as strong and agressive.Just watch the news. Few Jews get their views from Jewish sources.Birthright Israel is on the right track, I hope they can still function in this financial crisis.

  7. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Reb Eytan,

    Yasher koach. You got it right – both in regard to my tone, and my content.

    My point was not to trash the heterodox. I offered two explanations for their absence, including the one that Reb Yid champions. Whatever the explanation for their absence, the Orthodox are still playing catch-up baseball with the other movements, because even with attenuated enthusiasm, they are more involved than us. I was trying to goad more of our own into dropping their complacency and getting involved. There is a lot to do.

    The diminishing of heterodox support for Israel hardly warrants my spending time googling what most of our readers have seen. The polls show that, outside of the Orthodox community, fewer and fewer young people identify with Israel. I will be greatly surprised to learn of Orthodox members of JStreet. Professionally, I am on the road with the non-Orthodox more often than most rabbis, and I have personally encountered temples and rabbis cool to Israel, and more who are personally warm, but unable to be outspoken because large numbers of their congregants are not.

  8. Reb Yid says:

    To Eytan Kobre:

    I heartily agree with you that Orthodox support for Israel is robust. But Rabbi Adlerstein chose a very, very poor example from which to launch his generalizations in that regard.

  9. Eytan Kobre says:

    This comment addresses the previous commenter, who calls himself “Reb Yid.” I won’t address him as such, however, because while I can live with people not using their real names on the Internet and elsewhere in their writing (although I’m certainly not fond of the practice), I think it’s disgraceful for this commenter to hide behind a name that he thinks gives him legitimacy on this site, reappearing every so often to take potshots at Orthodoxy and Orthodox people from behind his moniker. I await his summoning the courage to take responsibility under his real name for his Orthodox-bashing, subtle or otherwise.

    As to the substance of the comment: 1) If he’ll re-read Rabbi Adlerstein’s post, he’ll notice that the writer made quite a good-faith effort to explain and judge favorably the virtual absence of non-Orthodox clergypeople (yes, CLERGYPEOPLE);

    2) Does the commenter take issue with the writer’s assertion that “[i]n recent years, it has become clearer that the diminished ardor of American non-Orthodox Jews for the Jewish State has tied the hands of even ardently pro-Israel rabbis, who don’t wish to ruffle the feathers of the JStreet and Americans for Peace Now types, who are cool to shows of enthusiastic support for a government they cannot believe in”?

    Since the commenter is involved in Jewish communal life and sociological studies and ostensibly knows the score about how attitudes to Israel have been shifting and the disparities between Orthodox and heterodox in this regard, it would be interesting to hear his response to the writer’s assertion, painful as the truth may be;

    3) One more thing. Since the commenter sees fit – wrongly, as above — to dump on the writer for speaking negatively of, and failing to assume the best about, non-Orthodox Jews, I thought it might be relevant to quote in full the following recent comment on another article by Rabbi Adlerstein’s about Bernard Madoff’s supposed Orhtodoxy:

    “At the very least, one must characterize Madoff as one who was very supportive of Orthodox institutions. And at any rate, Ezra Merkin most certainly IS Orthodox. While it may very well be the case that Merkin did not know of Madoff’s scheme, it appears that in many cases (such as YU) Merkin charged a considerable fee for his services…which seems, from all accounts, to have been nothing more than depositing his client’s funds straight into Madoff’s fund. If true, it’s an utter shanda.”

    Let me try to recall the name of the person posting that comment. One moment now — I can’t, because he didn’t use it. Instead, he used some silly pseudonym like . . . what was it now? Oh yes, “Reb Yid.”

    What an utter shanda.

  10. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The demography of the Jewish community is shifting toward the tipping point at which all the major Jewish communities are going to be majority frum. The Orthodox youth who mostly spend a year in EY after HS are way more committed for Israel than the non-O youth are about ANYTHING.

  11. Reb Yid says:

    It is telling that Rabbi Adlerstein did not pick up on the probable reason for the Orthodox (and especially haredi) overrepresentation: winter break/vacation for most Jews and their families (and their schools, including many day schools), during the last week of December and early January.

    20-30 years ago, vacation schedules weren’t as distinct between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, and certainly not as distinct between Orthodox and community day schools. The Orthodox day school that I attended was open on Chol Hamoed Sukkot, for just one example.

    Had the Consulate called a meeting during “Yeshiva Week” [vacation], I suspect the configuration in the meeting would have looked a bit different. How would you have reacted had a non-Orthodox Jewish leader blogged and speculated about the lack of attendance among the frum community?

    Increasingly, we are living in different worlds with different worldviews…even our vacation times are becoming different, and neither group even seems to be adequately aware of the other’s schedules or rhythms. At minimum, to cast doubts on why there weren’t more non-Orthodox Jews in the room–is grossly unwarranted in this particular case.

  12. Chaim Fisher says:

    What a fascinating idea: a majority of frum at the Consulate. Obviously the great edifice of US Jews’ support for Israel is beginning to show real cracks. Compare it to Israel: even Amos OX, whoever he is, and MereX, whoever they are, supported Operation Cast Lead.

    Thank you Rabbi Adlerstein for this report.