April 2011

Top of This issue Current issue



                             Sy  Schechtman


       The Jewish entity has been perceptible for over well over 3500 years in legend, folk lore and their  imperishable Torah—the Five  Books of Moses.  In  all this time it has beguiled, instructed, admonished, inspired,  and exhorted—and even at times threatened---  us on the upward human path to mortal holiness.  Still only a very tiny aspect of the human mass on Planet  Earth.   Now evidently  only about two tenths of one percent  of all sentient mortals  with no enriching thoughts of obvious near term growth. Indeed, strenuously still divided against their fellow avowed other  Jews into many disagreeing and discordant  sects and sub sects.   In all their long and still tenuous  history,  still agreeing only on two  fundamental principles--- according to modern Jewish sages---never again a horrendous atrocity such as the Holocaust,  and the establishment of a national homeland such as Israel  on the biblical holy site of ancient Jerusalem  and surrounding land, sacred to all three western faiths---Jew, Christian and Moslem.   

       That postage stamp size entity  mandated  by the United Nations  in l948,---the state of Israel---  no bigger than a tiny dot on a world map, even only most minuscule on a regional  map of the middle east,  has never been accepted by the    neighboring  Arab states, who still vow “to push the Jews into the sea” and thus void this last place of refuge and safety  in the evidently  enduring human bias against Jews.

         And since its inception over 65 years ago the Jews of Israel have had much anxiety in settling into this somewhat less than  exuberantly welcoming atmosphere.  The somewhat grim reality involved in “taking out the daily garbage”  that a ruling  Jewish entity had to oversee in the dubious  Arab Jewish attempt at concord and perhaps cooperation.  Indeed, the dynamic former Arab leader, Yasser Arafat, always agreed at the frequent “peace sessions” with the Israelis and neutral UN mediators  to comply,  but then speaking ardently in   Arabic to his own  followers  that their prime  goal  was exactly that which Hitler vowed in his most compelling Nazi ardor------Yuden Frei---Free of  Jews!  The fascinating and  and frightening thing was that most people knew what Arafat was really saying.   Also that the   first thing that little three and four year old kids in a mosque type school  learned was not basic toilet  hygiene but how to remove very carefully  the  pin  from a hand grenade  and throw it at a Jewish soldier.  Of course, for a while only dummy grenades were used.   And most probably they were well toilet trained before they could  aim at a soldier with  a truly lethal grenade. This educational regimen was also  not  a secret,  but well intentioned people hopefully ignored it.   As they did Hitler and his book Mein Kampf, written while he was in jail in l924.   Where he elucidated   clearly his hopes and fears;  prominent among which were the dangers of both greedy Jewish malevolent capitalists and Russian Bolshevik revolutionaries.  Easily conflated by the willing potential anti semite that the demon Jew was a necessary societal target for removal and perhaps eradication.   Arafat  clearly skillfully  followed in Hitler’s very successful anti Jewish polemical tactics.

       Three direct wars, indeed,  have been fomented by Arab arms,  starting  with the l948 rejection of the United Nation declaration of the validity of the new Jewish state,  then the l967 and 1973(Yom Kippur War) attacks,  both successfully repelled by the new Jewish State.   A period of resigned, grudging acceptance followed, but true compliance was never achieved.   Instead the insidious terror of individual suicide bombing began and the Jews,  more or less in self defense,  curtailed their nascent hiring of local Arabs  to fill the jobs their growing enterprise was creating.   Instead creating hindering check points to screen possible terrorists  from entering Israel.  And now building a nationwide tall mesh fence, to reinforce the screening check points already in place.  In Israel itself there was already home grown violence,  the organized rock throwing of Israeli Arab children and young adolescents known as the Intifada.  And in the rear of the child rock throwers often adult Hamas  troops  who  the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had to avoid  for    fear of  hurting  the rock throwing youngsters,   who inadvertently(?)  no doubt,  were shielding the Palestinian soldiers.  And well thrown rocks,  can be lethal too!

         Most important  was the fact that in all         the ensuing years after Israel’s victory and acclaimed statehood, won with battlefield approval by the United Nations, Arab  intransigence  diplomatically---by refusing to sign a peace treaty, left open their still festering wound and increasing  sympathy  for the Palestinians became more common.  Now they gradually became the underdog, and the Jewish nation slowly became the  ‘Nazi like Israeli  state’.  The idea of a Jewish State, and the central concept of Zionism, as in ancient times,   became inverted to a racist  concept,  even though about 20% of the citizenry, with full voting privileges,  are Israeli Arabs.  And  this  anti Jewish feeling is again rather fashionable in higher social circles,  as openly manifested—most embarrassingly--by a French high level diplomat as “that shitty little state”  just a few years ago.

            Most   importantly,  however,   is the overriding still all powerful United States support for  Israel.  And in the higher levels of government  they are well represented with three Supreme court justices of Jewish heritage and thirty Jewish members of Congress----one senator and 29 representatives.  However,  the good news seems  to falter at the crucial  lower organizational levels. According to the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) an in depth thorough decennial survey, while the US  population  in the last 50 years has grown about 100 hundred  million—from about 200 million to 300 hundred million--- the Jewish population has remained static,  at about 5 to 6 million people.   A positive spin would call this “stable”  while a somewhat more realistic nay sayer  would be very disturbed  and call this a distinct implosion.   A puny two or three per cent  of a burgeoning strong country dynamic.    However, this is also a country where to be God fearing or at least God respecting  is now quite respectable! Despite our increasing secular mode we now have the admiring, if oxymoronic, designation of the United States as  the “exceptional country” where we still believe idealistic  things like “I am my brother’s keeper” and “I am created in God’s image”    and the “lion shall lie down with the lamb” and      a “child  shall lead them”.  All sound Hebrew Biblical  advice and hopes which still resonate deeply in the Schechtman soul!!

       That is why I have involuntarily and perhaps  inadvertantly become  a card carrying member of that nameless but persistent  new Jewish sect  that I now hereby officially dub  as the Reconservadox Jew!  Some of this of my own creative stumbling forward, but mostly  the interaction of compromise  with  what swirling modernity brings about. And mostly in relation to the inner emotions of sentient and impressionable children. And thus what both of my wives and my own  mature reflection  now believe as viable loving doctrine for comfortable and  productive family   interaction.  Essentially what that great and much quoted Hebrew prophet Isaiah proclaimed----“and a child shall lead them.”  That is,  I  started out as an ordinary Jewish youth in Boro Park, Brooklyn,  then as now, one of the most  thoroughly Jewish enclaves in the  world.    Inhabited by struggling immigrant eastern European Jews of   the pale of settlement; from Poland, Lithuana, and western Russia. Part of a wondrous mix of struggling, aspiring people who wanted mainly to assimilate into the goldene medina----the land of great opportunity.  Including, besides many avowed devout religious Jews, but also significant amount of secular, atheist, and even a few anarchists whose prime goal was financial reward.     When I was a callow youth Borough Park was somewhat  was more secular;  then  as joke, during a break  in the davening(prayer chanting)on the Sabbath  in schul( house of worship) we somewhat bored kids once stealthily tied some of the fringes  of the prayer shawls  of these very venerable men  very stealthily, around nearby chair  legs,  or other slender  posts.   Then,  when the service resumed, and they hurried back to   their seats,   many tied down talliesem (prayer shawls) were left dangling behind.   As well as many irate gossip loving prayer participants most unhappy  with this very frustrating Sabbath turn of events. A stern letter of rebuke to all parents of  young boys and pre adolescents put us  back on the straight path to orthodox conformity; even before Borough Park became even more orthodox due to the large scale infiltration  of various Chassidic Sects,  who are mostly even more scrupulous in their  worship of the tenets of their Jewish faith.    As I matured,  after my Bar Mitzvah,  I steadily became more secular  and  weaned away from my traditional  roots and Jewish orthodoxy.  Full adolescence  decreed not only sex but also psychology  and science. (Freud and Havelock Ellis).   Or at least some pseudo alluring version that  teenagers could use as part of their nascent rebellion   against parents. 

       This relatively moderate mix of secular orthodox elements stood us in good stead  throughout  my young adult life,    until  our young children became a more important  factor  in our total family situation.   I  and my late wife had married  relatively young,  a not  unusual phenomenon in those days,  especially when both sets of parents respected our wishes and  had the financial wherewithal to help support the embryonic dentist ---Myself---   then only a senior at New York University College of  Dentistry.  However those kind, loving and hopeful parents soon were rewarded with grandparenthood status with our first two children,  a girl and a boy.   And we,  the youthful and striving parents that we were soon began to  realize that we were doing what  ancient Jews started doing 2500 years ago---then and even now.  We were “a whoreing after strange gods.”   As our ancient prophets such as  Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and many others have insisted,  we were almost going overboard in our social conviviality  to establish the “new young dentist” image in our new  Long Island community,  so we would have an important mental first in the minds of equally new earnest residents needing and seeking that important first dental  visit for all that vital  necessary and long term dental care.

       So,  much as we fervently  hoped new patients would eagerly materialize at my new offices in the growing suburbia of Long Island,   a few years later we were two eager parents seeking a compatible Judaism for our sensitive and selective off spring  and their equally picky parents.   We had moved away  from what we then regarded as the hindering life style restrictions  of orthodoxy  as we knew it in Brooklyn and were dabbling in various other varieties  that were around.  And there were a few other nascent group  models.  Reform, conservative,  and a  very small  Reconstructonist  group that met bi-weekly in member’s homes.   We chose the Reform Temple because of the young charismatic rabbi who was perhaps even younger than we were.   But quietly fluent, evidently sincere and compelling.  And  soon learned that there was much room at the top!  That is, a  new suburban temple  eagerly makes good use of all willing hands.   And I guess,  fortuitously,   I was at that age were less mundane,  crass material aspects of  existence as making enough money, or only perfecting my golf swing,  became more important.   The complex mystique of myth and reality in our 3500  or more  year  Jewish heritage  literally enthralled, troubled and challenged. Soon I willingly accepted different posts and assignments,  and began to attend every Friday evening service.   In answer, I suppose,not far social reasons but whether we were positioning our kids for a wholesome religious experience.  And by that time we both knew that a religious reverence of some depth was vital.

.   (In Reform theology  the prime Sabbath service is Friday night.  When a Bar Mitzva  occurs then the Saturday morning service has precedence). 

       This routine became my infallible routine and and when looked  around one Friday  night a few years later  I was the president and we had a new Rabbi!   The young, charismatic prior one  had lost some of his conviction and gone on to more alluring posts.   But we continued for many years  in the Reform ranks, perhaps with less of the zeal of new members but still dutiful dues paying fairly regular attendees.    But then a marked,  almost drastic disruption  planned deliberately but still quite unsettling.     We uprooted ourselves  from the fairly placid retirement  routine   of Long Island  and moved across  the not so wide  Hudson River  to Princeton, New Jersey,  where my second wife’s family  lives, mostly in Conservative Judaism’s ranks.   For a while we joined the large Reform temple not too far away,  but found the Conservative Temple much closer and we knew some of the people from our brand new neighbor new neighborhood—plus,of course some of her family.  But most important was the compatibility of the theology.   Two sides of a reverent religious Jewish  message not as stringent   as  the   orthodoxy we perceived heretofore.   To paraphrase Robert Browning “God’s in his heaven,  All’s right with the world”.

       However, there is one other crucial   test of the validity  of my Reconservadoxy.   Another of my children  has embraced Lubavitch Chassidism,  one of the more dynamic outreach Jewish religious sects, with world wide implications.   They believe strongly  in  urging  more Judaism on existing Jews.   While I am inordinately proud of my other splendid children  when I see  his seven children  and grandchildren and my steadily accumulating great grandchildren,  in the face of almost insurmountable hardships that  he and his valiant wife had to overcome with ensuing  birth defects,  I am quite grateful and proud.   And I realize that there quite different dress and way of life does not handicap our true familial and religious ties.   And Reconservadoxy maybe be only an age old Jewish way of “touching all bases” as we all of faith, in our own  way,  await the judgement of God and/or history. But, of course, at the moment the Jew View is somewhat dire and while we  certainly do not need a Red (Reed)Sea miracle,  it would be most reassuring if somehow Ahmadinajab and his malevolent anti Israeli diatribes  would somehow disappear.   And reconservadox Jews can then still find their most comfortable niche—myself included!!-- in the usual broad spectrum  mentioned above, so that we and our fellow Jews gain momentum against the inevitable inroads assimilation is making.   Not only is Israel in constant peril but our home diaspora base in this country is  evidently shrinking.   Intermarriage and assimilation are the twin culprits.

       Most somewhat feckless Jews--myself included--- are still standing hopefully in place waiting to keep the so called 614th Commandment

(there are 613 in the Torah).  This latter edict is by Emil Fackenheim,  noted Jewish theologian Emil Fackeneheim of the   Holocaust.   Essentially he “commands”  that all Jews must not give Hitler  his posthumous  victory  by forgetting their Jewish roots and identity. 

          But unfortunately nobody is saying Heil Hitler any more, but who’s Hitler?!