November 2009
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By Sy Schechtman

Or, how I managed to stay within the protective confines of organized Judaism from then until now. I was born into a semi orthodox household, my father a practicing agnostic and my mother a loyal adherent to her Jewish status. Typical of most first generation immigrant families they had children who would be both aggravation and wonderment to them, as they struggled to thrive economically and nurture their children –three in my family—in this most challenging, promising, but still fairly hostile environment. It was most fortunate at first that this environment was at least inadvertently restricted, not by legally mandated European ghetto areas, but by our own hidden radar psyches, that kept us socially in areas where the Yiddish language was still almost Mama Loshen---the usual spoken parlance when English was not required.

This linguistic barrier was a safe harbor that immigrant parents could relax into when assimilation problems, especially of the new schooling that their beloved progeny were involved in, even at times misunderstanding many English terms and customs that were not familiar in their relatively rudimentary grasp of this exotic new language and country. And their never was any action or thought of reciprocal sharing of both languages, or old world customs, as both parent and child were ardently committed to assimilation in to the new American ethos of equality, hard work, and opportunity for economic betterment. Some form of E pluribus unum and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness! There was, too, the unintended consequence that this rather fervent wish to Americanize was too successful. Indeed the old biblical saying “….and a child shall lead them….” led not only Jewish children being readily assimilated.--- But also their willing parents, who mostly were committed to throwing off the schackles of old country discrimination and repression. Thus literally lost in translation was that marvelous literally protean language of literary expression—Yiddish!! While it has almost no scientific vocabulary, merely crude transliterations, it is rich in idiomatic, pithy and almost poetic, phrases and interjections, many of which have refused to die and are making a slow comeback in most English language dictionaries. Some people of this rather maudlin demise of one aspect of Jewish American life insist that there are many such words. I for one delight in verbalizing them, whether as prove of my innate superiority at the moment or reverence for my distant but still lingering association with the “chosiness” of my Jewish heritage, which started way back when, at the foothills of that legendary place—Mt. Sinai and Moses.

By the time I was thirteen—Bar Mitzvah time and puberty and theoretical manhood in Judaism and also high school time, I transcended this basic social matrix and became a willing participant in the secular mix that titillated most young adults. There was Freud and Marx—sex and communism—and the reigning fashionable atheism that beguiled most of society then. The orthodox synagogues were thinly populated by ageing people while most of the younger people, including myself, were into social action and helping the poor and underprivileged, as the prime moral thrust of our religious commitment in life. Beyond the prime lustful thrust of adolescence there were perhaps echoes of our religious heritage, too, in the religious emphasis of the literary prophets, and “bring me no more vain oblations” was the social action emphasis of the literary prophets----Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, etc.---not so much ritual prayer as concrete social action for the poor. Emphasized with telling force by the Reform Jewish movement, which soon became the largest organized Jewish denomination in this country. And there was also the scientific impediment of Darwin and his fretful theory of evolution and the billions of years involved to make of struggling animal protoplasm the upright humanity we now call man and woman. This dubious proposition also darkened our theological outlook greatly. Not the somewhat joyous, hopeful 7500 years or so from Genesis One and Two in the Hebrew “Old Testament” which stated firmly that all was created seven marvelous days and at the end of each successive day “God saw all that He had made and found it very good”.

So did of most of us as we personally evolved into maturity in this goldene medina, the land where the streets, if

not literally paved with gold were full of nascent opportunity if one but strived and strained to succeed. So did most of us ardent young Jews, as we made the necessary compromises between existing reality and past perhaps somewhat exaggerated previous glory (and great tragedy), succeed in making the Jewish experience in America the most successful, and fruitful in all of the 2500 year Diaspora experience. Indeed, even with sixty years of the rebirth of the Jewish state in the promised land of Israel the United States still holds sway as the place of choice for Jews, as well as all other people, who continue to “vote with their feet” and emigrate here.

But, as indicated above, not only was the Yiddish language lost in transition but also the orthodoxy of my parents. But not, somehow, the fond memories, if not, indeed reverence for their struggles to keep the Schechtman ship of state afloat in what my father many times mused was “America goniff” the place that lured one on and sometimes promised more than it could ever deliver. And so our generation went forward balancing the new knowledge of science with the remnants of faith in a somewhat uneasy mix fact and faith, and still not rejecting either. Positive at least in the knowledge that both parent and child now would be on the same emotional and cultural page, not as previously ignorant immigrant parent versus freshly schooled American child. This projected, hopeful scenario worked well for awhile but with the coming of our kids’ years of puberty and the infamous college sit down strikes when the mystique of “not speaking to anyone over the age of thirty” became the mantra of that intransigent teen age defiance, our own household was also diminished spiritually. The warm bosum of family cohesion frayed at the edges, but did not permanently tear apart. We adapted to a rather wide multi moral view of the world, respecting a more “latitudinarian” view, especially concerning interracial matters and religion.

Our young adult children tested the waters of what heretofore we considered moral perversity by inter religious and interracial dating and even lapsing into hidebound restrictive ultra strict Chassidic Judaism. Most painful indeed for the modern sophisticated Jew who knew so much about the primitive fetishes of Freudian totems and taboos instead of the mystical aspirations of the human soul. So the Reconservadox mode began its gradual, perhaps grudging ascent and spread its aura of compromise and acceptance. “I’m all right and you’re all right”. The mathematics of at least mutual respect but really strongly buoyed up by underlying love. Adding up to a calculus of love, much more than the mundane “realistic” arithmetic total of material wealth of 100 percent. In our family experience, indeed, the clash of prior views was most deeply felt intra Jewishly, between reform Jew and “those black hated”

(and very much hated) Chassidim. And especially the Lubuvowich Chassidim, who at times had the temerity to approach apparent other Jews and urge their renewal of Jewish vows!. Indeed, in our family we gladly accepted our wonderful non Jewish shiksa into the fold as our other son’s wise choice, as my other my first son was evolving his steadfast religious path of many children and now grandchildren and as an added bonus quite a few great grand children for myself. A path that I and my late first wife were very dubious of following at first. And through all this my loyal daughter, beset by the early loss of her beloved husband, still seeking an authentic Jewish replacement mate, has raised her son into the prospective PHD ranks of Astrophysics, where another Jewish fellow named Einstein shook up the world very peacefully with his E=MCsquare dynamic equations. And most of this maturing under the very caring, watchful, but suffering affliction of chronic, incurable, long term stomach cancer of my long lingering and suffering former wife. And all now very strongly supported by my second spouse, who has a few Jewish great grandchildren of her own. We both are members of a large Conservative temple after membership in the neighboring Reform temple was not to our liking.

I will cheerfully take whatever plaudits and bows that are deemed justifed for my part in this staying the course of Jewish constancy. Luck and divine Providence most probably helped too. Reconservadoxy is also perhaps a cynical term to describe a losing long term strategy, even though a satisfactory compromise for the fickle present. The grim facts. are, however, that the percentage of Jews in the world today---about two tenths of one percent---are the lowest in the history of world and Jewish history ever. The Bible in Exodus 12:37 states that over 600,000 adults, “aside from children” left the captivity in Egypt. Today world population has zoomed many thousands of times since then and other major religions have over billions of adherents while we lanquish at only 15 million. And the Jewish fertility rate is barely at zero replacement and intermarriage is very high and the number of offspring in these marriages being raised Jewishly is only about 30 to 35%. Also unsettling, too, is that the average age of Jews in this country is about 5 years more than other ethnic groups. We are marrying later and postponing child rearing in deference to increased educational and career demands. Hence lots of “young” Jewish parents are about 40 years old, and having a second child becomes both a great achievement financially and physically.

Besides the longer term chronic demographic crisis that these figures portend are the immediate life threatening events around Israel today. Hostile Arab states who have utterly no desire to live side by side with the Jewish State. And really not enough Jews elsewhere desirous of emigrating to live in Israel and fulfill what is now a forlorn Zionist dream. And we have in the wings Iran and the looming chaos of nuclear annihilation via Ahmadinejad. However my Lubavitch contingent, who believe that the living God manifests His will in real time history are convinced that events will so arrange themselves that we will see, if only retrospectively, that Israel will survive in positive ways, as will their putative enemies now. Perhaps not like a super Reed Sea parting of the waters, but more like the lion and lamb gradually lying together in more mundane commercial or agricultural agreements that eventually foster peaceful relations and Arab employment as before the fanaticism of Hamas. Events that will raise the stature of both Arab and Jewish leaders and allow life to flourish once again in the Promised Land.------for both nations.

Mere mortals may need divine inspiration here but after all we were all created in God’s image! And this time we must all act nobly! Which, of course, would indeed be miraculous but really eminently practical for both sides.