Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Longest Post (Part II)

Part I

A few weeks ago, Serach and I had the pleasure of traveling to Baltimore to visit with my sister and her family. Over the course of the weekend (and truthfully, the weeks before and after), many of the decisions I’ve made in life and a number of the small and large events that really shaped my life were brought to the forefront of my mind. We arrived late Thursday night for a nice, 5-day weekend, and I took advantage of the freedom to head out and visit an old friend from Cleveland at his apartment[i]. Our families go back many decades, and our similar backgrounds often result in similar outlooks on many aspects of life. He joined us at my sister’s house for the meal Friday night, and this unsurprisingly resulted in much discussion of the past.

When we were all growing up in Cleveland Heights, our families had a number of friends from when they grew up. They had friends of all types… with all different kinds of yarmulkes and head-coverings [or lack thereof]… with many different hashkafos. At some point, mostly in the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, a large contingent of family and friends who were so inclined decided to make aliyah and did so, celebrated (as far as I can recall) by those that remained – no matter what “type”. At the same time, a large chunk of people made a different kind of aliyah… to Beachwood, Ohio. Left behind were our families, a few other “old Clevelanders”, and a community that was increasingly one-dimensional.

The point of this is not to dredge up the old history, but rather to show what was there before all this movement. It is hard to begrudge people choosing to move to communities where they feel they will be more comfortable and happier; it is certainly hard to begrudge those who made a brave move and followed their ideals[ii]. But it is important to note, as another friend did very well, the sadness that people can’t find that comfort in a community that is not one-dimensional, but instead are enticed [as we all are] by the promise of a community that is made up of people “just like you”.

There is so much to be gained from diversity. Why is it necessary to pigeonhole each Jew as part of one camp that needs not associate with another camp?

The issues the rabbi discusses are very close to my heart. Through the years I have always resisted labeling myself yeshivish, modern, modern Orthodox [sic] machmir, or whatever other ridiculous names we've come up with today? Why can't we all just be Jewish, and respect other Jews for what they are, regardless of whether they wear a hat and what kind of hat they wear? Even more so, I feel that being around people with different viewpoints is good for all parties involved.

I still recall an occasion in Israel where I was staying at my sister’s best friend from childhood for Shabbos in Mattesdorf, a fairly charedi community. She noted with a tinge of sadness that she felt she’d gained so much from her diverse class in high school in Cleveland… and that her son would never have that kind of experience[iii]. This line always made me feel a little disheartened and more than a little sad[iv].

[i] His apartment is slightly larger than our own, is in much better condition, always has available parking, and is not in the tri-state area… and the rent is about 57% of ours. This is one of those life decisions brought to the forefront that while unrelated to the post at hand, really bothers the hell out of me.

[ii] It took me about a dozen years to at all appreciate the sacrifice some of our family friends made to make aliyah. That kind of dedication and courage is simply astounding.

[iii] Ironically, this family (now with four beautiful children) moved to a smaller community in Canada where the husband – an extremely talented person who would help and learn with random children [of all types] on the street, bringing them to his home for meals and a place to talk – is continuing to have an amazing impact on young Jewish children of all types. It seems that those who truly want will always find a way.

[iv] I could go on at this point about how communities should do their utmost to reverse this trend, and how we should try and create and support “mixed” communities over homogenous ones, but a near 2-hour debate with my friend has convinced me of at least the futility of espousing this on a global level. We shall see if I still note this on a personal level, however.