Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why We're Jerks

In light of some of the despicable actions reported over Sukkos by Orthodox Jews - lack of basic manners, proper derech eretz (similar to manners), and simple respect for one another - Elie asks simply:
But I guess the first question would be, how on earth did we ever get the way we are now?
I responded in the comments (so please excuse the lack of clarity, grammar, and other problems) what I think much of it stems from. This is but one of many issues, but one I've noticed more and more often, particularly the longer I've lived in New York City:
Too many people wanting their children to have everything they didn't, resulting in people who think everything is coming to them? It's one of many possibilities.

People don't teach proper middos often enough, and I am a firm believer that this is more true in larger cities, particularly NY/NJ. The more 'rushed' everything is around you, the more you are forced to 'fend for yourself' in all the little things. This leads to a subconscious disposal of basic manners.

People like to point to the great way people responded on 9/11 as a testament to how 'nice' and 'great' NYers are. While that was great, rallying in a time of crisis is not surprising or incredibly extraordinary. People aren't generally 'bad' people who are completely selfish. They simply lose focus of what's important, getting swept up by what's going on around them on a daily basis.

What's important is to have that kindness, that derech eretz, that kavod ha'adam, that unselfishness - *all* the time, not just when it's desperately needed.

If doing it for its own sake isn't enough, look at these posts and see what happens when we don't.


  1. I agree that middos education needs to be more emphasized. Okay, now I mean this next bit in the nicest way - I do enjoy and appreciate your blog very much . . . I live in the greater NYC area too. While it can't be argued that the (negative) reputation NYers, and NY frum Jews in particular, is not completely unfounded, I feel like there has been an undercurrent of NY-bashing, not all of it playful, on this blog as well as others I read often. I know lots of transplants to this area are here for reasons like school, work, family obligations, social reasons, and that it is not the first choice for many of you. However, just as I'm sure those living in other frum communities dislike being generalized about, it would be wise to avoid lumping us all together. It comes across as a little self-righteous and I don't think that's your intention.

  2. Raggedy Mom - I was kind of expecting some comments along those lines, though I tried to make it clear that's not my point.

    We actually had this discussion at my house over Shabbos Shuva, where a good friend argued the same thing. It's not a "NY-bashing" session as much as it's making a point, mostly to ourselves.

    The idea is to point out the actions and attitudes that pervade the NY-NJ area, particularly the Jewish communities - where we "expect better". PsychoToddler and others have made the point well in other places. The NYC area is generally looked to as a guide to 'how Jews should be', primarily because it's where most frum American Jews live. This is where the more recognized names are, this is where you have seriously big Orthodox communities. It is important to remember the flaws that come with it, particularly when people in other communities "bring NY" to those communities.

    I really want to write more about this, but here's one example I gave that Shabbos: I notice that when I'm in NY, I act a certain way that I don't like. I drive a certain way, I cross streets a certain way, I answer my cellphone at certain times, I generally do a number of things that are perfectly normal here in NY. They may not even be "rude" in NY. But if I'm in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Baltimore, or Los Angeles, and I do any of those, they are rude and they do upset people. Most of all, they upset me. I think they show a lack of manners, even when I'm in NY - and yet they're "normal" here.

    When someone says "Stop acting like a NYer", it's meant to tell the person in a humorous way that what they're doing is rude. My friend gave an example of when he was in a bagel shop and someone was talking loudly on the phone while in line. Someone else said something along the lines of "Welcome to New York", clearly referring to the person on the phone. The person then apologized to whomever he was talking to, hung up, and then apologized to the people in line.

    My friend thought the NY line was mean-spirited, meant to "bash NY". I don't see it like that. I see it as a nice, funny way of reminding the person that what they're doing IS rude. I asked what the person *should* have said. "Could you please get off the phone, it's rude?" I think that doing so - while driving home the point - is far, far more embarrassing to the person on the phone. Like this, it's more of a 'Hey, this may be NY, and maybe a lot of people do what you're doing, but think about it for a minute.' Nobody has to be embarrassed, everyone gets to laugh at the NY line.

    The point is not to bash NY (however much we may joke about it) - the point is to drive home the idea that there is a certain way people should conduct themselves, and that NYers *as a whole* do not conduct themselves that way. Is it everyone? Of course not. Is it a majority? Probably around half. Is everyone from "out of town" super-nice? Of course not. Can you spot a NYer or an "out-of-towner" easily? Yes. It's not okay to generalize and lump everyone together - but that's not what we're doing. We're just trying to get everyone - especially ourselves - to act properly.

  3. I should also note (wow, that was a looong comment) that you're right: NY is NOT the #1 choice for most of us. This is for a large number of reasons, one of the main ones being that there *are* too many people who do act that way. For the same reasons, I am less inclined to live in other cities (or parts of them) where this same attitude has taken over.

    The point of the post was the reverse of bashing. It was to show that NYers are somewhat forced into the lifestyles they lead by the constant rush, the push to 'get ahead', the incessant traffic and the fact that unless you do 'push a bit' you can easily get stomped on. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean it's "okay" or the right way to act. Acting with proper derech eretz, with proper middos, takes precedence over this drive - especially when you're not in the situation where you need to do so. Hershey Park and Six Flags - on "Jewish Day" no less! - are places where it should be a given that this attitude *must* be dropped... and yet people couldn't separate their daily actions from what's supposed to be a fun trip. What's the rush? He can't wait for the guy in front of him to let someone in? Will the extra minute really affect him so much?

    (I guess I'm pretty much writing it all here, eh?) :)

    Yes, we "out-of-towners" generalize a bit. Yes, it comes off as self-righteous. What's sad is that if I were outside of NY right now, I'd feel really bad about it. Since I'm sitting in NY, I have the thought running through my head: Well, that's the way it gets done. That's the way the point gets across.

    And isn't that the problem?

  4. Ezzie, thank you for responding to my post thoroughly and coherently. Your points were well-stated and I hear them. I still bristle when non-native NYers are the ones slinging most of the mud, though.

    You've mentioned aliyah plans before (we're hoping to go in ~3 years ourselves), and as I'm sure you know, in some of these ways you've discussed, Israel makes NY look like a veritable Milwaukee. Cell phone conversations in inappropriate places? Bad driving? How about neighbors walking in, opening your fridge, and criticizing your food choices and the price you paid? Unabashedly rifling through your medicine chest? (Yes, these tidbits are from personal experience).

    My grandfather, ob"m, moved to Israel from the ashes of Europe in 1948, and was known to "get things done" by walking into government offices and turning over a table or two. THAT'S how it was done there, then, and to some extent, albeit differently, now as well. After living in NY for a while, consider yourself well-trained!

  5. Can you spot a NYer or an "out-of-towner" easily? Yes.

    «ahem» ;-)

  6. «ahem» ;-)

    Okay, *usually*. ;)

  7. Ezzie - Israelis are known for their rudeness and pushiness (generalization of course, but you can tell the difference between Israelis and Americans in line)and it used to be excused as the "Holocaust survivor" mentality - the perceived need to push in order to survive. I don't think it has anything at all to do with that - especially now at least one generation later. I think that in any place that Jews are either a majority or perceived to be one (some places in NY/NJ are mostly Jewish) then the Jews are not afraid of Hillul Hashem and just let themselves go. Of course the concept of Hillul Hashem applies to what other Jews think of you, and not just the goyim, and there is of course the point that good middot are important even if noone else is "looking". But some people don't internalize this.

  8. Coming from NY and ending up in London, I can safely say they are jerks everywhere.

    BUT there sooooo many amazing people out there as well, that it seems such a shame to focus on the bad ones, although they seem to give a bad name to all of us.

  9. -->I feel like there has been...NY-bashing...on this blog as well as others...

    New York bashing...recently...around here...


    --when is the next sheduled event, I'll clear my schedule.

  10. WBM - That's exactly what both Serach and (kind of) my brother said last night. I think that's probably (sadly) true. The problem is exactly what you said: Chillul Hashem applies always, not just around non-Jews.

    Kasamba - There are so many amazing people. Sadly, we are always going to be drawn to the train wrecks and not the pretty flowers.

    G - LOL. Just assume that it's on a pretty regular basis.

    RaggedyMom - Israelis could be, and often are, worse than NYers. As WBM said, the problem may be that there are mostly Jews around. OTOH, Israel is improving drastically as of late - see Jameel's post at from a few weeks back. I've seen a general trend in that direction in Israel in the two years I was there alone. They're getting there...!

  11. If I don't bash cleveland you'll wonder what is wrong with me, so here is my be happy you don't live there comment.

  12. Here is my theory about NY Jews:

    They don't realize they are in Golus.

    Frum Jews who live in other towns in the US are always aware that they are the minority, that there is a potential for chilul Hashem, almost as if they are always under a microscope. New Yorkers (I am thinking specifically Brooklyn, I am not sure if this mentality goes beyond that) act as if they own the world - the way all New Yorkers act to some extent.

    Some of this is, no doubt, because New Yorkers have such an easy time living frum lives compared to their non-NY counterparts. Kosher restaurants, mikvehs, shuls - all within easy reach. The old expression "shver tsu zayn a yid" does not apply to New Yorkers.

    This brings up troubling issues - how can people so steeped in Torah living act so badly? - but, to me at least, it seems consistent with what I have seen.

  13. Elder, don't think so much.

    "New Yorkers (I am thinking specifically Brooklyn, I am not sure if this mentality goes beyond that) act as if they own the world"

    Everything else mentioned may/may not add to it.

    --hey, this is fun. I miss this since I left yeshiva.

  14. I still bristle when non-native NYers are the ones slinging most of the mud, though.

    The reason it's the non-native NYers doing the slinging is because NYers don't realize there's anything wrong with their behaviour. They think this is the way everybody acts.

    You don't notice it until you're out of NY and in another community.

    If I get within 10 miles of the NY city limits, I feel my behaviour change. My BP goes up, my temper flares, my driving becomes more erratic, and I start spewing four letter words.

    Too many people in too little space who all think they deserve to own the world.

    (FYI I was born and raised in NY and moved away at age 25)

  15. PT - Increased blood pressure, erratic behavior - you might want to have that checked out by a doctor or something ;) FYI - I could tell you the name of the town in Poland where my grandfather was from, but then I'd have to kill you . . !

  16. PT - Increased blood pressure, erratic behavior - you might want to have that checked out by a doctor or something ;) FYI - I could tell you the name of the town in Poland where my grandfather was from, but then I'd have to kill you . . !

  17. Oh well, I thought that was enough of a hint that you actually know who I am . . . maybe being out of NY for so long has dulled your senses? :)

  18. Ohhhhhhh.

    Glad you finally got an "ID".