Monday, August 20, 2007

would you like a whine to go with that bigotry?

okay, so I had a whole post in the works about this wedding, I went to it, it was more egalitarian than anything I've ever been to before, I had ideas, thoughts, stage fright, words of wisdom. Oh, and a fantastic dress.

Forget it all.

Oh, where to begin? Let's begin here, with Orthomom's reporting on an article published in a local paper bemoaning the Orthodox Jewish influence in the Five Towns (Rockaway, in particular) in New York. Now, I won't defend any Jew simply because of who his/her momma happens to be, and yes, we have our share of zealots, nutcases, and simply quirkies. I'd be a quirkie, I believe. But still, good grief! Who is this Howard Schwach, and what bug is coiling in his brain?

He writes a mediocre article, and a vicious one. I'm only grateful that it's an opinion piece - it claims enough fact to make me livid over his idea of what constitutes good reporting. Oh, and he cites as his hero the by-now famous Noah Feldman, he of the opinion piece in the recent NYTimes magazine.

Oh, my, Noah Feldman.

We're a little luddite over here, with no newspaper, no TV, and it wasn't until the Pater emailed about Mr. Feldman that I realized that someone was trashing the local school. Again. What do they have, a big bullseye painted on them?

Now, I am clearly no real fan of the institution (see here or here), and frankly, it's entirely besides the point. Let's strip away some of the unecessary stuff, which as far as I can tell is mostly added to gain reader sympathy (although, unlike Mr. Schwach, Feldman crafts his well): * the photo was not cropped. Thus saith the photographer, the NYTimes does not disagree, who cares. It's a small detail, let's not linger over it.

* Yes, Orthodox Jews number among them some dangerous, wrong-headed people, and occasionally they arm themselves and do awful things. Yes, true, and while this is a terrible thing, the actions of the individual do not reflect the whole in these cases, for which I am grateful. Moving on.

* Okay, no arguments here: Orthodox Judaism is a multi-layered legal structure, carefully assembled around a work of faith (Torah She'be'al Peh and Bich'tav, the written and oral texts). It is also old, and the whole thing needs to be carefully handled, respectfully but ruthlessly managed in order for it to fit into our complex modern lives. It's a fine line that we often fail to walk well. I've had rabbis who were impressive in their compassion and intellectual reach, I've had others blinkered by their fear of stepping outside of the bounds of the faith, as they saw them. Both types saw themselves as practicing Orthodox Judaism, each in a very different way. So, nu?

When naming the boys, the Man and I had one simple point of agreement: most children we know have two names, one in Hebrew and one in English. You'd have Max/Mordechai, Sandra/Shulamit, etc. We felt that the role of the modern Orthodox Jew is to live in two worlds, the world of his synagogue and religious community and the secular world in which he'll work. We wanted our boys to live fully in each, to avoid as much as possible, the split identities of home and work. I've seen my father and sibs struggle with their Jewish identities outside of the home, and I've done so myself - it's tough. How split, how different do you want to be? Hoping that the boys could be impossibly, simply themselves, we gave them one name.

But it's hard. What do you do when your co-workers are all going out to lunch each Thursday, and you can't eat anything at the non-kosher restaurant? Do you quietly stay behind and lose the cameraderie, or do you go and sit in front of a little green salad, your menu choice emphasizing your difference? Do you wear a kipa to work? People have specific associations with a yarmulke, and the cutting edge of what's new and hot is not among them. Wear the kipa (yarmulke) and see your career stagnate? We're not talking out and out antisemitism here, folks, we're talking the same kind of unthinking bias that makes it hard for obese people to move up the ranks to top jobs. So, nu, what to do? I have yet to find a comfortable answer to this.

Yes, it's hard. And yes, people make bad choices, silly choices in trying to walk the line. In trying to teach the line. But that is not the point.

When Feldman married a non-Jewish woman, he made a choice: his children will not be considered Jewish in the community where he was raised and educated. You can say that he married her in the face of religion, to spite his religious upbringing (many have said as much), he says that he married her as part of his choice to express himself as a Jew. I'd say - I'd hope - that he married her irrespective of it. If her non-Jewish status was part of his expression of his Judaism, then I'd hate to be in his psychological shoes, and I'd certainly hate to be in hers. The best we can hope for here is that he loves this woman, and his choice of partner is because she is the right person for him in his eyes, rather than a political challenge to family and friends.

Because that's what he did: there is no way to escape that he knew that he was making a choice that would say to his school, his community, I do not choose what you choose. I am leaving your flawed philosophy, your imperfect spiritualism for one of my crafting. He said this loudly, almost aggressively, then was sulky when his community did not embrace his choice? Oy.

Did they crop the photo? Did they not include his birth announcements on purpose? certainly my alumna magazine has failed to include mine, and they couldn't give two bent pins for who I married. Not at all the point. Flawed, imperfect people - and I include Mr. Feldman here - doing flawed, imperfect things.

What's the big deal? I'd rather worry about the people that Feldman's opened the door for, like our Mr. Schwach and his ilk. While Feldman is dramatically shaking his head sadly over the moern Orthodox, Mr. Schwach is less focussed on making imperfections into moral crevasses. He wants to air a little bigotry instead, and Noah Feldman has offered the perfect breeding ground for it.

How sadly imperfect. How worrying in its implications.

Addendum: I noticed this post written by Akiva -a guest blogger on DovBear. Seemed oh-so slightly relevant. Also, let me admire this post, written by the lovely and intelligent Chayyei Sarah. Well said.


Teri said...

Nice Blog :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say: getting one's news from the internet instead of the paper does not qualify one to be a luddite. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to transcribing my podcasts into their clay tablets.


ALG said...

Thanks for this post. It summed up many of my feelings and propelled me to finally write up my own brief response to the Noah Feldman thing.

dykewife said...

the struggle to maintain one's religious convictions in a secular world is difficult. add to that the concept that many people consider that one worships devils, sacrifices animals and little children and is sexually deviant, you have what some people think i'm about. *sigh*

marrying for the sake of making a statement is definitely a giant leap to disillusionment and divorce and is, in so many ways, sad.

i'm glad you gave your boys only one name. i love the name mordechai (add richler to the end of that and you have a famous canadian writer from montreal). i love names that also express where a person comes from.

i say "celebrate diversity!" and rejoice in difference.