Time To Hug A Shul
06/09/2009 - 00:00
Jonathan Mark
Riverdale Jews wanted to do something in reaction to the terrorist plot to blow up two shuls — but what? If you weren’t a rabbi or a politician getting your picture taken, the interfaith gathering (May 21) at Riverdale Jewish Center was as much of a dud as the fake bombs. On the other hand, no one really wanted to have a outdoor rally with speakers and placards. Someone suggested a candelight vigil, or community march, such as black leaders organized the other week after the accidental shooting of a black policeman. The black leaders understood that a communal display of unity and dignity was not only a tribute to the deceased but a statement of caring that would get media reaction, as well as giving a traumatized neighborhood inspiration, a sense of community, and something to do — if only to walk.  Meanwhile, several people at Riverdale Jewish Center told me they were waiting for Avi Weiss, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, to do something, but Avi doesn’t seem to want to do anything that would look like he was invading another shul’s turf, even if this is a story belongs to the neighborhood, not to any one shul or rabbi.  Here’s my suggestion. I just want to show my love for neighborhood shuls and schools — without speeches, placards, politics or anger. So let’s do what the fans of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium did, years ago, to show their love for their threatened ballpark. They decided to hug it. Several hundred people encircled the stadium, extended their arms, and stepped forward. The media was there, and the message was sent: These were people who loved their ballpark.  We should include schools, as well as shuls. Although the terrorists targeted synagogues, I’ve been seeing a lot of police around Riverdale schools in recent weeks. Not that long ago, in Chicago, a man — of the Religion That Must Not Be Named — was charged with threatening to set off explosives near Jewish schools to protest Israeli action in Gaza.  Our message to politicians and the general public? Some may hate us but we love our shuls and schools enough to hug’em.  It’s a good message to send to the police protecting us, and to our neighbors. The message is that we take these places seriously and with great emotion, but with the better angels of our nature.  You want to touch young people? Forget dull seminars and frontal programming. Hugging our shuls and schools is a stunt right out of the 1960s, something that Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters would have gotten a kick out of; it’s like the Yippie attempt to “levitate” the Pentagon, inspiring Mailer’s book; and what sports fan didn’t smile and understand hugging a ballpark?  Some guys may not be huggers, but why kiss your tzitzis or the Kotel if you can’t even hug a shul?  Keep in mind that this idea started with a ballpark. A shul and a ballpark have a lot in common. You remember where you sat as a kid. You remember being taken by your dad or grandfather. It’s where you grew up, leaned against the cars, flirted as a schoolboy, had some laughs, some l’chaims, learnt some holiness and got serious when the situation called for it. It’s where we connected not only to God but to each other.  Did anyone really give a damn about that interfaith gathering the Friday after the arrests? Interfaith gatherings are the single dullest event in Jewish life. Maybe they’re OK if you’re a professional ecumenical or a school marm, but they make me feel all stiff and scratchy, like Huckleberry Finn being dragged to church by the Widder Douglas.  Anyone who thinks our shuls are for “interfaith” or “faith” alone just doesn’t get it. Let’s show what these shuls mean to all of us. Let’s give these buildings a hug.

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