Cathy Salamon and Ted Geardino are members of my Conservative synagogue. Cathy is Jewish and attended yeshiva through eighth grade. Ted is Catholic and attended catechism through eighth grade. Before marrying, they agreed to raise their children as Jews. Cathy regularly attends Shabbat services with her three children, and studies in our adult classes. She and her children accompanied me on a synagogue trip to Israel. Her children are enrolled in our religious school, Hebrew High School and youth groups. At the bar mitzvah of each of his children, Ted ascended to the bima to lead the congregation responsively in the English recitation of Psalms, joined Cathy to place the tallit on each child’s shoulders, and rose with the family when it recited the Shehechiyanu prayer.
An Opinion column by Steven Bayme and Dov Zakheim (“Not a Proud Moment for the RCA in Dealing with the Chief Rabbinate”, Feb. 7) takes frequent and explicit issue with my Jan. 21 column (“Does the US Now have a Chief Rabbinate?” Jan. 24), and left me with mixed feelings. While it is quite flattering when two distinguished and long-serving American Jewish leaders take note of one’s writing, my views on the Rabbanut [Israeli Chief Rabbinate] and its relationship with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) were misrepresented. While I am a member of the RCA and have rabbinical ordination from the Rabbanut, I speak for neither and have been publicly and openly critical of both, and especially the Rabbanut, since 2006 at the latest.
“I go to the mall and look for young girls. I stop one and tell her she is very pretty. If she looks me in the eye and says ‘thank you!’ I move on. If she lowers her eyes, shuffles her feet and demurs, I know I’ve found my prey.”
The horrific murder last month of developer Menachem Stark and uproar over the callous media coverage of his life and death has put New York’s chasidic communities again at the center of attention. Whatever the facts established around Mr. Stark’s violent end and business dealings, and apart from the variety of opinions around headlines and protests – and there are sure to be more headlines, there is now a moment to plainly discuss our Hasidic neighbors and their increasingly prominent place in our shared civic life.
When New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about Israel, he tends to irritate loyalists ready to condemn anyone making critical judgments about Israeli policies. In his 1989 book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” he mentioned his wife’s father being stopped by a friend who told him, “Your son-in-law Tom Friedman is the most hated man in New York City today.” His crime? Daring to report that Israeli soldiers behaved less than admirably in the invasion of Lebanon, and also describing Israel’s less than honorable role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians.
‘Don’t look up,” my host cautioned. “The guy to our right is one of the troublemakers. Keep walking ahead.”
He was talking about the thugs attacking individuals, and institutions, which break from conformity in the poor and tight-knit neighborhood we were walking through. We weren’t in Gaza or Afghanistan. I was on the streets of Israel, and this impressive Torah scholar was telling me about the social change he is trying to advance through teaching elite groups of rabbis and community leaders.
It’s hard to be in the middle. Politically, the far right has put mainstream Republicans on the defensive, and the left has sent centrist Democrats scurrying to identify with populism. Religiously, fundamentalism on the right has opposed any form of change, and an aggressive atheism on the left has mounted a war against traditional beliefs. Yet, while the extremes may sometimes foment revolutions, the middle keeps society going. And the middle is the hardest place to be.
I was disappointed by Paul Golin’s piece dismissing in-marriage advocates, although presumably I should be thanking him for not listing me as one of the superannuated, failed has-beens whom he claims made up the meeting on the Pew survey and its implications for the Jewish community (“In Marriage Advocates Are Living In The Past,” Jan. 31).
The setting was the annual dinner of the SAR Academy, a leading Modern Orthodox day school in Riverdale, enrolling over 1000 students from homes throughout the tri-state area. SAR’s long-standing school president closed the evening by applauding Rabbi Avi Weiss for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the Jewish people in the face of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s efforts to delegitimate him. A standing ovation ensued. For one evening, at least, grass-roots Modern Orthodoxy had spoken out in unequivocal opposition to the senseless and arbitrary actions of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.