Caffeinated musings on my place within Judaism, feminism and community. Pontification on political and social topics. Definitely not decaf.

26 July 2006

Flags and Straps

So, last Sunday’s Support Israel community-wide rally was not as good as I hoped. But, since I’m married to the rally’s main organizer, perhaps I’m a tad too critical.

First a beef about professional Jewish organizations, their structure and their management (or lack thereof). In a nutshell, most Jewish nonprofits in this community are poorly organized and bloated. They run on past glories and the pocketbooks of a few key players. Of course, since those powerful few hold the purse strings, well, you can fill in the blanks.

The annual big-deal events may bring out the dressy duds and diamonds, there’s still a vacuous quality to the interaction. I know, ‘cause I used to attend those fancy-schmancy parties. And, I quit. And, basically quit giving my money to an umbrella organization.

Why, you might ask.

Because there’s something inherent in Jewish organizations that related to being Jewish, living Jewishly, doing Jewishly and knowing shtickel of something about being a Jew.

I got burned out trying to coordinate Jewish consciousness and education from the inside of a major organization. People wanted to party, write a check and pat themselves on their backs. I’m convinced you need to have a basis in who we are as a people and what are our core beliefs before you pull out the checkbook.

True, there are many local, national and international organizations – large and small – that play a role in this community. But is there a single organization that speaks as the voice for the community. Apparently there is…and it does a lousy job.

Our local Jewish newspaper is improving. Thanks to JTA, our paper is now a step above a Federation rag. But, considering its small circulation, it’s not the singular voice.

There are several big deal organizations in town (the group formerly known as Aish, the ADL, Chabad, etc.). They all do tremendous things and provide immeasurable benefit to the community as a whole. Yet, they do not speak for everyone.

And, since we all know that two Jews = three opinions, of course there's no way in the world a single organzation can be the voice of an entire community – no matter how much any one organization wishes to take on that role.

So, where does that leave me? As an individual I struggle with finding my place in the community and building my own community within the larger one.

But where does this leave the broader community? Somewhere slightly west of nowhere. I mean, here there are something like 45,000 Jews. And how many are affiliated? Less than half.

Why is this? Demographers (pundits, voices of gloom and doom and naysayers) of many stripes, watchdogs and outreach groups (e.g., JOI) have all sorts of reasons. Some communities – Atlanta for example – are growing and affiliation is being strengthened. It seems like in many places – outside of the mainstream Orthodox communities – opposite is true

OK, I'm probably doing a disservice to gazillions of R and C Jews out there. But, the numbers (à la Neusner's Jerusalem Post article), intermarriage rates and shul membership stats speak for themselves.

I way digress... Let's get back to the topic at hand: the recent Support Israel rally.

When the first bombs started falling and we glued ourselves to our televisions watching with concern and horror, my DH, as a professional Jewish professional stepped up and said we – the community – needed to come together. A rally. That’s what we needed, he said.

And, so, since others in the community were slower on the uptake, DH took on the task – nearly single-handedly. Working nights until 1 and 2 AM (I know ‘cause I was up doing OT for work and research for school), being bombarded on Shabbat with calls and emails…he made the calls, coordinated with the press, got the speakers and much more.

Honestly, while I was/am tremendously proud of him, I was also pissed. He was nearly completely absentee for a week, scattered, over worked and non participatory.

And then…

Next thing we know, the 1,000 lb. gorilla (AKA the federation) took over, took the glory and took the credit. Anyway, he was the one doing some serious negotiation between the various factions (Brit Tzedek on the far left, AIPAC as well as other groups on the right). He was the one going into the office right after Shabbos ended and working like a dog until after the rally.

Like a mama bear protecting her cub, I was pissed. Here he was taking time from the family and from all of his other responsibilities. He was destroying our Shabbat with his crushing workload. And he was busting his tuches for someone else to take the communal kudos. It probably didn’t help that I busted his chops because I was upset for him but too it out on him.

Here’s my post-mortem assessment of the + and ∆ (delta or improvements needed).

First the positives:
+ Wet. Lots of cold water was passed out for the crowd. Constantly. It was over 90F, bright and sunny.
+ Religiously connected. Rabbi XXX from one of the main O shuls ROCKED!!! An amazing talk tying the three weeks and being “in the straits” to the current situation. It was emotional, had gravitas and made me want to say “amen” at the end.
+ Positively political. US Congressman Dave Reichert showed up and spoke... other elected officials didn't
+ Peaceful...the far left had their signs, banners and slogans but police kept the various groups separate. There was no violence like there was 4 years ago.

Now the let’s-do-better-next-time:
∆ Size:
Crowd was too small. Police estimate 2,200. What's the excuse people?! You have nowhere else you need to be on a sunny Sunday other than at the rally! I mean this town has 45,000 Jews – and 2,200 show up? A shonda.
∆ Speakers: Were lame and too wordy. Even the Jewish organizational folks the so-called planners (read: not my spouse) lined up and touted as “great speakers” were nebishy. Feh. One interfaith speaker is exempt from my scourge.
∆ Ending: Weak. Weak. Weak. When it was all said and done, I shared my assessment with DH. I said we needed to get someone to grab the mic (a group of kids, maybe?) to say "repeat after me: Am Yisrael Chai!" or something to pump up the crowd and send them off home feeling energized, connected and personally committed to taking a stand. Instead it was “blah blah thanks blah blah” and the crowd petered out. OK, so we couldn’t sing Hatikvah since we’re in the three weeks. But we could chant, clap, pound our feet, pump it up and get people motivated. Take a stand people. Write your elected officials. Show your support visibly. Get on a plane to Eretz Yisrael. Read a blog. Buy Israeli products. Eat a falafel…whatever it takes to stand shoulder to shoulder and in solidarity with Am Yisrael.

But, to end this rant on a positive note…here's the most amazing thing that happened at the rally.
Earlier that morning, DH and I were sitting on the stairs for a brief moment. We were trying to connect between the mishegas of planning and frantic emails. Anyway, we (I) started to discuss tefillin. I said I wanted to buy him a pair and DH said he's not ready.

Here I am, much more observant than my ex (who said he was going to be shomer mitzvot with me...and didn't...which explains the ex factor). Here I am, somewhat more observant than my DH. What’s up with me and partners who are not on my level?

Why, you might ask, did I not marry someone within the mainstream O community?

I ask myself the same thing. But the pool was small and the people I met were politically and socially very different (i.e., they were somewhere to the right stuck in 1954 and I was a million miles to the left.)

When I met DH, it was a real "click." And he has moved way closer to where I stand...He’s moved from being a lawyer and civil rights activist to business person to a high techie and now to "professional Jew."

But, even though he’s a “professional Jew,” he’s still not a full-time, shomer mitzvot professional Jew. And he tells me he’s not ready to go there yet. (Which explains some of my synagogue and observance related travails. But, again, I digress.)

So at the end of the rally I gathered water bottles, snacks, flags, kids and sunscreen as DH walked across the lawn to meet one of the new Chabad rabbis in town. He'd wanted to make professional contact anyway. The were closing down a table where they were helping people lay tefillin.

I said to dear DH, “Hey we were just talking about this. Why not go do it?” His response, somewhat based on embarrassment was a mumbled “another time.”

Of course, being the nudgy Chabad rabbi that he was, he managed to coax, guilt, entice and cajole DH into rolling up his sleeve.

The funny thing was that DH put out his arm and I called out stop: wrong arm. The rabbi looked up and said that he was a lefty too. Probably kinda weird for the wife to butt in here but…

How meaningful it was to watch DH lay tefillin for the first time since his bar mitzvah. At least I think he lay tefillin for his bar mitzvah. I looked over and the girls were also watching. Now, that was a high after the rally. That made it all worthwhile.


Blogger MosheHaven said...

I happened to notice your blog and wondered if you might know where I could find Chabad bentschers. I want to have some personalized to include with the thank you notes for gifts at my recent wedding.



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