Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A cause for hope (Part II)

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, (yes, I do realise that I have posted since then, but I wanted to keep things in chronological order,) I was invited out to lunch at a friend's house about two minutes away from where I live. Unfortunately, for me, I had to walk about 30 minutes instead, as I was staying at my old yeshiva, Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City for chag.

On the way back to the Old City, at around 5 'o clock, I walked through Ben Yehuda, which would normally be buzzing at any other time of year apart from Shabbat and the other chagim. There were a few people milling around who didn't seem to be observing the day in accordance to Jewish law, but really it was very quiet. As I approached the square at the bottom where Ben Yehuda and Yafo meet, I noticed a man blowing a Shofar. Not so unusual, I thought to myself - I'd been at the Kotel earlier in the day and heard and saw people come with their own Shofarim and blow them, almost for fun. I particularly remember seeing one twenty-something man, around my own age, who had brought his own Shofar with him, and who seemed intent on making quite a show of himself. So to see a few Haredi men standing in the square in town didn't seem to be much to take notice of.

But as I came closer, I realised that they weren't blowing "for fun," but were blowing for an elderly irreligious man. It made me smile to see the dedication these men have, to take time out on Rosh Hashana to hit the streets and do something for their follow Jews. All too often, we are bothered by the Haredis begging for money. In Jerusalem, there have been umpteen stories over the last few years of Haredis who have forced separation of the sexes on the street and on buses, and other stories of how Haredi men have rioted against Shabbat desecration. As a "dati leumi" (this term literally means national religious, but also encompasses a lot of Modern Orthodoxy) Jew, I despair when I hear how Haredi Jews use strict and dogmatic methods to make a point. And at the same time, when I see how important it is to them that every last Jew hears the Shofar, I find cause for hope.

These people knew that on Rosh Hashanah they wouldn't receive payment or a donation to their cause, but they went out anyway because they cared. Trying to scare other Jews into following the Torah will never persuade them to reconsider a change in their lifestyle, but doing things like this out of love, and without demands can.

I was reminded of how I was in a pub in downtown Jerusalem with a friend a couple of years ago on Chanukah. The pub had Christmas lights and decorations up, and there was no indication that any of the patrons of the pub cared that this was Chanukah and that to an observer, this could have been a pub in a Christian country. But in the middle of my visit, a Haredi man walked in and asked the pub staff if they wouldn't mind turning down the blaring music for a minute. They complied, and as the entire pub looked at the incongruous man in the strange clothes, he took out a menorah and candles, set them down on the side of the pub counter and started to recite the blessings aloud.

Immediately the atmosphere changed, and everyone started singing along with him. When he reached the end of each of the brachot, an almost-fierce "Amen" was heard from all around me. While most people in that pub would never have lit candles by themselves, they really, genuinely cared to see somebody come in and light for them. I only hope that the Haredi world adopts this approach more often and shares it's brand of Judaism with others rather than shunning them and criticising them for not complying.

1 comment:

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