Depressing times

Joseph Aaron

I am really getting frustrated.

Things are so amazingly good for us in the world and we don’t see it or feel it and things are so amazingly bad for us in the Jewish world and we do nothing about it.

Here’s a little snapshot that gives you a sense of how nuts and sick things are within Judaism today. There is a café in Jerusalem that’s open on Shabbat because there are Jews who want to be able to go to a café on Shabbat. I do not understand how those who consider themselves super Jews don’t see that you can’t force Jews to be anything, to do or not do anything. Indeed that trying to force them only makes them resist what you want them to do and be.

Anyway, so every Shabbat a bunch of super Jews march in front of the café screaming ‘Shabbos’ at the top of their lungs, trying to accomplish exactly what I don’t know. They aren’t convincing the owners of the café to not be open on Shabbat and aren’t convincing the customers not to come. Indeed, they are wasting their own Shabbat, their day of rest, standing in the middle of the street screaming at people, succeeding only in making them mad and more dug in.

And get this. On a recent Shabbat, waitresses of the café got so fed up with the shouting that they walked outside and stood in the street in front of the screaming Jews and proceeded to lift their shirts, baring their bras. And so, of course, causing the ‘Shabbos’ screamers to flee.

So in the holy city of Jerusalem on the holy day of Shabbat we had Jews screaming at other Jews while other Jews exposed their bras in return. That is what passes for political dialogue in Judaism today.

Here’s another little snapshot. As Israel gets set to hold its second election in one year, there is but one issue, namely whether Orthodox Jews should be drafted into the army when they turn 18 as every other Israeli, male and female, is.

Bibi has sided squarely with the Orthodox in opposing the draft because he needs the support of the Orthodox parties after the election to be able to form a government. One of the things the Orthodox oppose very much is anything gay, as we saw yet again during the recent pride parade in Jerusalem where marchers were attacked by those who think themselves the defenders of the faith.

And yet, none other than Bibi himself just appointed as the country’s justice minister the first openly gay person to serve in an Israeli cabinet.  Now before you give Bibi points for political courage, which he has never once demonstrated even as he is about to become the longest serving prime minister in Israel’s history, please know that the reason he appointed Amir Ohana is because he is a Netanyahu loyalist who first and foremost supports legislation that would grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in the at least three corruption cases against him.

Here’s the thing. Israel’s next 2019 election will be in September. Bibi is very likely to be indicted in October. If he is able to form a government, chances are it won’t be until November.

Which means he will have to move fast to get a law passed that will grant him immunity from prosecution. Which is where Ohana comes in. Bibi figures Ohana will keep him out of jail and that Bibi will be able to sweet talk the Orthodox parties to ignore the gay guy in the Cabinet because Bibi is with them against the draft. Of course, it was his overblown faith in his own political powers that has resulted in the second election in four months.

Another little snapshot. I had lunch on Shavuot day with a bunch of yeshiva guys. They were young and nice and I enjoyed being with them. Except when they opened their mouths. For what came out really depressed me. First, they were all convinced the media is full of ‘fake news,’ a phrase that may be Trump’s most lasting and most destructive legacy, and that it is totally biased against Israel and the Jews. Sadly, most Jews feel that way, which shows that while the stereotype has it that Jews are smart, the facts show otherwise.

Then they all talked about how much they love Trump, love how tough he is, how he isn’t afraid to say anything no matter how ugly. Judaism has always been about a person being a mensch, so much of the Torah is about teaching us each to be a mensch and yet the role model these yeshiva guys idolize is a guy who cheats on his wife with a porn star, pays that porn star hush money, lies about paying her hush money, calls people the most horrific of names, lies all day long and engages in what Judaism used to care about, lashon hara, evil talk.

Seeing how warped are the views of these young Jews really got me pretty down.

And then there was the three year old girl. I was sitting on a Jerusalem sidewalk when a little girl walking with her father passed by. She looked at me and asked her father ‘is he Jewish?’ The question kind of took me by surprise considering I had a yarmulke on my head, a beard on my face and tzitzit sticking out of my pants.

And then I realized why she asked that question. Even though I looked as I did and was even wearing a white shirt, I was also wearing khaki colored pants. She had never seen any man not wearing black pants.

Now you may dismiss this, but I took it more seriously for I think it says a lot about how much all Jews have gone into their little corners, associating only with Jews just like them, believing that the only good Jews are Jews just like them, questioning whether Jews who are not exactly like them, like a Jew wearing khaki pants instead of black pants, are really Jewish at all.

Which brings me to another snapshot. Two weeks ago, we ran an ad for the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation. Now I realize abortion is a very controversial issue, especially now, but I have also always believed the mission of this newspaper uniquely is to give voice to all Jewish points of view. I think that’s vital, especially now when most Jewish publications only care about one denomination or about only those who contribute to their organization. We have for almost 25 years, believed it is our sacred mission to allow all Jews to have their say, whether I personally agree or not, like it or not.

Which is why I was so profoundly depressed when a couple who have been subscribers since 1997 told me they were cancelling their subscription because of that ad. They are pro-choice and so have simply decided to stop reading us after 22 years because of one ad with which they don’t agree. The Jewish world today is full of Jews who stomp off in a huff if they see or hear anything they don’t agree with. We have all become Jewish snowflakes.

Now all this would have depressed me on its own, but I found it especially depressing because there has been one news story after another recently about events outside the Jewish world showing how good Jews today have it.

What depressed me is that if you ask most Jews today they’ll tell you things have never been worse, that it feels like 1939, that anti-Semitism today is as bad as it was then, that we have so much to be worried and scared about. Indeed one of the yeshiva guys I was having lunch with told me that the Germans today are full of hate towards Jews, that French Jews live in fear of their lives. He said it with such certainty when the facts are so the opposite that it made me want to scream and want to cry. Somehow we take an anti-Semitic incident here and there and exaggerate it, while we have so much good going on and we dismiss it.

Let me give you just a quick rundown of just a few of the events of just the last week in the world we live in.

Ahead of a match between Israel’s national soccer team and Poland’s, the Polish Football Association honored a Jewish player murdered in the Holocaust. The Polish association’s president, Zbigniew Boniek, presented a jersey bearing the name and number of Jozef Klotz to his Israeli nephew, Yoav Dekel. In 1922, during a match in Sweden, Klotz scored the first-ever goal for a Polish team in an international match. The current members of the Polish national team all signed the shirt.

An Italian couple whose ancestors were forced to hide their faith got married atop the ruins of an ancient synagogue, giving the site its first Jewish wedding in centuries. Roque Pugliese and Ivana Pezzoli tied the knot at the Bova Marina Synagogue in the southern region of Calabria. Both bride and groom have traced their lineage to anusim – people who had had to conceal their Judaism or practice secretly amid persecution in previous centuries.

France created a task force to return cultural artifacts taken from Jews during World War II to their owners and descendants. The Culture Ministry said that the project will look into such objects held by French museums. French institutions hold some 2,000 items brought from Germany whose owners have yet to be identified. “This is our duty to the victims of plundering,” Culture Minister Franck Riester said. “It’s about memory and justice.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the unveiling of a memorial seen by some as Moscow’s first Holocaust monument. The monument, depicting hands pulling open a door’s shutters, was unveiled at Moscow’s Jewish museum. It commemorates Jewish resistance fighters. Putin called the Holocaust one of the “greatest tragedies” and “most extraordinary chapters in history,” during the unveiling.

Poland honoring a Jewish soccer player, the first Jewish wedding in centuries in a part of Italy, France working to restore looted items to Jewish families, a Holocaust monument in Moscow. That’s the kind of stuff going on outside the Jewish world that shows how good things are for Jews today.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, we have Jews screaming ‘Shabbos’ in the middle of the street in front of a café as waitresses come outside and bare their brassieres. That’s the kind of stuff going on inside the Jewish world that shows show bad things are for Jews today.

No wonder I’m depressed.

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