Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts for the Day: ahavas chinam

Today, the ninth of Av is a day for reflection and self improvement as well as mourning. Our temple was destroyed because sinas chinam, hating ones fellow Jew for no apparent reason, was rampant. It is said that each generation in which the temple is not rebuilt is at least equally responsible and guilty of this sin. 

Here on the upper east side we have many different types of Jews, some more religous some less, some more traditionally clothed some less, some closer to judaism than others. While we are not as bad as many completely ultra orthodox communities in terms of welcoming those who do not look exactly like we do, we still have our prejudices. Who eyed the lady not wearing a hat or sleeves to shul? Who has judged the man who pronounces the bracha at his aliyah to the torah with a strange accent? These are our brothers and we must love and accept them no matter where they are from or what they choose to observe. In fact acceptance is actually the best way to affect a person and encourage them to become more religious. Furthermore, religion cannot be judged by the material of ones kippah or the country of ones ancestors. Somebody's different minhagim (especially in terms of livush) do not make them less religious than you. If your ancestors are from Spain there's no reason for them to parade around in a furry streimel and thick bekeshe. I'm pretty sure avrham aveinu did not wear a white shirt, black pants and black hat. In fact, if he were to walk into your shul today you'd probably screaming and tell him to go fine a mosque. 

Instead of judging people by what their outer appearances tell us, we should communicate with them directly. Speak to the person. Ask them how they are doing. Be a friendly, sociable person. Find out why they have wandered into your shul. Up here, people often are visiting sick relatives in the hospital. They neglected to pack their fancy shabbat suit. Does that mean they deserve a death glare? to be left with twenty feet of space around them at all times? Everyone (Jew or non Jew) deserves to be treated with respect.

One of the most important things to do to tackle this problem is to properly educate our children. CHildren have a natural acceptance. A child of two does not blink twice at someone who looks different than people they are used to seeing. Yet by hte age of five or six children begin to shy away from people who look different. Unfortunately in many very religious neighborhoods children have been bred to take this to the extreme. They are so scornful of anyone that looks different. They label any stranger a "goy" (which to them is akin to a swear word) give the slightly different looking person a death glare when they walk into their neighborhoods and giggle behind strangers backs. Some even throw stones. Is this appropriate behaviour? Is this what will bring our temple back?

And where did these children learn all this? Well, perhaps from their parents who will refuse to talk to a lost woman who needs directions because she is not wearing a sheitel. Or the storekeeper who sends the guy wearing to the head of the line so that he will get out quickly and stop tainting the place with his presence. You do not protect your children by teaching them this hate you deprive them of their temple. You also make their world seem strict and binding and some long to get out. Others are so afraid of being branded as "other" that they will take al sorts of abuse and remain quiet.

 A Jew who is friendly to another Jew creates a positive impression, altering some of that other Jews negative stereotypes bout religious people. You bring people closer together instead of tearing us apart.

May we all look a little less critically at our neighbors and a little more critically at ourselves.

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