Differing Perspectives on the New York Celebrate Israel Parade

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One blogger at the New York Celebrate Israel Parade was so overwhelmed by the orthodox community’s involvement at the parade that she declared the future of Judaism in America to be orthodoxy. To be clear, the writer is not orthodox, but the lack of apparent vibrancy from the non-orthodox seemed to swing her vote for orthodoxy as the future of Judaism in America.

I happen to agree. It is extremely difficult to maintain cultural and social Judaism absent ritual and observance of Jewish law. It can be done, but it is becoming more difficult with each passing generation. The proof is in the pudding.

The brand of orthodoxy that will prevail in America is still up for discussion. The writer of that blog post was referring to modern orthodox Judaism seeing as they are the ones she saw at the parade.

Another person at the parade was overwhelmed to a certain degree by the participation of the non-orthodox. This person felt that orthodoxy was not as well represented as they could and should have been. In this person’s opinion, the parade showcased non-orthodox Jews showing their passion for Israel. The orthodox Jews were like an afterthought. This person is an orthodox Jew.

How interesting is it that two different perspectives can yield such different observations?

I believe that we need a combination of the two to maximize the chances of success for American Judaism. And the perfect opportunity to implement this vision is at the parade. Israel is something we all (with the exception of some fringe anti-Israel groups) can agree upon. Israel activism and AIPAC are full of orthodox Jews. Not just modern orthodox Jews. More right wing Jews strongly identify with Israel as well. The JewsNews sites report heavily on Israeli society, politics, and events. Those are sites that are read and written by right leaning (not in the political sense) orthodox Jews.

It seems to me that a parade for Israel is the perfect time to march together in support of a cause and in solidarity with each other. The modern orthodox community has embraced this opportunity and marches in the parade every year. But aside from a few sporadic people from the more yeshivish side of the spectrum, the Agudah / chasidic / Lakewood communities are noticeably absent from the parade.

I understand that there are political concerns. I understand there may be halachic concerns as well. But I just wish we could see past those, if only for one day to stand together and do something as a united Jewish people. I just wish that for once, we could all join in unison and make a clear statement on behalf of something we all agree upon.

In the future of American Judaism, all Jews are able to work together on the things upon which we agree, and there are many such things. The places where we disagree will still be contested. But it will be more like two opinions from the same team as opposed to two opinions from opposing teams.

If we are to get there, I think the New York Celebrate Israel Parade 2013 is a great place to start.

Link: Times of Israel

  • Anonymous

    “It is extremely difficult to maintain cultural and social Judaism absent ritual and observance of Jewish law”
    Absolutely, this is why the rabbis of the Talmud age invented countless laws, as well as rabbis of the following ages. The more rituals and observances there are the more locked into the club your are. No shared wine, bread, food, marriage, entertainment, muktza, etc……
    You are just defining Jewish law at its very core.
    Many years ago Mordechai Kapan came out with his own siddur and the Rabbis of the Rabbinical organizatoin that exised at the time held a public book burning. There was a write-up about this incident a few years ago in the Forward in which the author was critical of the rabbis. A letter responding to the essay made the point, that the rabbis were in the right, since had there been a Mordechai Kaplan in ever age, Judaism today would be unrecongnizable. But I contents that the rabbis have made Judaism unrecognizable as well.

  • Anonymous

    How interesting is it that two different perspectives can yield such different observations?

    Yes, perspective is everything in some cases. Seems as if the first guy has a view of “orthodox” in his mind that primarily includes anyone that wears a kippah and the women with them. And the second guy may have a view of “orthodox” as primarily including those who wear black and white and a hat and women in long skirts and long sleeves. This may only be their primary definitions in their subconscious, but it strongly influences their perception of the event.

  • Jacob Alperin-Sheriff

    I think the first author is rather missing the point; being an Israel advocate/pro-Israel/whatever is no more of a substitute for ritual and observance than bagels and lox or Seinfeld. And actually some of what was observed at that same parade by a third blogger is perhaps what bothers/disturbs me the most about having I guess at this point basically aligned myself with [at least religiously] liberal Modern Orthodoxy due to my views on ritual/observance http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/06/04/a-concert-of-kahanists.html (fwiw, author of the piece is Modern Orthodox but her politics have gotten her called an “anti-Israel activist” [in a rather amusing piece attacking Uri L’Tzedek])

    • There is a study coming out from YIVO within the next month or two, that got leaked to to the Forward. It mentions that for the Under 35 age group which is not Orthodox, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, much more closely identify with Israel than their parents (reversing declines) – BUT (an extra special big BUT), they identify in a much more neutral stance than their parents. They are more likely to say that israel is an equal partner with its problems with the Palestinians and should be doing something.

      In other words, they see israel in a place of strength, and expect it to treat itself to the original idea of Herzl’s dream, that the Nation of Israel that would have a country just like any other.

      This is not an attitude that will mesh well with kahanist types – which sees israel as something weak that needs to start buffing up in the gym.

      Personally, I find myself in group 1. When the US government taps you to build out incredibly complicated viruses, you are not a weak thing. You are supposed to be taking a role in providing answers to questions about democracy in the rest of region (particularly Egypt). The world isn’t going to go eat you up and make you go away yet, and stop acting like it. As a result I find kahanists almost ideologically silly.

  • leslie

    What halacha would prohibit participation in this kind of event?

    • There are those who prohibit any and all interaction with the non-orthodox.

      • leslie

        And such prohibitions are considered Halacha???

  • Why does American Judaism need to survive??

    • *eye-roll*

      • Actually, I think that is a serious question.

  • yerachmiel

    you could write a similar article regarding yom yerushalayim and yom atzmaut in israel….(just remember to give me credit 🙂

    • That’s already a more halachic issue. Once you get into hallel, no hallel, tachanun, etc. This is just a parade for Israel. A parade!

      • Anonymous

        A parade is Bitul Zman and if it’s a Zionist parade that’s even worse. Not to mention the women singing and not wearing tzniusdik clothing. Do you really think there would be no “halachic” objections from Lakewood?

      • yerachmiel

        oh i wasnt even referring to that part but good point, i was also talking about the parades!

  • Moshe Gelberman

    their “one day” that we all stood together for something was the asifa, or the upcoming siyum hashas. they dont view modern orthodoxy as part of “us.” We’re fine with calling them part of us, but once we do we won’t be able to “join in unison and make a clear statement” about anything.

    • This is precisely the problem. We can ALL get together for something.

  • Garnel Ironheart

    Here’s the question: why is non-religious Judaism so non-dynamic for so many?
    From my experience here’s a suggestion. Look at many non-religious Jews over the age of 60. Although they have limited to no Jewish practices in their lives they are strongly proud of being Jewish, are “culturally” very Jewish, often are fiery in their support of Israel and are horrified by things like intermarriage. But I suspect the reason why they have such a strong sense of Jewishness despite limited halachic practice is because they were raised in an era when Jews were not only a distinctive ethnic group but also a disliked one. As a result there was a sense of tribalism that developed that they still exude.
    Younger non-religious Jews have been raised in an environment where being Jewish might be ethnic to a degree but isn’t persecuted and in some cases is considered “cool”. As a result that tribalism simply isn’t there. That means they simply don’t get into those things that separate Jews as an ethnic group from everyone else.
    And it’s a shame that we have to have a negative environment around us to produce that sense of identification.

    • I was talking to someone about this recently. These sorts of comments deny that organizations like Reboot! (http://rebooters.net/) seem to not only running programs that are gaining traction with Jewish people (however you define them); they also seem to be gaining traction with nonjewish people.

      Most jewish organizations don’t know what to say/do in an environment where one has to be positive about being Jewish in secular ways. Nebach, it is so bad that both here in NY and in the Bay Area, secular jewish people open artisan delis so they can eat the food they grew up with.

      I also am not as sure that in a multi-ethnic society, it is good to separate. I don’t get it at all. I find having mixes of people enrich my perspective of where I am from, and where I am going. And I think that attitude is common among other heavily secular Jewish people. We’re post-tribal, and comfortable with that fact.

      So there is dynamism, elsewhere, just essentially non-institutional dynamism. As to why that is, I suggest reading the Innovator’s dilemma. While it is a book about what makes startups successful, you could apply the central thesis to religion.

  • I’d like to give some more numerically driven context to this post.

    I don’t think Modern/centerist orthodoxy is going to be leading a charge about the future of Judaism right now. For many orthodox groups, there is a rightwards push as a result of a new/old culture war about what both American and Jewish society in American should look post-1960s/1970s . This is largely driven by the fallout of suburban model, growth in technology, feminism, and acceptance of the idea that the dominant culture of a given place is not as all dominating and does not speak to everyone within it. The community is no longer the central place to develop identity/identities in post 1960s America. The rightward push is an effort to react and resolve this loss.

    Nationwide, modern and centerist orthodox day school enrollment is flat (http://avichai.org/2011/12/2011-12-day-school-enrollment-sees-modest-decline/ if you add modern orthodox and centrist together, you get a net growth of 0.7%.) The numbers don’t add up to a place where the claim of a vibrant non-chareidi orthodoxy is going, especially with the numerous discussions over the cost of tuition for said same schools.

    Within metro NY alone (excluding Jersey and CT, see this http://www.ujafedny.org/get/189755/), the most recent numbers are that if you are not orthodox and under the age of 35, you are probably not going to join a synagogue, you have a 1:2 likelyhood of intermarry, etc. etc. The group that is growing in NY is the ultra-orthodox (and to some degree the secular russian community), which are having their own sets of problems, primarily severe poverty and distance from other communal affairs.

    The Israel Day Parade masks this. There is an expectation of a certain kind of Jewish person that goes with the parade. That person is slowly not existing any more. I also wonder if it weren’t for the strong ideological stances of the orthodox day schools that do march, including the requirement that students march, if students would go. It also bothers me greatly that this ideological stance tends to ignore the diversity of israeli opinions. If you are going to be the group that is the “biggest” supporter despite your own internal issues, you should at least acknowledge that your opinion is part of a diversity of opinions about said same country. That isn’t obvious at all when talking to students coming out of these schools. I rue the day that it hits many of the graduates the level of complexity that Israelis see on the subject of what is Israel and what is Judaism, because that day may become shattering to certain conceptions of identity. I’m not sure that everyone I’ve met will recover.

    To quote Steven M. Cohen

    But Steven M. Cohen, a leading sociologist and one of the three authors of the study, points out that the notion of a society with a strong center is passé, and that over the last several decades America has become increasingly diverse, fluid and complex.
    “We are long past the 1950s America of Mom and Dad, two kids, the suburbs, and the dog in the backyard,” he said in an interview, noting that the New York study of 10 years ago already found signs of increasingly individualized identities on the rise among Jews.
    The new study offers “a sharper picture of diversity,” according to Cohen, with more Jews in both the highly engaged and highly unengaged sectors, reflective of an American society in general that is “more diverse, more of a mosaic and with more complexity.”

    Unlike Steven Cohen, I don’t take the “new center” thing all too seriously as identity seems to be moving towards an internal sense rather than external. I’m fine with the intermarriage rate. We know in many not-NY Jewish communities, the kids turn out all right and do affilaite, though not through religious institutions and some cultural institutions as we have them today.

    It makes me wish that my ex-hillel wasn’t going through politics, since it was becoming an early model of how to handle this change. Groups like reboot also are moving into a post-communal identity method to reach out. On some level this seems to be working. It is really hard to explain restaurants like Kushner’s otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    Nicely explained. Here were views of the parade. Why I Went to the Israeli Day Parade, By: Mordy Plotsker
    Read more: http://dteitelbaum.blogspot.com/2012/06/why-i-went-to-israeli-day-parade.html#ixzz1yPBoBtdY

  • cipher

    Rabbi, the Haredim have thrown a monkey wrench into the works regarding the future of Orthodoxy. They’re still trumpeting the old battle cry: “You’re assimilating out of existence! Your grandchildren won’t be Jewish!” Meanwhile, it’s been two centuries and we’re all still here – but Orthodoxy is now at a watershed moment.

    After the war, the Haredim began to arrive in greater numbers. While your parents and grandparents were having smaller families and focusing on getting their kids into top tier universities, the Haredim, upon orders from their rabbis, were breeding prodigiously in order to replenish the population they lost in the Holocaust (which happened in large measure because those same rabbis forbade them to emigrate). By virtue of sheer number, they now are Orthodoxy. They’ve commandeered nearly all of the support institutions – mikvaot, baatei din, kashrut organizations, etc. They now own the franchise.

    At the same time, the Modern Orthodox have always suffered from a basic insecurity regarding their imagined “compromise” with modernity. We now have three generations of MO who’ve grown up hearing their parents tell them, “Our way is better, because we remain faithful to the tradition while embracing secular culture and education”, but watching them glance furtively over their collective shoulder, longing for Haredi approval – an approval we all know you will never receive.

    The Modern Orthodox and the liberal and secular Jews are suffering from a bad case of Fiddler on the Roof nostalgia. It began with Vishniac’s staged photographic essays, which played upon nostalgia for the “alter heim”, and it blossomed from there. Between that, Haredi hegemony and Modern Orthodoxy’s collective feelings of inferiority, all of Orthodoxy has moved sharply to the Right. This is the reason you’re losing as many kids in that direction as you are to the Left.

    I maintain that apart from a few fringe groups – e.g., Avi Weiss, his students and the HIR community – there is no more “Modern Orthodoxy”. Authentic, pre-war Modern Orthodoxy – the Orthodoxy of Rav Soloveitchik and his heirs, such as Yitz Greenberg – is dead. The Haredim killed it, and the Modern Orthodox helped them to dig the grave. What we’re left with are Haredism and Haredism Lite (I would place the “centrism” of YU in the latter category; the Right Wing Modern Orthodox are Haredi in all but name and a few eccentricities of dress).

    The Haredi world is collapsing, succumbing to pressure from without and deteriorating from within. It’s outstripped its resources and can no longer provide for its growing numbers; they need only so many mashgiachim and purveyors of holy seforim. They’re shooting themselves in the collective foot, and when they go, they’ll be taking most of Orthodoxy with them. There won’t be enough of you left to sustain a subculture; there may not be enough to provide a viable gene pool. The Haredim, for the most part, won’t default to Modern Orthodoxy. They’ve been brought up to regard MO with contempt, and in any case, as I’m sure you know, when they defect they tend to frei out completely.

    I don’t say this triumphally; I think it’s very sad. We would never agree theologically, but I wouldn’t have wished this upon your subculture, certainly not at the hands of those lunatics. In any case, the long-predicted schism has taken place; we now have two religions, each appropriating the name “Judaism”. The breach is irreparable; it’s time to acknowledge it and move on. You may not approve of Liberal Judaism (the more strident among you don’t regard it as “Judaism”, or Yiddishkeit, at all); you may consider it unsustainable in the long term – but, ultimately, it will almost certainly be all that is left.

    If Haredism does survive (which it won’t), what’s left of Modern Orthodoxy is going to have to make a decision. It can either become the most traditional branch of Liberal Judaism or Haredism’s poor relation. It’s an unenviable position.

    • curious goerge


      Your prediction of a breach that is irreparable assumes there is no middle ground. I believe you are very mistaken. I think you’re assuming too much and don’t fully understand the mindset of Haredi man on the street, and I mean the Haredim who you feel are about to bail out.

      Many Haredim who feel the system has failed them, economically or socially, are finding another path that is very close to their current core beliefs. Articles keep springing up about Hareidm in the work force who are getting degrees etc. Many Hareidim are more in tune to the culture around them than you would imagine. The internet has facilitated that.

      What might collapse is the “Godol” system. (I think it’s already collapsed, but many of my Hareidi friends would disagree.) But that won’t mean that everyone who is today a Hareidi will feel a need to throw off his black yarmulka and put on shorts and sandals or dropping their Shabbos observance. I know of quite a few post-Hareidi but part of the Hareidi sector type Jews. The kollel system will be adjusted (but not scrapped) and many Hareidim are fully aware of that.

      I think that many of the somewhat disillusioned Hareidim, seeking Torah sources for a Torah lifestyle, but not the one they have been brought up with, might end up choosing Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah im Derech Eretz approach. Call it MO, call it Haredi Lite. Give it any name you like. It might just be that middle ground that is the wave of the future. That will be a middle ground that can sustain itself financially as well as socially.

      You wrote that it’s already 200 years since predictions of the demise of the non-orthodox and they’re still around. Stick around another 50 years. It is a very dire situation right now. If you don’t see that, you’re not looking very carefully. Reform and Conservative studies are saying this very loudly. Liberal Judaism by definition has no compelling way to hold on to the next generation. We all know of children of intermarried Jews whose parents “raised them to be Jewish” who want no part of Judaism. These aren’t isolated stories, this is a serious and alarming trend. The non-Orthodox synagogues are closing up in many places. The orthodox ones are popping up in new towns everywhere. Patrilineal descent held on to one generation of Reform synagogue members, it hasn’t held on to the next. So they decided to talk about mitzvos to see if that would work. Nothing like sticking to your core values! I give the Reform movement another 50 years max. And the Conservative movement is no better off in most part of America.

      I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

      • Anonymous

        @6c3437a6d0ecc5db92e1f8368f0c8dff:disqus What might collapse is the “Godol” system. (I think it’s already collapsed, but many of my Hareidi friends would disagree.)

        You may be right about this. Only time will tell. We need to look at the how they replace the dying gedolim with new ones. So far, in certain areas, it hasn’t gone very well. For example, we have 2 Satmar Rebbes now, will we have 6 next generation?

        • curious george

          I meant something else. There have been so many public errors that the leadership has made over the past decade, that only the very hardcore hareidim take these edicts seriously. And even the hardcore followers use talmudic logic to deal with the difficulties that they have understanding what has taken place. They too appear to know that it is a leap of faith to continue as it had been just 20 years ago. Too many edicts of banned books, cloths, sheitels, concerts and more in rapid succession. People have gotten tired and cynical.

      • cipher

        Articles keep springing up about Hareidm in the work force who are getting degrees etc.

        Too little, too late. They don’t have enough time to change as comprehensively as they would have to in order to preserve their subculture. Frankly, I don’t think they have the will. Their leaders certainly haven’t.

        As for your last paragraph – I just responded to someone else in another thread about this issue. I don’t want to go through it all again, and I won’t argue numbers with you, in any case. Bottom line – when it comes to Liberal Judaism, frum people see what they want to see.

        • curious george

          I disagree. If a bunch of broken and destitute holocaust survivors could build a community with schools across the country, they will find a way to deal with their current day economics. The bigger question is not the economics, it is the social infrastructure. There will adaptations and variations of what is in place. They will make it work.

          As for the part you don’t want to write about, let me share an experience I had about 12 years ago. I was at a gathering of about 1,000 or more non-orthodox donors and leaders, at a fundraiser for a network of non-orthodox schools in a large city. I knew the honoree so that’s why I was there. The keynote speaker was a reform rabbi who told the crowd that the wave of the future is to have one rabbi shared by at least 3 shuls. Attendance is down so badly that there is no other way to make it work. He showed on a big screen where he travels and how he manages to juggle funerals and functions for 3 places at once. There were a thousand people in the crowd. After the speech everyone was talking about how logical his idea was. I was there. I saw it. After that evening, for me this was no longer statistics in a report. I was witnessing my fellow Jews’ communities dissolving.

          • cipher

            Whatever. If you’re interested, go read what I said in the other thread on this blog. There’s a guy in that thread arguing with me about things I’ve responded to here. I’m tired of arguing with frum people about numbers; I simply won’t do it any longer. Believe what you like; it makes no difference to me. I have no dog in the fight.