It is taking me months to work through We Chareidi III. In We Chareidi I and II, we explored prejudices that we Jews have against each other, in labelling each other.
We watched in horror recently, as Rabbis and their wives in Lakewood were taken from their homes in handcuffs. They were charged with welfare fraud.It was sad the number of emails sent me containing stories of those who felt they were mistreated or looked down upon by those who looked Chareidi.
Can you tell the difference between a parent who sends their children to HALB and those who send their children to TAG? Would TAG parents permit their children to eat in the homes of HALB parents? There are TAG parents who don’t keep cholov yisrael, there are some HALB parents who are cholov yisrael.
So what is Chareidi? Who is Chareidi?
This year, we heard that New York City elected its first Chareidi judge. Hmmmm, I belong to Hadassah’s Yashar chapter of female judges and lawyers. There have been and are dozens of female Jewish judges in New York. They all went to law school. They all worked hard in their fields while raising children. Was the Chareidi judge spending her days at bikur cholim? She was doing what the other female Jewish judges were doing, going to work everyday, raising her children and being politically active day and night. So what makes the Chareidi judge Chareidi? Her sheitl? The number of children she has? The fact that she lives among Chareidi?
This summer, there was a story circulating about an Israeli Chareidi female pilot who was flying Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Greece for a conference. To get to where she is now, required spending many hours in flight school training, day after day with secular people, one on one in cockpits with men. She was working daily in a secular world. What makes her Chareidi?
Chareidi is a look. Chareidi is how one wants to represent herself. But as I reveal below, Chareidi is how we reduce ourselves as Jews. I read this week in the New York Times the following article by David Brooks:
In Praise of Equipoise
David Brooks SEPT. 1, 2017
The Lebanese-born writer Amin Maalouf made an interesting point about identity: Other people often pick ours for us. The anti-Semite elevates the Jewish consciousness in the Jew. The Sunni radical elevates Shiite consciousness in the Shiite.
“People often see themselves in terms of whichever one of their allegiances is most under attack,” Maalouf writes.
The people who exclude us try to reduce our myriad identities down to one simplistic one. Amartya Sen calls this process “miniaturization.” You may be an athletic Baptist Democratic surgeon with three kids and a love for Ohio State, but to the bigot you’re just one thing: your faith or skin color or whatever it is he doesn’t like.
The odd thing is, people are often complicit in their own miniaturization.
We live in an atomized, individualistic society in which most people have competing identities. Life is more straightforward when you’re locked into one totalistic group, even if it’s imposed upon you. When you’re disrespected for being a Jew, a Christian, a liberal or a conservative, the natural instinct is to double down on that identity. People in what feels like a hostile environment often reduce their many affiliations down to just one simple one, which they weaponize and defend to the hilt.
Today, the world feels like a hostile environment to. … well … everyone. I had assumed that as society got more equal we would all share a measure of equal dignity. But it turns out that without an obvious social hierarchy we all get to feel equally powerless.
It’s human nature that we feel our slights more strongly than we feel our advantages, so we all tend to feel downtrodden these days. White males and Zionists feel victimized on campus. Christians feel oppressed by the courts. Women feel victimized in tech. The working class feels victimized everywhere. Even Taylor Swift apparently feels victimized by celebrity.
Group victimization has become the global religion — from Berkeley to the alt-right to Iran — and everybody gets to assert his or her victimization is worst and it’s the other people who are the elites.
The situation might be tolerable if people at least got to experience real community within their victim groups. But as Mark Lilla points out in his essential new book, “The Once and Future Liberal,” many identity communities are not even real communities. They’re just a loose group of individuals, narcissistically exploring some trait in their self that others around them happen to share. Many identity-based communities are not defined by internal compassion but by external rage.
How do we get out of this spiral?
The first step is to just get out. Turn the other cheek, love your enemy, confront your opponent with aggressive love.
Martin Luther King is the obvious model here. “Love has within it a redemptive power,” he argued. “And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. … Just keep being friendly to that person. … Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. … They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.”
The second step is to refuse to be a monad. Maalouf points to the myth that “‘deep down inside’ everyone there is just one affiliation that really matters.” Some people live this way, hanging around just one sort of person, loyal to just one allegiance and leading insular, fearful lives. In fact, the heart has many portals. A healthy person can have four or six vibrant attachments and honor them all as part of the fullness of life.
The more vibrant attachments a person has, the more likely she will find some commonality with every other person on earth. The more interesting her own constellational self becomes. The world isn’t only a battlefield of groups; it’s also a World Wide Web of overlapping allegiances. You might be Black Lives Matter and he may be Make America Great Again, but you’re both Houstonians cruising the same boat down flooded streets.
The final step is to practice equipoise. This is the trait we should be looking for in leaders. It’s the ability to move gracefully through your identities — to have the passions, blessings and hurts of one balanced by the passions, blessings and hurts of several others.
The person with equipoise doesn’t feel attachments less powerfully but weaves several deep allegiances into one symphony. “A good character,” James Q. Wilson wrote, “is not life lived according to a rule (there rarely is a rule by which good qualities ought to be combined or hard choices resolved), it is a life lived in balance.” Achieving balance is an aesthetic or poetic exercise, a matter of striking the different notes harmonically.
Today rage and singularity is the approved woke response to the world — Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. But you show me a person who can gracefully balance six fervent and unexpectedly diverse commitments, and that will be the one who is ready to lead in this new world.
There are all kinds of Jews. White and black. Ashkenaz and Sephard. Chareidi, dati leumi, chareidi dati leumi, modern orthodox, conservative, reform, reconstructionist. Working in every field of work. Studying torah under thousands of different rabbis. Attending shuls all over the world. We are multi-faceted Jews. The Chareidi Judge could be described as a female, mother, spouse, Brooklynite, Democrat Judge, and belong to many different groups that represent who she is and what she supports. So too the Chareidi female pilot.
Possibly, the chareidi coupled with female in public careers is unusual. We think of Chareidi women largely in the home, or as teachers, working in stores, assistants in offices to support their families possibly while their husbands learn Torah. So it is unusual in our minds to see Chareidi women in such public careers.
Honing in on Chareidi eviscerates all that they are to themselves and their community and the Jewish community at large. We are Jews. All kinds of Jews. We should not support the ideas of labels to ourselves and others. We should identify all that we are to ourselves, and celebrate and reach out to others with whom we identify. I am an attorney. I will not join a doctors association. I am female. I will not join the Masonic Temple. I am a Jew, and will not join a church, BUT I reach out to all Jews, and don’t label myself as one type of Jew so as to exclude all other types of Jews.
The letters I received from readers all over the world confirms that we Jews label ourselves and remove ourselves from those who we label differently. It does not only go in one direction Chareidi to Reform. But as I work on the upcoming community challah bake, there are reform/conservative congregations who want nothing to do with the orthodox.
Equipoise. Balance. We will never be fully redeemed unless there is unity. Start on your block, then maybe your workplace. Broaden the definition you have of yourself and reach out to be inclusive. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but those with whom you associate should at least feel respected by you. Our souls are a flame that are meant to light up every space in which we find ourselves.
Chareidi women with new opportunities in the world have a responsibility to sanctify G-d’s name by bringing their light to new spaces. If characterizing yourself as Chareidi is meant to keep out those who are not, think again. Chareidi should be a shout out to all that meet you that you have a strong flame by which you want to light up the world. It should be the welcoming light of a lighthouse heralding to all lost boats that there is a warm hearth awaiting all that come in contact with you.
Call yourself whatever kind of Jew you want, but NEVER use that title as a means of excluding others. We approach G-d on Rosh Hashanah as Jews, all kinds of Jews. How we treat others, is how G-d will treat us. Gratuitous love amongst all Jews is what we need to fulfill our request to G-d that he rebuild the Temple. We build the temple brick by brick with each act of kindness we do to others.