The Rambam in Hilchot Taanit explains that in the face of calamity, teshuvah is necessary. We need to find the message in the suffering. If we don’t and instead ascribe the suffering to randomness and the natural order of the world, the Rambam defines this as “a cruel response.”
In a previous post, I already discussed what I think the terror attacks have come to show us. To you, they may say something different. Perhaps you see parallels with lashon hara, Shabbat transgressions, or other halachic issues. Each person can see what he or she needs to work on personally. The main point is to search for the message and then apply it to yourself. (I did this based on what I wrote there, but am not discussing it on this blog because that kind of thing is pretty personal.)
But as I’ve also written before, the frum community is the most self-critical of any other group. At the same time that we have some very serious problems, we are also doing much better as a whole than any other community in the world. Yes, I know it doesn’t always seem that way. For example, a non-Jewish community may feature a state-of-the-art facility to treat, say, eating disorders or a secular Jewish school may have an excellent program to treat learning disabilities. Sometimes, certain non-Jews can be much nicer than certain Jews. It can also depend on what type of frum community you’re in. Different communities have different styles, flavors, and emphasize different things.
Because much of Western society is Esav, a lot of the stuff that looks good isn’t really so amazing or effective on the inside. America, especially, is very into self-promotion, puffing itself up like a big balloon with only air on the inside and very little substance on the inside. Esav is always the pig that extends its split hoof to show that it’s kosher on the outside while being completely treif on the inside.
I’m going to list some really good stuff about the frum community.
Of course, you may have had negative experiences – so have I. In fact, you may have had the exact opposite experience to something I list here, and unfortunately, I know just how disappointing and even devastating that is. To make things even more challenging, part of Western society’s mentality is its presumption that “being honest” is about always emphasizing the negative. Emphasizing the positive is often seen as “wearing rose-colored glasses” or being “Pollyannish” or being naïve or childlike or stupid or dishonest. There is also the concept that "man bites dog" is news, but that "dog bites man" is not. And certainly, an entire week in which no dog or man bite anyone will never be reported. But really, being honest is seeing the good along with the bad, especially in Am Yisrael and Hashem.
You Guys are Great and Here's the Proof:
So here it goes:
- I have seen numerous times on Mehadrin buses that women seat themselves in the designated men’s section (sometimes sitting so far forward that they leave only 8 seats for the men) and do it in a way so that there is one woman for every pair of chairs. And NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING. The men don’t start yelling, hitting, proclaiming, throwing bleach, nothing. The men just crowd quietly in the aisle. Sometimes, a man quietly asks a woman if she would move to sit with another woman so that the men might sit down, too.
- I know several divorced women and men who were greatly helped by their community (and even the divorcees’ themselves acknowledged this; it’s not just my observation). Whether they needed money, a place to stay, childcare, rabbinical intervention, emotional support, a job, tefillot on the days they met with the beit din – they got it and it was given whole-heartedly and without fanfare.
- There are communities in which the women are very knowledgeable about and committed to keeping the laws of lashon hara to the point that even when “interesting” stuff happens, you’ll never know about it. In fact, there was a warm and friendly woman I would run into regularly at the park or grocery store for 3-4 years, and I never knew she was separated and then divorced during that time, even though we had many mutual friends.
- I have been in Eretz Yisrael's most chareidi areas and seen women and girls dressed with an extreme lack of tsniut (in some cases, a really shocking lack of tsnius), and NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING. No one even looks at them. No bleach, no cries of “Shikseh!”, nothing. Actually, in one case in Geula, a young girl in jeans was walking through looking terrified, and I saw several Chassidish women stop and look at her sympathetically and try to catch her eye and smile at her or approach her nicely, but she was too frightened to notice.
- In a Yediot Acharonot article published around 15 years ago, a secular female journalist wrote a report on her experiment of going into Meah Shearim dressed very secularly while smoking and chewing gum. To her dismay, the chareidim were really nice to her, so she made herself behave more and more obnoxiously, even yelling at a little chareidi girl. Twice, Meah Shearim women came running out of their homes to offer her a modest robe to wear, insisting, “You’re my sister! I don’t mind at all – you don’t even need to return it! Really, you’ll feel comfortable.” They kept warmly insisting that she was their sister. Only at the very end of her little journey, as she was exiting Meah Shearim, two men asked her what she was doing there (to which she responded with self-righteous anger) and then requested that she not come back unless she was dressed appropriately. And that was it.
- When one of my children got injured (when not in our care), the French Breslov nurse who treated him cheerfully advised me to do things to make him happy in order to speed the healing, like telling him jokes and playing happy music.
- When they were young, my children and their friends found a cave to play in that was also used as a room for hitbodedut and chevruta learning by some local Breslovers. Rather than getting upset at the evidence of rowdy little boys having been in their private holy space, the men would often leave candies with a note telling the boys that the candy was for them and to enjoy themselves, while also adding a cheerful directive to leave the place neat and be careful not to knock over or mess up any books left there.
- Many frum people are very kind and understanding toward the teenagers who are obviously having issues, and they don’t respond in kind when the boys are rude or provocative toward them. It is not at all unusual for frum men to engage them in conversation, greet them with Shabbat Shalom, and so on.
- There is no other group in the world that has gemachim anywhere near nor anything like the level of that which exists in the frum community.
- In our frum neighborhood, we have gotten used to that whenever we lose a bus card (Rav-Kav) or wallet or money, we just wait until it is advertised in the the Lost-and-Found section of the local neighborhood magazine. This almost always happens.
- In frum neighborhoods, it is common for the storekeeper to invite you to pay him later if you happen not to have enough money to cover your purchase. A lot of times, they don’t even write down your name or amount owed because they just trust that you’re a decent person who cares enough not to forget or exploit the situation.
- In my experience, the frum community’s respect for women (especially women with small children or who are pregnant) and the willingness to judge you favorably (or at least not go out of their way to judge you unfavorably too much) is unparalleled. In fact, when I was dealing with young children and dealing with non-Jews or secular Jews, I really found the men to be condescending or disdainful or rude (and not because my kids were behaving wildly or something; they weren’t). Men with a yeshiva background were nearly always understanding, respectful, and courteous. A lot of secular American men also have a lot of hostility toward women who uphold the laws of tsniut, no matter how gracious and accommodating the frum women is. (Interestingly, secular Israeli men treat tsniut with a great deal of respect and appreciation.) I also could not stand the level of lashon hara common even among very nice people in the secular/non-Jewish world and I found it very hard to deal with the complete lack of any attempt to judge favorably. Especially nowadays, Americans love to interpret your words and intentions in the worst way possible. For me, despite its weak points, the frum community (despite its flaws and Erev Rav) is a kind of refuge from the poor middot of the secular world.
- I once knew a giyoret from Germany. God only knows what her parents and grandparents did during the Shoah. She didn't speak about them much, but she clearly had very little contact with them and really disliked going back to visit Germany, hinting that her family didn't approve of her Judaism. None of her family (not even her parents) came to her wedding, despite the fact that a trip between Germany and Israel is relatively short and affordable. She performed astounding acts of chessed, like regularly spending the night in dorm for autistic children so they could have adult supervision - and doing so without any payment. She once spent Shabbat at the Tel Aviv airport in order to escort another girl in a situation of pikuach nefesh to that girl's flight. There wasn't time to leave the airport before Shabbat, so she stayed there until Motzaei Shabbat. The girl she escorted was not some friend of hers and I'm not sure whether they even knew each other prior to this event. This German giyoret wanted to join the Meah Shearim community and was warmly accepted by these Yerushalayim despite their number of Holocaust survivors and her obvious German accent.
(Continue to Part II or Part III)
May our collective merits greatly sweeten the coming Geula.