July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Finding Achdut Within the Text

Just a few weeks ago, I joined over 90,000 Jews at MetLife stadium for the Siyum HaShas. It was a day to “feel all the feels” that had been exasperated by the horrific anti-Semitic events that have been going on over the past couple of weeks, with one happening so close to home on Forshay Road. (Wasn’t it just a little over a year ago when I wrote about Pittsburgh and I thought that was close to home?)

There were moments throughout the day at the siyum that will remain in my heart forever. From the throngs of men, women and children walking toward the stadium from miles away to avoid traffic and attempting to catch Mincha, to the roar of the Kaddish echoing in the stadium. There were all types of Jews gathered on a cold winter day to show kavod to our precious Torah while doing our utmost to make a kiddush Hashem and stand proud in spite of recent events. All in all, the day was a tremendous success thanks to the countless hours the organizers put in to the event and the generous individual who gifted me with tickets with indoor access.

I was truly there to celebrate klal Yisrael, as I am not a daf learner and not actually too familiar with Daf Yomi mechanics and the page construction. But here’s what I understand about what is on an actual page of gemara: Generally it’s a discussion between great minds on how to interpret an idea or halachic concept. Surrounding that discussion are various commentaries and even more opinions, sometimes leading to some intense disagreements. Yet, all of these opinions exist on one page and have been learned for generations and will continue to be learned for many more to come.

The Daf Yomi learners and the pages themselves suddenly symbolized a sense of achdut for me. And I couldn’t think of anything we all need to feel more in order to face the new fear we all have now just because of our religion. We have Jews across all sects coming in support for one another and we feel connected as a people more than we usually feel, which is exactly what we needed to feel considering the horrifying events of the past few weeks.

Within the Orthodox sector, we could be blamed for kind of being siloed, the antithesis of achdut. Modern Orthodoxy, Centrist Orthodoxy, Modern Yeshivish, mainstream frum, I feel like I could go on and on. We label others, we label ourselves, it’s second nature. For example, you can be frum, but then that means you can’t really be a Zionist so then you must go back over to the Modern Orthodox box. If you go to an Ivy League law school straight from kollel, then you can still be considered yeshivish. Then there’s chasidish, heimish—and depending on which way you pronounce it could mean two different things. We get so defensive when peers label—or even criticize—us because it’s based on our external observance of our religion, when we should be able to own our choices. (I know, I know…easier said than done.) Practically speaking, it is not my business and I am not entitled to have any opinion on someone’s external observance of his or her Judaism. Of course, it’s the inside that matters most and even that should never be judged.

But when it comes to coming together for rare events like the Siyum HaShas or hearing these awful stories of fellow Jews being attacked, the labels disappear. Everyone feels vulnerable as an individual and as the greater community. We strive for the connection no matter what, no matter where. We are fiercely reminded that there are still people out there who hate us for being part of a religion that we were born into. No one should ever have to defend themselves to anyone about how they live their Jewish life—to non-Jews and Jews alike. Everyone is entitled to choose to live a life that works best for each person.

Over the past few months, The Jewish Link published a number of articles about this idea of lulav Jews; maybe by now we can also call them menorah Jews. While I rarely share my personal opinions on social and religious issues facing our community, I felt strongly to share my thoughts. My overall very personal takeaway from the articles was that we are living in a world where we have a tendency to view our Jewishness more like a culture and less like a religion, as we tend to have a lack of connection to our Torah and our overall relationship with Hashem. It’s always been my feeling that any relationship with Hashem is intense, hard and incredibly personal.

While each of the writers over the last several weeks shared valuable points, no one seems to have thoroughly delved deeply into one crucial issue: the kids. Here’s the thing. The kids see everything. Even when you think they are not looking, they are. This concept does not differentiate if you are a Modern Orthodox Jew or from the most yeshivish of families; no parent is immune to this. From tracking your visits to shul to how long your skirt is; hearing you speak lashon hara or bash the rav’s drasha, your children will notice. If you are raising pre-teens to young adults, their world today is nothing like the world we lived in. Our kids have much more exposure than we ever had, but are also living in a world where school shootings and weekly anti-Semitic events is part of their day-to-day lives. And your relationship with Hashem and your observance of Torah will directly impact your child. While we can expect other adults not to judge, we can’t expect the same from our own children. They only know what they see and likely don’t have the maturity to think there is anything more than what they physically see. Even more so, we have to raise kids to be proud of their religious observance because these days it’s really hard to navigate within the Jewish communities and even more outside our bubble.

This can be with respect to your religious observance, or just your general behavior as a human. From how you daven or don’t daven to how you speak to the person checking you out in the grocery store. When thinking about how we are mechanech (educating) our children, we tend to focus more on the directed things like making sure we spend quality time with each kid and finding them the best tutors, but it’s the more subtle nuances that is just as impactful. Take my word on this one: there is no such thing as “pulling a fast one” on kids, especially teenagers. Kids of all ages have the ability to notice hypocrisy. One can argue that the communities that are more to the right don’t face this issue as much because there is a tendency for their external religious observance to come more naturally because it is more of a culture norm to attend shiurim or dress in a certain way, but I have been in pretty yeshivish shuls on Shabbos morning where there is so much talking, you wouldn’t believe there is anything left to talk about at the kiddush.

And while we do everything we can to guarantee the lives our children will grow up to lead, there is nothing that will give you any guarantees. (Did I just scare you? Sorry for the rude awakening.) More often than not, It’s a home truth that raising children can feel like a crapshoot. We have this idea of what the “top” is: the top shiur, the top seminary, the top job in your high school senior class. But what’s top for your kid may not be top for my kid. And then how does the child who is not at the top feel? Likely awful. In my non-educator opinion who’s done no research on this idea, the best thing you could do to raise your child is to lead by example in all aspects of your life. Emulate the qualities you feel are important for them to carry.

If we don’t raise kids today with a strong bond and connection to Hashem and Torah observance, we run the risk of losing a whole generation. We have to raise kids to feel connected to their mesorah and to develop a relationship with Hashem that will hopefully translate to a level of Torah observance that enables them to feel blessed, not stressed. Even more so, they need to feel empowered as a member of klal Yisrael and strengthen their bitachon in Hashem’s master plan and capability to take care of us.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the writers and commend The Jewish Link for publishing the pieces to inspire a healthy and much-needed discussion. Hillel Koslowe eloquently wrote on his perspective as a Modern Orthodox college student thriving at Princeton University and his religious observances not compromised in the slightest. It’s evident Koslowe comes from an incredible home with a family that set strong religious convictions who have empowered him to stay true to his core. But I’m sure there is a Pew report out there somewhere that will verify that his experience at Princeton is the exception to the Orthodox Jewish experience for the average college kid. When I was in college, I interned at a foundation that funded ad campaigns in college newspapers to combat the anti-Israel sentiment on campus. It was an issue 15 years ago, and it’s an issue now. Going out to a college campus as an impressionable teen or apparently to walk down the street in Brooklyn, New York, can be a petrifying experience.

Each of those 90,000 individual Jews had a unique and personal experience at the Siyum HaShas, much like each person’s relationship with Hashem. They all came together despite their external differences to celebrate the learning of pages and pages of opinions and discussions and analysis and inspirational thought all based on the framework for our religious life—our Torah. We are taught that we are supposed to feel like each day we are reaccepting the Torah so we can individualize the interpretations to guide us through each day we embark on. Some days it will be a breeze and other days it will be really, really tough. Seeing armed guards outside our shuls and schools and navigating the challenges parents face today is a reminder of the harsh reality we live in. You have to do what’s best for you and your family—own your choices and feel confident. Lulav Jew, esrog Jew—ignore the labels; just be a good Jew and maybe try a bit harder to have more achdut, like that daf of Gemara.


Rachel Zamist lives in Passaic.

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