July 25, 2024
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July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In 1982, my parents were sent to the former Soviet Union by Lishkas Ezras Achim, a Chabad organization that sent material and spiritual aid to Jews in the Soviet Union, laden with tefillin, mezuzahs and Jewish books to distribute to local Jews. My father was a world-renowned epidemiologist and that made it easier to travel under the guise of a scientist going to meet fellow scientists.

The night before departure from England, Rabbi Shmuel Lew, one of the organizers of the trip, brought my father four pairs of wool tzitzis that were requested through the Jewish Soviet underground to be smuggled in. My parents’ luggage was packed full of contraband without any space to spare and told Rabbi Lew so. Rabbi Lew responded by saying that my father should wear the extra pairs. “But the customs officials will strip search me and become suspicious seeing me wearing so many pairs of wool tzitzis! It doesn’t look normal,” my father exclaimed. Rabbi Lew calmly said back, “And one pair looks normal?”

There probably isn’t anything that can be considered objectively normal for all. What one considers normal may seem completely abnormal to another. What causes something considered abnormal to become normal, even if it’s uncomfortable?

As an Israeli paratrooper, I had no difficulty wearing my uniform while walking down the street. One may have thought that it would make sense for me to change immediately upon exiting the base into more comfortable clothes. But that wouldn’t have made sense to me since I was wearing that uniform with pride. Was the uniform less comfortable than regular clothes? They were. Did it bother me? No, because I embraced what the uniform represented.

Making something into my “new normal” is dependent upon my perception of that thing. When I understand and embrace the purpose of wearing that piece of clothing or doing that action, then any discomfort becomes marginalized.

Not everyone is a soldier in the Israeli army, but, amongst the type of Jews I mostly interact with, there is another type of uniform.

Wearing tzitizis has become normal to a whole segment of the Jewish world. I have not yet encountered anyone who complains that they can’t wear tzitzis because it bothers them and is uncomfortable. Just like the Israeli army uniform, we’re proud to wear them. That pride for what tzitzis represents overrides any discomfort and makes it perfectly normal and accepted to wear this type of garment.

There is a new type of uniform that we can take pride in that is part of our “new normal.”

Many wear masks begrudgingly because they aren’t comfortable, and it doesn’t feel “normal” to wear them. I wear a mask gladly because it’s like wearing a uniform with great pride. For heaven’s sake (literally), I just may be saving a life by wearing it. What greater noble cause is there?

Imagine if we all wore masks with a feeling of pride that we are potentially saving another person’s life? In a certain sense, this pandemic is offering that opportunity that didn’t exist beforehand! Framed this way, many people would run to wear a mask instead of putting them on begrudgingly. We can create a new normal regarding what we wear because that action is the most Jewishly “normal” thing to do, saving people’s lives.

This is our new “normal” and I’m embracing it!


Rabbi Shmuel Greene is the NCSY director of Central and Southern New Jersey. He is a passionate and devoted Jewish educator, constantly striving to empower Jews of all backgrounds to connect to and enjoy the richness of Jewish living. Rabbi Greene has served the Jewish community as director of education at Rutgers Hillel, director of teen initiatives at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life at The Greater MetroWest Jewish Federation, and director of The Steinsaltz Ambassadors program.

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