July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Although the style has mostly shifted, it wasn’t too long ago that three-piece suits were in vogue for men. Some vests had four buttons, some five and some even six, but no matter how many buttons there were, the common practice was to leave the bottom button open. That was the style, and just about every man I knew who wore a vest adhered to that unwritten rule.

Everybody with one notable exception… my beloved father! My father insisted that the bottom button should be closed along with the rest of the vest’s buttons. No amount of cajoling or reasoning could convince him otherwise, and our attempts to reason with him always proved to be futile:

“Abba, you closed the bottom button on your vest.”

“Of course I did.”

“But nobody closes that button.”

“Why not? If they put the button there it must be for a reason.”

“I don’t know why; but they say you don’t close the bottom button.”

“They?” Who is “they”? I would like to have a word with ‘they.’ What gives ‘they’ the right to dictate how I wear my clothing?”

Eventually we would give up. My father was adamant that if the button was there it was meant to be closed, what “they” say notwithstanding.

One of the underappreciated tragedies of the Chanukah debacle was that the Maccabees were not merely fighting an enemy force. Their battle was also a civil war against the myriads of Hellenized Jews who had capitulated to the alluring Greek culture that abounded.

The “Greek exile” marked the first time in our history that Jews were not slated for death, but rather for conversion. The enemy welcomed Jews to join their games and customs, and be swept up in the glamour of their lifestyles. In a sense we can say that the ancient Greeks were the first “they.” The Greeks created a culture wherein everyone was expected to pay homage to their styles, trends and fashions.

When the obdurate few Jews refused to follow the lead of the Greeks, it infuriated them. But, ultimately, the righteous minority overcame the masses of Greeks and Jewish Hellenists. The force of “they” was ousted from Eretz Yisrael, and we once again became a nation of “we” and “ours,” living and espousing a life of Torah service to God.

Chanukah celebrates our ability to counter the trends of culture and society. We, as Torah Jews, are different, and we must embrace those differences. At times we become somewhat apologetic for our external and internal differences. We cower from accusations of bigotry and chauvinism. The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we must be proud of who we are, and carry our banner aloft with dignity.

“They” have their culture and we have ours, and we must be confident in our mission and what we stand for. Nevertheless, if you happen to see my father wearing a vest, maybe you can convince him to leave his bottom button open.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as guidance counselor and fifth grade rebbe in ASHAR, and principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. For speaking engagements, his email address is: [email protected]. His website is: www.stamtorah.info.

By Rabbi Dani Staum


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