There’s Only One Way For Jews To Get The Respect Of The World

When the video of the bar mitzvah boy dancing on stage with a gaggle of half-naked women hit the net, and was made viral thanks to Kveller, there was an immediate, knee-jerk reaction that seemed to come from all corners of the Jewish world.

“Oh my gosh!  This isn’t Judaism!  What will they think?”

Indeed, that last sentence, “What will they think?” seemed to be the all-encompassing theme of the reactionaries to the video.

It came in all different forms.  From, “No wonder the stereotypes of Jews persist!” to “People will think this is what Judaism is about. Oh no!”

Of course, by “they” and “people”, these commentators were referring to non-Jews.

The attacks on the thirteen year old boy and his family reached a head when a conservative rabbi, Rabbi David Wolpe, wrote a scathing, angry, personal attack against the family in the Washington Post.

I wonder if Rabbi Wolpe thought that by writing this article he was going to solve the problem all these people commentators had been worried about.  I wonder if he thought he was showing the world that Jews “aren’t like that”.

Because I think if that is the case, he failed.  And I think the Jews that publicly attacked this poor boy and his family also failed.

To be honest, I also had a similar knee-jerk emotional reaction to that video.  All I could think about was how much this video reminded me of the largely-Jewish upper middle class  community I grew up in, and all their extravagant bar mitzvahs.  At first, all I wanted to do was write a big diatribe against the shallowness of the Jewish culture.

But then I noticed how the anger of the people commenting seemed just so wrong, so painfully awful to do to a thirteen year old boy and his family.

And after that, after I swallowed my anger, I noticed that the more people commented in angry ways, the more the mainstream audience seemed to, in fact, get much more upset with the commenters.

Gawker, a mainstream popular secular news outlet, reported on the video after it was already pretty popular.  By far the most widespread opinion on their report was that the people who attacked the boy and his family were out of line.  They were shocked to see so many people responding so critically, so personally, so angrily.

And the more I looked, the more this became painfully true.  It seems as if no one besides Jews became angry about this video, and no one besides Jews were willing to attack this family and this boy so viciously.

The world wasn’t judging us for the video.  They were judging us by our reaction to the video.

It seems like there are always Jews who react with shock and anger when one of their brethren doesn’t live up to their expectations.  It seems like most online networks, whether it be the never-truly-moderated Jewish news outlets or the many online Jewish forums, are breeding grounds for these folks to come and voice their frustrations.  Their worries that their people are falling by the wayside, not living up to the expectations G-d and our leaders have placed on us as people.

What these people fail to realize, what they forget every time they make a comment, is that the world doesn’t really care how holy we are.  They don’t care if we have extravagant weddings or bar mitzvahs.  They don’t care if we are shallow or vacuous or ridiculous.  They don’t care if there is a reality show that depicts as all those things and worse.

No, those things seem to be afterthoughts, forgivable acts by specific people.

Instead, we’re judged for one simple thing: how kind we are.

How kind we are both to each other and to the world around us.

See, the people of the world don’t operate on a logical level.  They’re not weighing our strengths and demerits on some super-fair scale that weighs how holy we are as opposed to how shallow we act.

Instead, they react like all humans do.  Humans respond positively to kindness and negatively to anger and hate with an almost primal reaction.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s look at two stories that appeared in the news just in the last week.

The first is the story of the El-Al (Israeli plane company) plane that turned back to pick up a passenger that had cancer that had forgotten her passport.

In the press, it seems almost impossible to get a positive story about Israel printed.  Bibi lets killers go just to try and get a fair shake with world opinion.  And he fails.  Miserably.

But when this plane turned back, it created more positive press than Bibi could muster with his whole soul.  People stopped judging and just enjoyed a beautiful, positive story about kindness and giving.

Another story that made waves is the orthodox Jewish man who saved the life of a Palestinian who was electrocuted.

The two made waves both in Israel and beyond for the connection they created together.  They got along, like friends, afterwards.

And while there were Jews still arguing about how a bar mitzvah video had destroyed their credibility in the world, this orthodox man had just shown the world how beautiful we can really be.  And, of course, this story also became very popular among Jews and non-Jews alike.

These are but two small examples.  And they don’t prove anything on their own.  But just pay attention.  Notice how kindness, how giving, how a charitable attitude, can be the elixir to any negative perception of a people.

Notice how people talk about orthodox Jews or Jews in general, positive or negative.  It’s almost completely colored by how respectfully they were treated by them.  Look at how Jews who left the fold talk: they almost inevitably talk about whether they were treated with kindness and dignity.  Notice how baal teshuvas (new religious Jews) talk.  Their story almost always begins with a rabbi who was (gasp) nice and thoughtful.

And notice on the other hand how your comments online are permanent.  How your voice can destroy the perception others have of your religion in one fell swoop.  Notice how, if you are really worried about how we are portrayed, your words, either loving or hateful, can have a ripple effect beyond what you can imagine.

When a Jew treats his fellow Jews with respect, he gains the respect of the people around him.  When he treats everyone with respect, he gains the respect of the world.

The temple lays in ruins for the very same short-sightedness we have now.  It’s dust, with a few walls standing, because we thought acts of holiness mattered more than the inherent holiness within us all.

And while we argue online, try to bend the view of our brethren one way or the other, all we do is stomp our feet in the dust of that temple.

Respect leads to respect.  Kindness leads to understanding.  It’s time Jews embraced those things above all.  Until then, no acts of holiness will be worth a thing.

  • nissimbenmoshe

    Hazak baruch. Well said.

  • sofisaninsoto

    Great article, very true. Thank you Pop Chasid!

  • Rebecca K.

    I remember attending a shiur where a rabbi pointed out that if we thought of all Jews as being our brothers and sisters, or even part of ourselves, we would be less judgmental.

    The bar mitzvah boy isn’t one of “them;” he is one of “us.” So, if his family did something we don’t like, we shouldn’t feel angry. We should feel sad, just like it’s sad when we mess up and do something we later regret. How would we want people to treat us if we’d just did or said something embarrassing?

    We should also take responsibility. A bar mitzvah should be about mitzvos — and if the active practitioners of mitzvos do them with a pleasant demeanor, they’ll become elevated in other people’s eyes. I think Elad’s point that Jews who are kind and respectful attract people to Judaism is exactly to the point.

    • Responsibility. Underrated.

    • יוסף אלכסנדר מנטאלבו

      well said!

  • Ben613

    I am still absorbing what you have stated and while I still disagree with a lot of what you stated it is still nice to see a different perspective on the matter. I will start off by saying that this is the first time that I have made any public statement and to be honest I haven’t even seen the video. ( While I am far from perfect but my rational is that is this was an inappropriate expression due to modest issues than as an Orthodox male I should refrain from watching it as well) So I can only react on the basis of second hand information.

    I agree that this poor boy, who regardless of the appropriateness of the event, was and is still celebrating a life milestone. While he may be considered a man in some aspects, he is still just a child and acting in a manner that he has been taught as being acceptable. Religion has a totally different meaning for him and this event is probably the equivalent of a “sweet 16”, 18th or 21st birthday. All this negativity is unfair and counterproductive.

    As for the family, I don’t have such feelings for. They are the adults who are responsible for teaching him right vs wrong and what life’s true priorities and what morals we as Jews and as adult members of the world should act and behave. It is as much of a morality issue as it is an issue of conspicuous consumption. (Or in other words look what I have and you don’t) It is the latter that bothers me the most. How many of his employees who work for them and helped his family afford this extravagant party, struggle to make a living? How many could have honestly benefited from the expense that was wasted? And is insult to injury this “expense” wasn’t really a celebration of Jewish Acceptance …..unless there were some new by laws that exempt those with wealth have under Jewish law and custom. So the family should have known better and expected some sort of backlash once this event was publicized.

    Now is publicly trashing the family the right way to go?…..maybe…..maybe not. I see both sides of the coin and hear a lot of what you said. If the true motivation is what the world thinks, well the world usually doesn’t care so much of our religious ethics. However I disagree that no one will notice. Maybe 99 out of 100 will not see what is wrong with a 13 year old boy dancing with adult women in this form of dress, but I am sure they will notice what this “Jew” and his money and how much of it will go to waste. It wasn’t that long ago where we saw during “Occupy wall street” that a small, but larger than most realized, tied wall street and big business to “Jewish” money. How often do we hear that the Jews control the media, or wall street? We don’t know how many Jew haters out there will use this event as another proof that we Jews have the money and subjugating the world under them.

    One last thing, I agree that there is no point to publicize publicly to the world of how wrong this was. Don’t bother with NY Times or Washington Herald. The world is not going to get it, the family will stand by their decision and deny any wrong doing and worst of all the boy who was raised without the understanding of what Jewish modesty and values are will now feel rejected. No one is going to say, “Wow, that was negative press, maybe we should study our Jewish history and ethics!” No, they are just going to build a barrier and throw off what ever little Jewish connection that they have,

    But wrong is still wrong. We should get off the blog page and sit down and talk with out children, Every Rabbi should bring this up as an open discussion and what values we should instill to our children. And last but not least when someone wants to publicly show what wealth that they have……don’t. (and if you do don’t use the word Jew)

  • Berry Schwartz

    not sure what one thing has to do with another. can one not criticize the shallow crassness of celebrating torah and mitzvot with quarter dressed dancing girls?

  • Wan Abi Sufi

    As a muslim reading this post, I realize much of my faith community and it’s issues are very similar to that of Hasidic jewry.

    We can agree or disagree how similar or different our theology is.

    But the perception and social issues4 we face are eerily familiar.