Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Elul Challenge - Day 14 Dirty Laundry


Rabbi Shmuely Boteach recently came out with an article Extravagant Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs Humiliate the Jewish Community on the Huffington Post condemning not just Jews but rabbis for officiating at lavish weddings and bnai mitzvah. In the article he is essentially condemning Jews for their displays of materialism as a way of impressing their friends as well as condemning the Jewish community for failing to reign in such disappointing behavior.

This article struck a chord with me. First I reacted as if this was a personal indictment, but as I thought about it, I realized that was not a correct assessment. Most of the life cycle events I have had the pleasure of officiating at have been modest, tasteful, and appropriate. And I do on occasion speak out about what is important in our lives and not letting our stuff or pursuit of status define who we are.

So what about this article is bothering me? Upon further reflection, I really think it has to do with Rabbi Boteach’s condemnation of a group based on the actions of a few individuals. There are stories of lavish receptions especially in L.A. as well as in New York and Chicago. But there are a lot more stories about much more modest celebrations as well focusing on the marriage or the acknowledgment of entering into Jewish adulthood. Or to put it another way, he was making the assumption that these over-the-top parties are a reflection of the values of American Jewry as a whole, and not a minority of us.

How often have we been angry at a select few and allowed those emotions to then be focused on an entire group? Today’s conversations about immigrants and about Muslims are certainly reflective of this problem.

This is not to say we don’t have a right to be angry. But are we angry because of something someone did or said, or are we angry because they are a part of a group we have decided not to like.

Elul is a great time to think about not just how we are feeling, but also why. If we understand the why, maybe we’ll encourage ourselves to think more positively, and not just rush out to air a perceived community’s dirty laundry for all to see.

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