I read an interesting comment at the end of Maureen Dowd's column this morning--a quote from her pal Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic. On the culture of leaving comments on articles posted on-line, Wieseltier said, “I’m not interested in having the sewer appear on my site. Why would I engage with people digitally whom I would never engage with actually? Why does the technology exonerate the kind of foul expression that you would not tolerate anywhere else?”
Understandable. Over the weekend I watched some of the comments filter on to an article about Patrilineal Descent that had been published in the Forward and as usual in such circumstances, I found some comments to be thoughtful and heart-felt, while others were just plain mean. The Jew on Jew mean thing has been around for a long time and it's always good to remind ourselves that the Sages said the 2nd Temple was destroyed because of "free and causeless hatred." The particular intimacy of the Jewish national and religious tradition has a dark underside that can express itself too intimately and that's when one must be ready to defend the defenseless and hold the ethical line against those who would freely attack.
Jeffrey Goldberg has been writing about some of the vile comments emanating from the digital mouth of Israeli-American journalist Nir Rosen, stuff to make your skin crawl; and to Dowd's point and that of many others, better to take a breath and respond thoughtfully, with the deliberateness of the old print journalism, before throwing a digital word bomb.
Anyhow, I tried to answer back some of the comments in the Forward comments section but that's not what I started writing about.
What I wanted to say was that yesterday's Shir L'Shabbat program at CBE was great. Our sensational teacher Debbie Brukman has got to have the largest following of young children in Brooklyn--and especially important for her brand of Jewish education, these little kids show up with their instruments to jam with her. Kids from 18 months and up cram onto rainbow rug moshpit to sing Shabbat songs with a fervor unseen in New York City since Max's Kansas City or CBGBs were all the rage. It's a hot experience.
At one point as the kids were moving and singing, we paused to do a baby-naming. I invited grandparents, parents, and the guest of honor into the center and started reciting blessings to bestow upon this little darling of baby the name of someone she never met but would wear, forever, as one of many countless links back in time and, if Tradition holds, on into the future.
Just then, one little guitar toting punk sidled up to me and demanded that our whole assemblage recite the Shma (even though we already had done so earlier.) "I want to do it again," he said. And so I shared his request with the 150 or so people present and as I looked around the room, I thought about how open our community is, how welcome people are to explore Judaism, how this open tent is necessary, critical, axiomatic for the future of the Jewish people to continue. Shma makes us one with the One, I said to those gathered, and then we let it rip. I suppose some of those saying Shma were born Jews; some matrilineal; some patrilineal; some neither; and others simply not sure where they're going. But they're with us and we're with them--One. Just like that.
I thought of one particular comment on the Forward site, from a reader who wrote, "I am considering conversion through Reform Judaism because I have always felt a connection to the Jewish people that is beyond the rational. My father's family was Jewish but my grandfather and my father married gentiles. I want to connect to the Jewish people, but some of the religious nonsense I read here is as bad as the fundy Christians and Muslims."
Pushing people away by the way we talk to each other is never helpful. But welcoming them in so they can claim their identity is the real Jewish tradition. Like that mosh-pit--the Bomb.