Along my usual walking path, there is a particular house that always makes me anticipate my reaction; I want to keep myself from feeling the dread, so I try to hold in the thoughts. The feelings just come out, despite my strongest attempts. It’s like holding your breath to keep out a rancid smell, but the memory of the smell imposes itself so strongly that you finally give in to the smell itself.
By now you’re probably wondering
- what in the world is so horrible and/or
- if it’s that bad, why do I choose that same way to be my “usual”?
Good points. So I’ll back up and moderate my comments to say that it’s not the house itself, but the battery of thoughts and emotions that accompany the walk-by. It’s a case of my embarrassment for how we Jews choose to live in this world.
You hear about houses in Monsey, for example, that cry out “Jews!” or more likely “Yidden!” and are examples of Jews who do not really live in this world. This house is not that bad, by any means. It is one where the kids are very comfortable leaving the multitude of bikes and riding equipment outside in the front yard, overturned, like the riders just ran inside quickly to use the bathroom, fix a skinned knee, or get a quick drink. But they never come back outside to put them away.
So why am I so threatened by that? I don’t hear screaming from the house; when I see the kids riding their bikes, they are well-dressed and seem to be appropriately well-fed; they are clearly being physically active, which we shouldn’t take for granted in this modern world; and they are playing together with their siblings, also a happy thing.
So I don’t have to avoid the path, but I have to deal with my reactions. And those are mixed with the shame every time that a Jew is caught doing something wrong in the world. Yes, I consider leaving your bike in your yard in the same category (not the same level) as Bernie Madoff, the whole Deal NJ rabbi thing, Agriprocessors, the whole boot. We are living in their world and we have to know it.
So does that mean that I’m fine with messy houses in Israel? Nope. We should have more self-pride to keep things neat, but that’s not for the goyim; that’s for us. But I live in America, so I have to worry about how the goyim think of us and the shondas that keep occurring. In the mean time, I will keep paying attention to my reactions, and I will keep trying to figure out what exactly could any of us do to address the mess that the Jewish world is in.