By Adam Hilliard
My family is very un-frum. I am, while very un-frum by the standards of most of the readers of these boards, what my family calls a religious maniac because I keep a kosher kitchen, daven, and manage to light Shabbat candles on occasion.
My brother Aaron and his gentile wife live in Florida and have just had their second daughter in 12 Â½ months. Our mother wished to fly down to visit and asked me to accompany her. Hmmm, a weekend in late November spent in Cleveland versus one spent in Palm Beachâ€¦ OK, I guess Iâ€™ll go, Mom.
Friday morning we went to a restaurant for breakfast and I got a good lesson in why the Midwest believes South Florida is peopled entirely with retired transplanted New York Jews: Because it is.
Waiting for a table in a crowded foyer, I found myself surrounded by impatient, heavily jeweled, gaudily attired older whiners, all complaining about the wait or the service or the billâ€¦
â€œWe had to wait over ten minutes for the check. I mean, weâ€™re in here every week.â€
â€œThe toast was cold. We should have something taken off the bill.â€
One old man was attired in hip-hop style saggy blue jeans and a matching shirt. He and his mummified wife appeared to be breakfasting with their daughter and her husband. â€œWhat kind of muffin do you want, Steve?â€ Pop asked his goyish son-in-law.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t eat muffins,â€ snapped Steveâ€™s wife with a biting tone that made me feel sorry for his miserable home life. Poor Steve probably hasnâ€™t gotten to answer such a question himself in years.
One heavily gilded older lady with a stiff helmet of blue hair referred my shiksa-in-law to shop at a discount store for baby clothes, where, â€œtheyâ€™re in the back, only twelve ninety-nine.â€ (Like the princess would be caught dead in T. J. Maxx.)
As I took it all in I was feeling superior and then guilty for feeling superior. These were my people, even if they were very over-adorned, tackily dressed, embarrassingly demanding, sending the bacon back because it wasnâ€™t crispy enough (no lie). And after all, I was eating here in a very non-kosher breakfast joint, and I had no intention of observing Shabbat that evening.
Driving to dinner that Friday evening, yes, driving, after dark, we passed a group of black-hatted men leaving services at Etz Chaim; passed them while they waited for the traffic light to change of its own accord so they could cross the wide, busy street and walk home for a Shabbos repast.
(page 1 of 2)
(page 2 of 2)
Mom tried to be cute and asked if I had some secret hi-sign I was supposed to flash them. I explained that if there was such a thing, they wouldnâ€™t approve of me speeding past in an automobile. A little less superiority then. And a little more guilt.
And then the story out of Mumbai.
The Chabad House, the only Jewish center in a city of 12 million people, was targeted by Islamofascist murderers, and the news media were befuddled at the â€˜coincidenceâ€™. These monsters were described as â€œnationalists who were sending a message that they didnâ€™t want foreigners in their country.â€ Then they were called â€œmilitantsâ€, then â€œteenage gunmenâ€. Thus this absurd opening line in an Australian report: â€œAn Adelaide woman in India for her wedding is lucky to be alive after teenage gunmen ran amokâ€¦â€ As Mark Steyn mocked, â€œKids today, eh? Always running amok in an aimless fashion.â€
The New York Times complied with the cover-up: â€œIt is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene.â€ Yes, I said The New York Times.
And then the pictures of the Holtzbergs and news of their murdered unborn baby and of their orphaned son. A lot less superiority then, did I feel, and a lot of shame.
And still the news tells us how little is known about these mysterious terrorists and their incomprehensible reasons for killing innocents.
Thereâ€™s a lot we donâ€™t know about ourselves too, and events like these can help us to learn more, sometimes more than we care to, about ourselves.
As I reflected on my Thanksgiving weekend, a theme of contrasts, of extremes kept recurring to me, and I reminded myself of what I like to answer to people who ask me why do I bother to observe some mitzvot, or why donâ€™t I yet observe more. And I say that Iâ€™ve learned that Judaism is on a scale, a range with two ends. Wherever you find yourself on the scale of Jewish observance, youâ€™re bound to find people on both sides of you telling you youâ€™re doing it wrong.
Every once in a while I take notice of where I stand on that scale, and I notice that I have progressed slightly towards a more observant life. To keep moving in the right direction is all we can ask of anybody.