I just returned from a brief visit to the alter heim, the main purpose of which was to speak about Religious Zionism at a conference sponsored by YU. It was quite fun. I won’t review the whole event, just a few highlights.
My friend Kalman and I were up first and it was the most lively session. Kalman and I have been arguing about this stuff for the last twenty-five years so the presentations were rather well rehearsed. I’ve gotten used to my own anti-mamlachti arguments, so I was a bit surprised at the number of people who assumed I was just trying to be some sort of “gadfly”. The comments were generally reasonable and constructive, even if a bit predictable (Religious Zionist ideology is sometimes useful, government involvement in religion is sometimes useful, Yeshayahu Leibowitz sometimes said smart stuff about this topic, etc.). All we need to do now is agree about when “sometimes” is.
One commenter was DZ, who has been a high-ranking Defense Department official. I was quite astounded by his coldness, arrogance and humorlessness. He absolutely creeped me out with both his manner and the content of his remarks. (There is no self-perpetuating secular elite in Israel; he even met the editor of Haaretz in the Great Synagogue.)
Many of the other speakers and respondents said interesting things. It was remarkable how friendly and polite the discussions remained even when there were sharp disagreements. It is a credit to the civilizing effect of the United States that even the Israelis felt obliged to remain civil in the heat of debate.
On Friday, I davened shacharis in a big shul in Teaneck and kabbolas shabbos in a shtiebel in Flatbush.
The differences are obvious but shallow. In the shul in Teaneck, having gone to Camp Munk or Agudah or Torah Vodaas, wearing a hat, davening with just a hint of an Eastern European accent and having but a mild tendency to sarcasm, might mark you as a chnyok, while in the shtiebel in Flatbush, those are all signs of modernity.
But in either place money talks and it talks in American vernacular. (My mother described the women's section of that shtiebel as having more fur than a mink farm.)