Sunday, August 05, 2007

My recent trip to the U.S. threw me for a loop.

I have tremendous distaste for Zionists who use the term "galuti" as a pejorative. In fact, almost all the negative traits they generally associate with the term -- decorousness, self-effacement, quietism -- are the kind of traits of which too little can be as bad as too much. If you've met Israelis, you know what I mean.

But still. It all began well enough. I caught a game at Shea and another in Wrigley, I ate in the requisite classy restaurants (major hat tip to MOC) and visited Barnes and Noble in three states. It was in Costco that my head began to spin. Costco is a testament to the astounding degree to which America, unlike Europe, is not a class society. Pretty much everybody can -- and apparently does -- buy pretty much everything. When I walk in there, I feel like I'm on that old TV show where you get a fixed amount of time to load your cart for free.

But after about fifteen minutes in Costco, I began to feel like I sometimes do when they bring out the Viennese table after an already too big meal. I don't really need any of this stuff and there's too damn much of it. Suddenly, I'm suffering from vertigo and the whole scene looks surreal. People the size of Sumo wrestlers are pushing around carts the size of minivans in a store the size of a hangar and buying industrial quantities of fake food and Maalox. It's beginning to look like some kind of Swiftian nightmare. There are eight different ways to zip your ziploc bags that come in six different sizes. Ralph and Norton will discover that there are now twelve different gizmos that "can even core a apple". Suddenly the local makolet seems so warm and comforting.

Well, big deal. What's actually more interesting for the point I want to make here is that there really is no classless society. There are always subtle forms of stratification. If the basics -- and more -- are now accessible to everyone, the way to show off your plumes is through conspicuous -- that is, wasteful -- consumption and leisure. I spent some very happy days in a New Jersey community that, while presenting significant financial barriers to entry, is a lot less shvitzerish than a nearby community or certain communities in Long Island. And even there a catered sholom zochor strikes people as perfectly unexceptional.

Well, still no big deal. The big deal is the particular way that frum people bridge the yawning gap between conspicuous consumption and frumkeit. Frumkeit itself becomes a form of conspicuous leisure. First, supporting married children learning in kollel has replaced supporting stay-at-home wives as the primary form of conspicuous leisure. (And, in anticipation of serving in the role of markers of class, these sons allow their, somewhat befuddled, parents to choose caste-preserving mates for them.) Second, one can announce one's ability to burn money by collecting trophy rabbanim. Rabbanim (at least American ones) can be counted on to do gigs on behalf of benefactors in which every rhetorical trick imaginable is marshaled to broadcast the message that they have no intention of threatening anybody's lifestyle. Wringing their hands, smiling sheepishly, speaking in soft - almost effeminate - tones, plucking "real-life" examples from the air in a manner that suggests (like Woody Allen eating a mess o' catfish) that somebody else's life is flashing before their eyes -- these rabbanim (not unlike kollel sons) have learned to play the role of benign icons in exchange for allowing others to display largess. From time to time, they can even be persuaded to hatch some imbecilic chumrah that will give the flock another opportunity to conspicuously burn money.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, I went to a neighbor's wedding that took place in a forest near Shiloh, deep in the Shomron. The shmorg consisted of peaches. The meal consisted of a few vats of rice and some barbecued chicken on buffet tables. The kallah and her friends were all dressed in white (it was the 15th of Av , after all) and danced barefoot in the forest. The chosson's friends, the ones with flying peyos from his yeshiva and the bare-headed ones from his commando unit, danced together energetically and enthusiastically, with only a bit of help from two guys with guitars and modest microphones. It was one of the nicest weddings I have attended.

What was impressive was not the modesty of the event but rather its authenticity. There is something amazing happening here under our noses. A generation of Jews is growing up here who are not Jews-as-opposed-to but just plain authentic Jews, comfortable in their skins without the need to score points. They make other Jews seems so -- OK, shoot me -- galuti.

I think I'm a Zionist after all.

15 Comments:

Anonymous zalman said...

get ready to be cropped out of your high school publications.

12:59 PM  
Blogger MoChassid said...

LOL.

Should I mention that we both ate fish or would that ruin your reputation (although in your defense you did have the duck spring rolls while I had some girly appetizer like gazpatcho)

3:46 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

zalman,
I would beg to be cropped out of my high school's publications.

moc,
Hovashtani. Next time I'm going straight for the steak.

4:30 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

my sister got married in israel, to a moshavnik, a few months before my wife's brother got married at a country club on long island. we were watching said sister's wedding video with said brother-in-law and wife one time, and we got up to the point where my sister's husband's tank brigade, still in uniform and from the front (this was may 2002, when the IDF was kicking tuchis in the Shomron), crashed into the center circle. my sister-in-law, watching this, said to her husband - "oh, i knew there was something we forgot to have at our wedding - chayalim!"
great post.

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if the long-peyosed oversized-kipahd superdancers are the true, authentic jews, then the future of israel and the jewish people, have a serious problem.

6:38 PM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

I liked the post a lot. I for one would like to hear your ideas about the symbiosis of rabbis and rich people spelled out in greater detail.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous louis3105 said...

It's sad that frum Jews can act/believe that suburban NYC is the Promised Land. OK, secular Jews don't know better, but certainly this crowd should feel that something is missing. But these idiotic humrot are important. That's how they can claim that they're frum and those of us in Israel aren't. Indeed this scenario was played out by the Jews of Bavel against their brothers in Erets Yisrael. For more on this, see Rav David Bar-Hayim about taking the lulav on Shabbat. http://machonshilo.org/content/view/28/29/

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THAT IMPRESSED YOU, HOW?

12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HOW DO SAY YOUR A ZIONIST ; WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE THREE OATHS?

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always impressed that zionist never have a response to the three oaths
vayoel moshe emes

1:00 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

A mol darft min a bissel seichel. You really want to build a whole krum view of the world on one shver aggadata? In any case, if you insist on pilpulishe answers, try Rav Kasher's Hatkufa Hagdola.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the poskim accept the three oaths including reb tzvi hirsch kalisher ,he writes clearly in doresh letzion that all his ideas are not c"v to make a yiddeshe state and be oyver on the gimmel shvuous
in addition if tou want to see the zionist response rav kasher really is not the place i would recommend the sefer nachlas yackov or even rav zevin has a piece on this they are much better than rav kasher
but after all that "kushya bimkoma omedes"

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And why is that a "krum world view"?
if any thing zionism made things worse
see what rav avigdor miller wrote about the "accomplishments" of zionism.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add one more thing to day its a busha to say your a zionist
read the book " when g-d became history" and see how he makes rav kook ois tzioni
and also rav cohen stoped saying "reishis tsmichas..."

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BY US WE SAY THAT THERE ARE TWO GROUPS WHO STILL THINK THAT A ZIONIST MOVEMENT IS GOING ON
THEY ARE MIZRACHI AND NETUREI KARTA

8:37 PM  

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