The Jewish people have a lot to be proud of. Artist Bruce Reinfeld created a poster titled “Jews Kick Ass” featuring Henry Winkler, Albert Einstein, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Dylan, William Shatner and Jesus. That may be the most eclectic group of human beings, let alone Jews.
Yet this past week the Jewish people commemorated one of the worst moments in their history with the fast of the tenth day of the Hebrew month of Tevet that took place on Thursday. The fast connects the sin of “sinat chinam” – a Hebrew concept that can be loosely translated as “hate for no reason” – that was manifested on that day through the sale of Joseph into bondage by his brothers and with the start of the siege of Jerusalem that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Temple. Jewish tradition teaches that the second Temple was destroyed because of “hate for no reason” that Jewish people displayed toward each other.
OK, these are Biblical stories and religious concepts that took place thousands of years ago. We’ve come a long way but can still remember and learn from our iniquities. Well, not really. A story that aired at the end of 2011 by Israeli Channel 2 created an uproar when it documented the abuse that young girls at a new school in the city of Beit Shemesh suffer because those who claim to be more religious believe they do not dress modestly or practice the laws of the Torah. Spitting. Calling them “sluts” and “prostitutes.” Making them afraid to walk to school. The images from the original news story – which is actually not that easy to find on YouTube – look disturbingly close to a PBS documentary about the desegregation of schools in the South or an HBO special about the Little Rock Nine 50 years ago.
The reaction of Israelis and Jews worldwide was swift. The Israeli president, members of parliament, and Jewish organizations across the United States condemned this behavior. The offenders were labeled as extremists whose views and actions are outside the norm. This is pointless. It’s like condemning AIDS. Everyone knows it’s bad. A head of state or a religious leader is not needed to clarify this. To solve the South’s school segregation problem, the PBS and HBO documentaries describe aggressive actions by the Supreme Court and the National Guard.
But there’s a bigger problem that needs to be solved, and the schoolgirl incident in Beit Shemesh, rather than an aberration, is an excellent example of it. Jews aren’t simply Jews anymore. They are Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, modern-Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, (insert your favorite prefix)-Orthodox. This person won’t go to this synagogue because of how they pray. This rabbi’s views are to be questioned or rejected because she’s female, he’s gay, too religious or not religious enough. The extremists who accost schoolgirls and women in Beit Shemesh aren’t “us” but neither are the people who pray this way, go to that school, or eat at those restaurants.
According to Jewish tradition, the First Temple lay in destruction for 70 years because of the poor decisions the people made in their religious worship. The Second Temple has now been destroyed for 2,000 years because of the poor decisions Jews made, and continue to make both consciously and unconsciously, in their interactions with one another.
So how do we address this? Here’s an answer you probably won’t hear in a synagogue, TribeFest, or AIPAC.
From Biblical stories and philosophy to contemporary Jewish worship and outreach, Jews are a team, a sports team, the “Jewish people.” Moreover we are the “chosen team” – indeed, the all-star-team – charged with the responsibility of being “a light unto the nations.” The discord that occurs when people in Beit Shemesh (yup, they’re on the team, too) harass schoolgirls and women or when Jews pass judgment on other Jews through a label is a form of fighting in the locker room that would put Kobe and Shaq and the beer-drinking Boston Red Sox to shame. The real work has to be done on the field.
Why can’t Judaism be more like a baseball team? Various personalities and players with different backgrounds and values come together to form a team that’s only as good as each of its parts. Teams fail when they can’t coalesce. That’s the beauty of the blockbuster movie Moneyball about how the Oakland Athletics could put together a team on a limited budget by exploiting each player’s varied strengths and contributions.
Jews will win or lose together. So go out and meet your teammates. Visit a synagogue that’s outside your comfort zone. Talk to someone with different beliefs than your own about how they find beauty and meaning in their faith.
And think about Sandy Koufax. Because if I say Sandy Koufax, I guarantee the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is “the quintessential Jewish baseball player.” But if I mention a particular synagogue or rabbi, it’ll conjure up some label like Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative or Orthodox that divides rather than unites.
Indeed “Jews Kick Ass,” as Reinfeld’s depiction of six eclectic Jews shows. After 2,000 years it’s time to stop kicking each other’s ass in the locker room. It’s time to take our game to the field.
Gather the Jews member Jonathan Horowitz (www.jjhorowitz.com) is the horse race announcer at Arapahoe Park and host of the show “A Day at the Races” on Altitude Sports TV in Denver. He also has authored The ONE and ONLY: A Sports Quiz Deck of Definitive Games, Teams, Players, and Events (http://pomegranate.com/k360.html). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.