Last week, I was at Citi Field in Queens on two different occasions. On Sunday, I attended the Orthodox Union’s “Day of Torah Learning,” held in the conference rooms at Citi Field. It was a beautiful and inspiring event, with thousands of people in attendance to hear words of chizuk and Torah from a group of wonderful presenters.
Then on Thursday, I was back at Citi Field with our yeshivah – Heichal HaTorah – for a Lag BaOmer outing to watch the Mets take on the Atlanta Braves. The Mets never really showed up and were demolished by the Braves 11-0.
I must admit that I enjoyed both visits to Citi Field (says the Yankees fan), obviously in very different ways.
Before I headed out to the game on Thursday, I looked up where I could find free parking near Citi Field. I don’t mind walking a bit, so why not save the $25 parking fee? I saw that there is a place fairly close to the stadium called Willets Point where parking was free. So, as everyone waited online to turn right into stadium parking, I, the wiser, went left towards Willets Point.
It was a great reminder that in life you get what you pay for. Driving through Willets Point was an experience to say the least. I couldn’t believe the drastic transition that occurred. As I turned off the main road, I suddenly found myself in an area that looked like a third-world country. Groups of workers were hanging around in front of auto body shop after auto body shop, each one looking more dilapidated than the one before it. Worst of all was the road itself, which looked and felt like it was hit by the blitzkrieg. Everyone in the car cringed as we heard the car grind along the road with every inch forward, despite the fact that I was going quite slowly. Then I realized how all those body shops stayed in business. Anytime someone drove down that road, he would need part of his car replaced in order to get out. I was sure my wheels were going to fall off as I tried to inch forward and weave my way around the craters all over the road.
As we celebrate Shavuos, we reaffirm and reaccept upon ourselves that same level of original commitment. In that way, we guarantee that we are not living a Willets Point Judaism
It was incredible to see the beautiful stadium less than a city block away, yet being trapped in what felt like a different world.
I found out afterwards that Willets Point is not even attached to the city’s sewer system, and they rely on their own antiquated septic.
As you can imagine, there was no way I was going to park in Willets Point. So, I put my pride aside, and shelled out $25 to park in the stadium lot.
I don’t think my experience is so unique, if at least metaphorically. We as Jews are blessed with numerous ancient laws, customs, and traditions. With uncanny foresight, the sages enacted definitive parameters within which we are to live our lives. But often there are those who think they know better. The path of the sages often requires added effort and resources. There are many who feel that their own contrived shortcuts can ensure maintaining observance even while changing the rules.
History has demonstrated that such movements and ideas never stand the test of time. The alarming and frightening assimilation rate is the greatest proof of the failure of all aberrations from traditional Torah observance.
What was once proffered as the only salvation for the future of the Jewish people has clearly deteriorated to a spiritual Willets Point, presenting a half-baked, faltering, and decrepit form of Judaism.
When one leaves this world, the first question he is asked is Kavata itim LaTorah? (Shabbos 31a), which literally means “Did you set aside time for (the study of) Torah?” However, there is another homiletic understanding of the question: Did you set the times you lived in, to conform to Torah values? In other words, did you live your life trying to make the Torah fit with the times and society you lived in, or did you ensure that your lifestyle conformed to Torah standards, despite society’s values or lack thereof?
Shavuos is the anniversary of when we accepted the Torah in its pristine form. Every year as we celebrate Shavuos, we reaffirm and reaccept upon ourselves that same level of original commitment. In that way, we guarantee that we are not living a Willets Point Judaism. Rather, we are reaccepting the Torah in a manner that mirrors the observance of our ancestors, all the way back to Sinai.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is email@example.com. His website is www.stamtorah.info.