My father zt”l had a cousin with whom he was extremely close named Moishe Schonfeld z”l. Reb Moishe, who lived in Tel Aviv following World War II, was about as Gerrer chasid as you can get. His wife Malka a”h was the granddaughter of the Imrei Emes zt”l, the sainted Gerrer Rebbe during World War II. He was the baal Shacharis during the Yamim Nora’im in the Ger beis midrash in Yerushalayim for decades and had a very sharp wit.
Upon his return from his first visit to the United States in the 1970s, Reb Moishe remarked to my father, “Do you know what is the definition of a kiddush Hashem in America? It’s when a Jew comes to shul in his car on Shabbos and parks a block away!”
We seemed to have lowered the bar for Jewish expectations in this country. We are glad when a Jew marries another Jew. We are happy when a young Jew is not anti-Israel. We kvel when a Jew is proud of his or her Jewishness.
Last week, Orthodox Jews were aglow with the news that not only one, but two, young Orthodox baseball players were drafted by Major League Baseball. This was a truly remarkable achievement. Until now, we had to be satisfied in reading about Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg not playing during the World Series on Yom Kippur. Now we have two genuine Orthodox players who have declared that they will keep to the laws of Shabbos to one degree or another. It doesn’t take cousin Moishe Schonfeld to declare that this is a true American kiddush Hashem.
I am glad I am not the rabbi who had to rule (if one did) whether these young men may entertain their career, given the parameters of the restrictions of Shabbos.
How indeed are we to look at this milestone? Do we react by saying, “Yes! We made it! Even a Sabbath observer can compete in one of the most coveted professional sports occupations in the world!” Or do we say, “Sorry, but there is no way that all the prestige in the world is worth the minutest infraction of the halachos, or even atmosphere, of Shabbos!” It is not my intention to offer my opinion on the matter in this article. However, we do need to take stock of the implications of this milestone.
First, it must be stated that we live in a great country. With all our problems, and there are many for Jews, this is most definitely not an anti-Semitic country. That two very obviously Jewish young men can be chosen and even accommodated by MLB speaks volumes. Thank G-d that we have a lot to be thankful for. Of course, we are very much in galus, in our Exile. Yet we do need to take pause and appreciate our host country and its majority of good people.
We as Orthodox Jews need to appreciate the fact that Orthodox Jewry is accomplishing that which should not be overlooked. We are producing a generation of kids who are still proud to be connected to Judaism. Yes, there exists a major concern that Modern Orthodox students will be drifting with the lures of modernity, but for the moment we are holding on…albeit by a thread.
What is extremely alarming is a recently published survey that states that about 28% of Jews today believe that Israel is an Apartheid state. They believe, as well, that Israel is guilty of genocide against the Palestinians. When factoring Jews who are aged 40 and under exclusively, the percentage is even higher!
Some organizations are wondering aloud how we can educate young Jews differently today. Forget about it! All the education that is not traditional Torah-based is not going to help. There is no logic to today’s thinking, so you cannot de- educate lunacy.
The entire leftist drift of the country is predicated on empty slogans. I was listening to some host on Fox News the other night interviewing a very articulate African American Democratic spokeswoman (I can’t remember her name) and asking her how it is that Democrats consider Texas voter registration identification laws requiring a driver’s license or four digits of a social security number to be racist. The Democratic rep tried to dodge the question three times by going into a history of GOP racism. The host would not let her off the hook, but eventually had to throw up his hands and just point to the fact that she had no explanation.
Israel is Apartheid!? The fact that they have fully educated Muslims integrated into Israeli society, that there is an Israeli Muslim Supreme Court justice, that there is even a Muslim party in the current coalition apparently makes no difference to those who shout “Apartheid!”
Israel bombed Gaza, so therefore they are genocidal!? The fact that Israel put up with hundreds of unprovoked missiles into their civilian populations apparently makes no difference: not to liberals, not to supportive Democrats, not to college professors, not to The New York Times, and not to college students. It’s cool, so just believe it. That’s the way American society is dealing with all societal issues today. It’s in. It’s cool. You better be on board.
Our Jewish students will be drinking all that Kool-Aid as they move on. And no one clamors to be just like everyone else more than Jewish youth.
That is why the Orthodox – and only the Orthodox – must be aggressive in fighting for Israel and the truth about Jews. Only they can come equipped with Torah education and make sure our history, our Torah history, becomes part of the diet in the Orthodox schools.
Only the Orthodox can have enthusiastic rallies to support Israel and Jewish pride. We can bring out the adults and kids alike. But if the organizations will feel that we can piggyback on the bigger and better-funded secular organizations, as they have done till now, so we can make the claim we are doing something, we are headed for disaster.
No matter how you look at the Orthodox baseball prospects, it’s a great sacrifice on their part. But we need to hit a home run.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.