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So Stereotypical

Friday, 2 September, 2022 - 4:31 pm

I was speaking to my son Sholom in Israel, and he shared with me the following experience. One of his responsibilities at the Yeshiva in Tel Aviv at which he is interning, is manning the Tefillin stand near Dizengoff Square, which is just steps from the Yeshiva. This afternoon he was standing there and politely offering passersby the opportunity to lay Tefillin before Shabbat starts. One fellow replied belligerently, “How would you like it if I came to your neighborhood in Meah Shearim and set up a stand offering something secular?” Sholom interjected saying, “where do you think I live?” He continued, “My apartment is a few blocks from here in Tel Aviv. In fact, I come from New Orleans in the US and I have never even been to Meah Shearim.” The man embarrassedly mumbled an apology for stereotyping all religious looking Jews as living in Meah Shearim. Sholom smilingly encouraged him to put on Tefillin. Though he refused this time, I suspect this experience may change his outlook in the future.

A few weeks ago, Sholom was standing at the Tefillin stand with an Israeli student, when they were accosted with the usual “You religious Jews are all parasites. You don’t serve in the army. You don’t have jobs.” The Israeli standing with Sholom burst out laughing. Sholom asked him why he was laughing. He replied, “The irony is that I served in an elite paratrooper unit in the IDF. Furthermore, the reason I am only in Yeshiva part-time is because I have a business that I am running during the rest of the day.”

These are typical cases of “don’t confuse me with the facts.” Sadly, many people stereotype and generalize about people that they perceive as “other” to them. We like to place people in little boxes that we create for them. It is an insult to people’s individuality. It also absolves us from the responsibility and effort of getting to them as distinct individuals. It so much easier to just say, “All ______ folks are the same.” This is the lazy way out.

In recent years, Aviv Geffen, an icon of the “Israeli left” and Avraham Fried, a Chassidic music superstar, engaged in a rapport that brought deeper understanding of each other. They performed a duet called Batzoret – which is about unity between people during trying times (societal drought). (You can watch it here – all Hebrew - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqRP6S72iw0.)

One of the things that came out of the rapport, was Aviv Geffen acknowledging that he engaged in stereotyping about “religious Jews” in Israel. He apologized and declared at a concert, “I spoke from ignorance and I did not understand the other. I’ve matured and I want to ask your genuine forgiveness from my heart.”

A beautiful (all Hebrew) interview with the two singers about their mutual metamorphosis can be seen here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVGSx3Ul4CQ&t=335s.

This is the type of rapprochement that we need to bring our world to a better place, a place that is ripe for Redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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