Growing up out-of-town I was aware of only 2 kinds of Jews – religious and not religious. When we moved to Boro Park the summer before I was to enter 5th grade, I learned that there were different kinds of religious Jews. I attended a well respected yeshiva there that was inclusive at the time and girls of varying degrees of religiosity were in class together. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference; everyone gravitated to those who were more or less like themselves and in general we all got along. I also began to realize, unfortunately, that how “religiously” one dressed was not necessarily reflective of their true character.
As time’s gone on, the inclusivity which I was fortunate to experience has greatly diminished and one kind of “religious” is not necessarily good enough for the “other kind”. And, if you’re not religious, well then… I’ve found this all very sad and, frankly, anti-Jewish. And, in Israel, society is even more compartmentalized than in the U.S., as has been pointed out to me and as we’ve seen ourselves when researching communities before our Aliyah. We did find a city to settle in which seems to reflect our ideals of inclusivity as there co-exist various streams of religiosity, from secular to hasidic, rather peacefully here.
Shortly before we moved to Israel, I picked up a book from our local library: To Heal A Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The ideas and ideals which he discusses in this book are quite powerful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish it before we left and although we tried purchasing it from the nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore, they were out of it. So, one of the things I was anxious to do when we got to Israel, was acquire a copy of the book – at a reasonable price of course, considering that it’s imported. It took me a while to decide that 95 shekels was “reasonable” after which I finally purchased it.
A Hassidic story that Rabbi Sacks related in his book made such a strong impression on me that it was one of the reasons I wanted to so much to buy it. I thought I might share it with you in part:
“At the third Sabbath meal, as the day grew dark and the mood intense, one of the hassidim turned to the Rebbe with a question he had long wanted to ask but had not had the courage to do so until now: ‘Rebbe, why does the Messiah not come?’
‘Why do you ask, my son?’
‘Because’, he replied, ‘in the past perhaps we were not ready. The world was not ready. The hour was not right. But now, after the Holocaust, and the return of Jews to their land, has the time not come?’…
‘I will tell you, my son’, said the Rebbe. ‘How could the Messiah come? Consider: If he were a hassid of one sect, the hasidim of the other sects would not recognize him. If he were Orthodox, the Reform Jews would not recognized him. If he were religious, the secular Jews would not recognize him. How then can he come?’
‘And now’, continued the Rebbe, ‘I will tell you a great secret.’ The Rebbe dropped his voice to a whisper. ‘ It is not we who are waiting for the Messiah. It is the Messiah who is waiting for us. He has been here all the time. It is we who are not ready for him.'” (To Heal, p. 55)