Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Jewish Organizations Should Respect Religious Jews

July 5, 2013 10:06 am 8 comments

The 92nd Street Y. Photo: Wikipedia.

In my youth, everyone had heard of the YMCA, the Young Men’s Christian Association. It was founded in 1844 “to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy body, mind and spirit.” And it spread around the world. If you spend any time in Jerusalem, you cannot avoid the prominent YMCA building and tower. It was once the tallest landmark in West Jerusalem. Now it is dwarfed by apartment blocks, hotels, and office towers.

To a young Jewish boy fresh from the UK, the Jerusalem YMCA in the 1950s reeked of alien smells, sights, customs, and ideology. It was the Arnold of Rugby public school system transferred to the Middle East, a legacy of the British Mandate and colonialism. The indoor swimming pool was the only one in Jerusalem until the late, unlamented Presidents Hotel added a minute plunge pool. The YMCA pool in Jerusalem was not only segregated, but you had to swim in the nude.

The YMCA was founded to bring robust Christianity, directly and indirectly, to a world of young pagans. In my youth, almost wherever you travelled you were bound to find cheap YMCA hostels, and (to be fair) not too many evangelists. It was an institution, and it provided a great service for working- and middle-class men and women (although women had the Young Women’s Christian Association) away from home. It also provided social and cultural facilities. But the influence of the YMCA has fallen drastically. (Though there is still a large YMCA almost opposite where I live in New York City that is often patronized by Israeli youth groups coming to the city looking for convenient, cheap accommodations.)

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association was established some ten years after the YMCA, in Baltimore, primarily to offer young immigrants an alternative to a Christian sporting and social atmosphere; it was a very secular organization and made no serious attempt to provide any Jewish content. Eventually the organization was largely absorbed by the Jewish Community Centers, but a few remained independent, and the most famous today is the 92nd Street Y in New York. It offers a very wide range of services including a first-rate cultural program with lectures and concerts, and nowadays it even has a rabbi on its staff. It is, in spirit and execution, primarily an organization for Jews more than a Jewish organization.

There is a reserved young lady in my community, still in high school, who tries her best to adhere to tradition. She is outstandingly good with children and helps in the weekly children’s services. She was accepted by the 92nd Street Y to join its team of paid helpers for its summer day camp. The program involves weekend work, which occasionally involves travelling on Shabbat. She did not want to break Shabbat. But whether rightly or wrongly, she feared for her job, and so she kept quiet. You might argue that if she cared enough about it, she should have refused to travel on Shabbat and accepted her fate. But she did not. Perhaps she reasoned that if a non-Jew drove, she could live with it. But when she got to the campsite, she was directed to start clearing it up, which obviously involved a lot of hard work.

I find it very sad that an organization founded to help Jews retain their identity, regardless of how inclusive or non-denominational, should be so insensitive, so unaware Jewishly. One can understand a non-Jewish organization not even considering the possibility that someone might want to keep Shabbat. But one founded by Jews and for Jews? We hear a lot nowadays in the Jewish world about religious coercion and fanatics imposing their standards on others. How about the reverse? Perhaps the organization will say that a junior official went beyond his brief, or that it was an unfortunate error of judgment, or as I have said that it was her fault for not speaking out. They might not be wrong, but still I find it sad.

I am reminded of my late father’s comments after his first visit to the USA in 1955. He was struck by the professionalism of the communal organizations in contrast to the amateur way things were done in the UK. But he was shocked at how Jewishly ignorant they were and how little they were aware of the sensibilities of traditional Jews and the requirements of orthodoxy. Communal leaders taking him around felt under no obligation to provide kosher food whether for visitors, meetings, or functions. The truth was that in those days, Israeli diplomats and politicians notoriously disregarded any Jewish religious sensibilities. It was not until after the Six Day War that the pendulum began to swing the other way. In Europe too, many Jewish organizations paid no heed at all to dietary or other religious requirements. Often they were more sensitive to other religions than their own. But over time things have improved dramatically. It is one of the achievements of the growing Orthodox and Charedi presence that most Jewish organizations now realize that a non-Orthodox Jew can eat kosher but an observant Jew cannot eat non-kosher.

I do not object to Jewish organizations that serve the whole community opening their facilities on Shabbatot and festivals. But I do expect them to be proactive in not requiring Jewish employees to work them, and they should make their requirements clear from the start. In our world we bend over backwards to avoid offending other religions and cultures, yet we seem all too careless about our own. Obviously there are people within the 92nd Street Y who still need to be sensitive to practicing Judaism.


  • i need to reach in jues organization and explain my issues.

  • when the chief rabbinate of israel denounces all american orthodox batei din as corrupt and refuses to accept their conversions as valid, and when the head of kashrut supervision of the chief rabbinate declares that he will remove the hekhsher of any supermarket that sells american ice cream which is certified kosher by the ou, i would suggest that there are more fundamental problems at issue.

    sin’at hinam is a terrible thing, but it isn’t all coming from “insensitivity” on the part of non-observant jews or their organizations.

  • Otto Waldmann in Sydney

    Yet, if one checks the Statutes/Constitutions of most Jewish organisations, they would proclaim with pathos the “guardianship” of everything Judaism stands for. Thus, the impersonal “organisation” must be replaced with the actual “people” who run these places, some with the specific purpose of diminishing Yidishkeit and replace it with destructive notions of “political correctness”, conceived by the same misfits as a protection of Judaism itself.

  • She should have spoken up. I’m sure that they would have accommodated her had they known she was Shomer Shabbat. The 92nd St. Y is not affiliated with any Jewish movement and therefore has the impossible task of appealing to all the Jews and non-Jews they serve in the NYC community. It’s unfortunate that this young woman was put in that position, but all she had to do was let them know at the outset that she was observant.

  • Thet are not Jews-Jews, they are Edomite Jews


Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Eden Pearlstein freely admits that he has an addiction. But his brings people up instead of bringing them down. “I am a chronic collaborator,” says Pearlstein, a 35-year-old rapper who goes by the moniker of Eprhyme, and has released several solo albums. “Deeper and Higher” — his new album — is a collaboration with Shir Yakov Feit, who co-writes the songs and music. The friends and fellow artists both explore the relationship between man and God, and the benefit and emotional weight of introspection. With lyrics in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, the artists stress […]

    Read more →