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.

8 Comments

  • 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

  • THIS IS A VERY NEEDED ARTICLE

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.