It was a warm Friday evening in July. We were in the Old City of Jerusalem and I decided that we, as a family, should walk to the Kotel to welcome in Shabbat.
As we strolled past the Arab peddlers, entered Jaffa Gate and were walking through the stone alleyways of the shuk, we were enveloped into a sea of black hats. We, on the other hand (my kids and I anyway, who had been outside all day,) were wearing our Baltimore’s best in the hot, summer weather—bright, breathable, sporty, Under Armour. We stood out. Hey, it was sweltering 98 degrees!Now, you may think that would cause a fuss amongst our fellow Orthodox brethren. But we weren’t shunned, no one even looked at us askance—rather we were made to feel welcome. Did we feel a little out of place? Sure. But that was our own mishegas. My son, in Israel for his Bar Mitzvah at the time, even said to us, “Boy those are cool hats, can I get one?”
That experience of being warmly surrounded by the embrace of fellow Jews, who may not appear like me, and to some, may even seem a little intimidating, took me back to another time and when I was 10-years-old at Camp Ramah in New England. We were a bunch of white upper middleclass, mainly suburban kids assembled in the Bet Am when a group of Hasidim came in and made friends with us. They talked, we kibitzed and they asked us what we liked to do. “Do you like sports?” What team is your favorite? And then, after not too long, we proceeded to dance and sing all night together with them. While I was perhaps a little too young to completely grasp the concept, we were one people.
Fast forward to today and the divide that exists (whether at the Kotel and the challenges of accepting women who wish to pray there or here at home in Baltimore, between some Haredim and the wider Jewish community,) we could all use some of that same singing, dancing and praying together. We’re all Jews and fighting amongst ourselves, when there’re plenty of others outside our faith who’d like to fight with any and all of us, is meshugena!
I even make it a point to go to the ice skating rink on a Saturday night or a Sunday afternoon, and proudly wear my Israeli, krav maga sweatshirt, because I know there’ll be a lot of orthodox there and I enjoy the feeling of being part of a Jewish community and even exchanging some Hebrew expressions with them.
Whether Sephardi, Mizrahi, or the lost tribe of Manasseh who are being airlifted from India and returning home to Israel, we’re stronger and better when we’re one.
Back in Jerusalem, when we were walking out of Damascus Gate on that Friday night, some of the Haredim inquired, “Where are you from”? Yes, clearly we stood out, but the tone was congenial. “Baltimore” we said, and there was an immediate smile on the old rabbi’s face. “Baltimore, we have family in Baltimore!”
Yes, we really are just one big family.Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at [email protected]