05 March 2006

President Joel Speaks to Mt. Sinai

I should have typed this up last night, perhaps immediately after shabbas, but, here I am, about 30 hours after President Joel spoke Friday night at our shul and around 20 hours after he spoke at dinner (סעודת שלישית). As such, there will be much – and a lot of good stuff, too – that I will be omitting, so I’m very open to people adding in their recollections of his speeches. It's such a shame that it was on שבת and that I couldn't take notes....

I’ll begin right before shabbas, where I had to drop off a DVD of 24 (fourth season – yes, I’m back from my brief 24 hiatus) at Blockbuster, then rushed to Mt. Sinai (my shul), where I arrived during קבלת שבת (kabbalas shabbas), so I davened outside the בית כנסת (sanctuary), in the dining room. I heard what to me sounded like a חזן (cantor), so I thought the shul must have been trying to be nice for President Joel. When I finished מנחה (afternoon prayer), I walked in and there was President Joel leading(!). He continued the davening throughout מעריב (evening service), and I was pretty impressed – who knew that President Joel could lead services well?

For both meals, the food was good (catered by L’Chaim, located on Broadway, which, for its old sign (from several decades ago), it was surprisingly good), and I sat next to Steg (another blogger, Romach, was also in attendance). During Friday night dinner, President Joel spoke on Orthodoxy, and during Saturday evening, he spoke on a similar topic (yes, my memory is now failing me), and also opened up the floor for a Q&A.

I found President Joel to be a man of humility as well as humorous, which was noticeable from his opening, where he jested, "And now for my conclusion." Additionally, I found him to be a good orator and a visionary, with good ideas and perspectives.
One of these was last evening, where he responded to someone who was asking about "Centrist" Orthodoxy, which was the invention of President Joel's predecessor, Rabbi Dr. Lamm, President Joel (henceforth referred to as PRJ) responded that he doesn't care much for adjectives, such as Centrist Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy, or ichveis Open Orthodoxy. For him, he sees it as Orthodoxy, what need is there for adjectives?
An interesting point he made was that back in the day, Yiddish was a shared language between Jews from wherever they lived, but now we don't have that - however, he said, the new Yiddish is our shared story. I found that a wildly fascinating concept. An instance of this was in his creation of Birthright Israel, where it's more than just travelling to Israel, but sharing something Jewish. Additionally, another part of this was that he is a believer in day schools for non-Orthodox kids, because there they will at least be aware of, and speaking the language, of Judaism (e.g., "Shabbat shalom").
Another was that as great as it is that Orthodox Jews often clump together (e.g. Teaneck, etc.), and they have kosher eateries, etc., they often only see that the Jews around them are like them - Orthodox, keep kosher, shabbas, etc. However, most Jews are not like that - maybe a tenth of American Jews are Orthodox, so it is not sensible to be triumphalistic about Orthodoxy when 90% of American Jewry are not.
Furthermore, he said that Orthodox Jews are more learned - both Jewishly and generally - than are their non-Orthodox brethren and that that is something that we could use....
When someone inquired of him if YU was looking for non-Orthodox students, he said that he was bound by NY law to say that [blah, blah, blah], but that anybody who is not Orthodox will probably find it not to be where they would like to be, although they are, for the new Mechina program, trying to recruit people who are not as knowledgeable, recruiting from NCSY and even BBYO.
An interesting move that PRJ was to suggest that the young community here in the Heights, which in the last few years has grown a lot, is also a community of people who don't stay for long, that they should try to build more of a community up and stay even after they get married.
I realize that I am omitting much of what PRJ spoke on Friday night, but
I assure that it is not done intentionally, it's just with the passing of time, so, too, does my memory.
With a blend of stories and humor, I found him to be inspiring (which is largely surprising as I have gotten to a place of criticalness, and am seldom inspired), and realized that he and Rabbi Wein are two of the most inspiring Jewish leaders and speakers at this time.
Also, a fellow by the name of Chaim from Maryland had said he reads my blog, so I thought I should give him a little shout-out here.
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Anonymous said...

Can you give us some more about his idea of a joint narrative?
or if we need to reach out beyond our Orthodox neighborhoods, then doesn't that imply that we have different narratives?

Anonymous said...


Very well said. I'm glad I wasn't the only jaded soul who was supremely inspired by President Joel's words. He is a great speaker and seems that he will be a great leader and representative for the Jewish people. Some people critcized that he was too vague and didn't say anything concrete. I hear that but I still found his words very meaningful. I hope his visions for YU, Washington Heights and the greater Jewish community come to fruition.
P.S. Thanks for the magnet :)

Anonymous said...

To add to your comments- one point I remember him saying was; for the future of Diaspora Jewish people to continue and the future of Israel as a Jewish state- there needs to Jewish people. In other words will our grandchildren be Jewish? To ensure that people don’t become assimilated we need to find a common ground to engage in dialogue with all types of Jews. What and how to do this is big question?