Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Yorkers: To Bash or Not to Bash?

Last week, over on Ezzie's Blog there was some discussion of the issue of “New York bashing.” As a proud out-of-towner, I must admit that I am guilty of possessing some negative stereotypes about certain NY Jews and their attitude. However, I acquired these stereotypes based on real-life experience, and of course I don’t apply them across the board. The truth is that before I went to Israel for a year after high school, I had practically never met a New Yorker in my life. It was only then that my eyes were opened with a vengeance to the concept of in-town vs. out-of-town. I quickly found out firsthand about some of the issues with the stereotypically “New York” mentality. When I started going to school in NY the following year, I found out even more. No one will deny that the differences between being a Jew in-town and out-of-town are plentiful. I’m not going to discuss the pros and cons of these differences here, but I will weigh in on the appropriate time, place, and way to point out flaws within certain segments of the Jewish community in New York.

My final disclaimer is this: I am close friends with a ton of in-towners, whom I love to pieces, and many of whom display none of the negative stereotypical characteristics of in-towners. There are far too many Jews in this area to make a generalization about any group—inevitably, every group has an infinite number of variations within it. If you are a New Yorker reading this, it should in no way be taken as a personal attack. It is very possible that you are among the New Yorkers who are as well-mannered, considerate, and sensitive as any out-of-towner could ever hope to be. That said, it must be acknowledged that, unfortunately, there are many New Yorkers who do not share your attitude. Any negativity is directed solely at those who display behaviors that merit it. Ok, now to what I wanted to say:

The bottom line is this: Orthodox Jews need as much good publicity as they can get. If I was to write an article for a non-Jewish publication, I would never ever write about problems with pushy NY Jews. Instead, I would write about positive examples of Orthodox Judaism. And if a non-frum person or a non-Jew out-of-town said something negative to me about New Yorky Orthodox Jews, I would respond with an adamant defense, and tell the person that that’s not the case at all. I would say that the problems the person encountered were probably the result of the hectic NYC mentality, which affects Jews and non-Jews alike, and is not a problem unique to the Jewish community. If the person persisted, and cited examples, I would say that it is unfortunate that he/she had encountered people like that, but that the majority of Orthodox Jews in New York are not like that, and that those people, who should indeed change their ways, are exceptions and not the rule.

However, I think it entirely appropriate to discuss problems with the mentality and actions of certain NY Jews in a private setting. If there is no discussion of these issues, then the problems will only be propagated and ignored, and we are all at risk of falling into the same kind of behavior. As someone who lives in NY (temporarily), I am, of course, prone to the possibility of acting in the ways that so disturb me. By talking about the issues that undeniably exist among certain populations of NY Jews, I attempt to keep myself and those who hear what I have to say away from those behaviors. There is a delicate balance between speaking out to correct behaviors when needed and perpetrating sinas chinam. However, the fact that it is tricky does not mean that we must keep entirely silent about the problems we see. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and no Jew should feel content to merely sit back and watch the amount of chillul Hashem that sometimes occurs. As frum Jews, we are all responsible for one another, and the actions of any one of us affects the image of the entire group. We need to offer mussar in whatever way we deem will be most effective--but without being overly harsh or allowing personal bitterness to infiltrate our reaction.

A friend from NY pointed out that sometimes we out-of-towners don’t realize that what we say may be offensive to NYers—that our flippant comments may often be insensitive. I think that we should always be conscious, and avoid making comments purely out of annoyance or spite. Yet, when necessary, we should offer tochacha in whatever way we think may actually get the message across and keep people from acting that way again.


Moshe said...

No response is necessary for a post so eloquent, thoughtful, and thorough.

I hope more people (in- and out-of-towners read it).

Ezzie said...

Great, great post, SJ.

I would say that the problems the person encountered were probably the result of the hectic NYC mentality, which affects Jews and non-Jews alike, and is not a problem unique to the Jewish community.

I think that this is possibly the most important facet. (And something people didn't get when I said it. Ah, if only I were eloquent.) What's so disturbing to "out-of-town" Jews when they see the way NY Jews act is the same disturbance "out-of-town" non-Jews see when they see New Yorkers act. It's not as if the Jews are necessarily worse than the other New Yorkers; but we definitely do notice it more among 'our own' and hold them to a higher standard.

It is that higher standard we should be striving for and which "out-of-towners" such as myself like to point out - both for ourselves and New Yorkers. This comes back to what a few other people said: It is easier to keep in mind that one needs to make a kiddush Hashem and not a chillul Hashem when one lives outside of NY and in communities that have large amounts of non-Jews. It is much harder to remember this when one is only around other Jews and dulls his or her senses to this awareness - and this can't happen.

Moshe said...

Ezzie - nice response.

Mucho correcto.

SJ said...

Thanks for the compliments, guys!

...and Ezzie, you are exactly right. In a speech I heard yesterday, the speaker mentioned why she thinks that Jewish schools are often so chaotic and the kids lack basic manners. She said that when we close the doors to the outside and are in an all-Jewish environment we often feel that we can relax, and let down our standards. So as long as we're in an all-Jewish school, we feel at home, and it's ok to throw our backpacks all over the floor and act as wildly as we want. She speaks in Jewish schools around the country, and she said that she's found that in some schools, they even take pride in this fact, saying that their school is "heimish" because kids feel comfortable sliding down the bannisters.

The same problem often occurs with in-town Jews--they feel like they can let their standards down because 'it's just family.' This is a big problem, both in Jewish schools (no matter where) and in the NY Jewish community in general, and we need to do all we can to remember that (1) non-Jews DO observe how we act, no matter where we may be, and (2) even if it's just Jews, that is no reason to relax our standards for even a second. The concept of chillul Hashem does not only apply around goyim.

Ezzie said...

Oooh, I could be a speaker! :) (Until I lean on the podium and it crashes into many pieces...)

Moshe said...


But after a few football games, you'll be as skinny as ever.

Ezzie said...

Of course I will. Of course. Kletszick's orders!

kasamba said...


Ayelet said...

Nice post, SJ. However, I feel I should point out to you that the world wide web is not exactly "a private setting." As far as I can tell, your blog is open for anyone to read.

SJ said...

Ayelet-- True, however: (a) In my post, I specifically did not go into the issues I have with the "NY mentality" or write about bad experiences I've had, and (b) though my blog is open for anyone to read, the vast majority of people who would read it are Orthodox Jews themselves (especially since, being new to blogging, my audience isn't that big yet).