by Rabbi Berel Wein
On my current trip through the Midwestern part of the United States it has become abundantly clear to me that it is very cold outside in this part of the world in February. Having become accustomed to the moderate winters that we enjoy in Israel I wonder at the hardiness of those who continue to reside in such an intemperate winter clime.
I can assure you that global warming has not as yet reached this part of the United States, all rumors to the contrary notwithstanding. Freezing temperatures, considerable snow accumulations and dreary skies are apparently the norm here this winter. The US government in Washington DC was shut down for a number of days because of a massive snowstorm. The good news is that apparently hardly anyone seemed to notice.
Walking to the synagogue on Shabat, all bundled up and trudging through snow underfoot reminded me of my younger days in Chicago and later in Monsey, New York. I enjoyed the experience then in a much greater degree than I do now. But everyone deals with whatever the conditions of life and weather are. The synagogue was crowded and to my surprise almost no one commented to me about the cold weather.
After Shabat ended people dutifully attacked the snow on their driveways and sidewalks, also apparently without much comment or complaint. It was only sixteen degrees fahrenheit outside but it seemed not to matter at all to the hardy natives. After all, winter is winter and winter in that part of the world means snow and frigid temperatures.
But I noticed a different type of cold present in the Jewish communities that I visited. In Yiddish there was a pithy phrase that stated a guest for a while sees for a mile. Maybe I am not accurate in my assessment of the situation but I sensed that there is a subliminal sense of unease that has taken hold of the American Jew, at least among those who retain their Jewish connections and way of life.
This sense of unease is traceable to a number of factors. The financial downturn and the attendant high rate of unemployment have affected the Jewish community strongly. People who have lost their jobs are losing their houses and have difficulty meeting any of their financial commitments such as school tuition for their children. The local yeshivot and schools are financially strapped and many have been unable to meet their payroll obligations on a sustained basis.
There is a general feeling that this situation is going to be with them for quite a while and the heady days of relatively easy money are not likely to make a quick return. While it is quite easy to raise one’s standard of living when times are good going downwards is much more difficult. People somehow feel unfulfilled and even unworthy if they cannot spend as freely as they once did.
The bloated charges for attending women’s seminaries here in Israel are undoubtedly on the way to being lowered – the economic law of supply and demand applies to Torah institutions as well. Times are changing and a chill wind is blowing through many a Jewish home and community.
There is also an unease regarding President Obama and US relations with Israel. It seems fairly obvious to all that the United States is not going to do anything meaningful to stop Iran’s atomic bomb from becoming a reality. America is engaged in a so far unsuccessful war in Afghanistan and has not been able to extricate itself from Iraq either. It apparently lacks the resources and military manpower to take on Iran as well.
The US policy is to somehow frantically cover this dilemma with the fig leaf of “progress” on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Obama made the error of indicating early on to the Moslem world that he would deliver Israel into their benevolent hands without their having to make any major concessions on their impractical and unreasonable demands.
American Jews in the main are frightened of Obama’s Middle East policies. They see it as a retreat from previous presidential support of Israel. Netanyahu’s one sided concessions also have no resonance here. And there is no doubt that Jews here feel less comfortable than they did a decade ago.
A more militant and vocal Moslem population, Jewish scandals- financial and otherwise, and a shrinking Jewish population resulting from assimilation and intermarriage continue to run rampant. This all leads to the chill in the air. Let us all hope that springtime and warmth are on the way soon.